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Predictions: Can Tyron Woodley pull the upset at UFC 201?

UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler goes for his third title defense against Tyron Woodley at UFC 201 on Saturday in Atlanta.

The pay-per-view fight is flying a little under the radar, which is to be expected given it's sandwiched between the landmark event that was UFC 200 and the "Conor's Revenge!" storyline of UFC 202.

That said, this is still a Robbie Lawler fight we're talking about here. They're always worth the price of admission.

Let's take a closer look at the upcoming 170-pound championship bout. Don't agree with these picks? Let MMA analyst Brett Okamoto know on Twitter: @bokamotoESPN.


Main event

Robbie Lawler (27-10) vs. Tyron Woodley (15-3)
Welterweight championship
Odds: Lawler -175; Woodley +155

Discussing when a fighter's chin will deteriorate ranks right at the top in terms of worst topics ever. Who wants to talk about an athlete losing the ability to take a punch? Not me.

Unfortunately, in a matchup like this one, it can't be ignored. According to Fightmetric, Lawler has absorbed 642 strikes since the start of 2014. He's gone five hellacious rounds, back-to-back-to-back. When do these wars catch up? Lawler is 34 in human years -- and probably something like 112 in fighter years.

Against Carlos Condit in January, Lawler's corner was in a panic going into the fifth round. For all they knew, Lawler needed a knockout to retain the title. He came out firing on Condit, hurt him with a big shot and ultimately took the round and a narrow split decision. It took everything Lawler had to win that fight. How many times can he refill the tank?

If Lawler's odometer isn't a factor, I like him stylistically in this fight. The depth of Lawler's striking exceeds that of Woodley's. As dangerous as Woodley is, he mostly relies on his (albeit incredible) right hand. He'll throw a few tree trunk inside leg kicks as well, but when push comes to shove: If you shut down the right hand, you shut down Woodley.

Of course, Woodley is a very powerful wrestler as well, and his top game can be devastating, but it just seems unlikely he'll choose to burn energy trying to take Lawler down. It's very hard to hurt Lawler on the floor even when you have him there, and although I think criticism of Woodley's gas tank is sometimes a little overblown, he's going to pace himself.

My guess is Woodley will be fine with letting Lawler come to him. Hang back, circle, conserve energy and look for any opportunity to land that lightning right hand. If you want to go on the attack against Lawler, you have to be extremely busy, and that doesn't really play to Woodley's strengths. Lawler has become more disciplined in the latter half of his career, but Woodley could still catch him reaching here and there, and he trusts he has the speed and power to make it count when he does.

PREDICTION: If it goes wrong for Lawler, I think it will go wrong big (as in, KO) -- but I'll go with the champ. Lawler via TKO, fourth round.


Rest of card

Rose Namajunas (5-2) vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (9-0)

Kowalkiewicz is definitely being overlooked here, but Namajunas appears to be the better athlete with more ways to win. And she's on a roll.

PREDICTION: Namajunas decision, 30-27


Matt Brown (20-14) vs. Jake Ellenberger (30-11)

This is kind of a weird fight, but it actually makes sense given Brown's recent skid. There's pressure on both; Brown is expected to roll while Ellenberger is barely hanging on to employment.

PREDICTION: Brown, first round TKO


Francisco Rivera (11-6) vs. Erik Perez (15-6)

A one-time hot prospect, Perez is still only 26, but he's been limited to four fights in three years. Pretty even matchup for him here against Rivera.

PREDICTION: Perez via decision.