Wednesday night at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, CA, “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler and Renato “Babalu” Sobral will meet in the cage for what seems to be your traditional striker vs. grappler matchup at Strikeforce: Los Angeles. However, there is more to this fight than just a striker vs. grappler match up, mainly on the behalf of Sobral.
Lawler is known for his power and explosiveness, 14 of Lawler’s 17 career victories have come via (T)KO, and if you want to see how deadly his hands are just take a look at his last fight with Melvin Manhoef at Strikeforce: Miami. Lawler was getting punished by Manhoef with punches and kicks for most of the fight, and wasn’t offering much offense, but when he finally decided to strike he did so with authority, as a Lawler limped after having his lead right leg destroyed by Manhoef’s powerful kicks, it seemed it was matter of moments before Manhoef would put his exclamation mark on the fight, instead we saw one right hand from Lawler send Manhoef crashing to the canvas, and then a left from Lawler was delivered for good measure, and just like that it was over. That is the kind of power that Lawler possesses, as far as his submission defense, well that’s a different story.
Of Lawler’s five losses, four have come by submission (however one was caused by an injury due to leg kicks). With his latest loss coming in June of last year when he was submitted in a title fight against Jake Shields by guillotine choke in 2:02 of the first round. Lawler has run into issues when facing high level grapplers, Jason Miller submitted him with an arm-triangle in September of 2006. Sobral is what you can consider a high level grappler. That is most likely an understatement, as Sobral is one of MMA’s better submission specialists.
Sobral returns to action for the first time since losing his Strikeforce light heavyweight title by (T)KO to Gegard Mousasi in one minute flat last August at Strikeforce: Carano vs. Cyborg. In 35 career victories Sobral has notched 18 submission wins, but has also been at the end of four devastating knockouts. Sobral however does not shy away from the stand up game, this is a man who once charged a vintage Chuck Liddell at UFC 62 in his quest to capture the UFC light heavyweight title, although unsuccessful in doing so (Liddell stopped Sobral at 1:35 of the first round) you have to give the man credit for having the courage to go after Liddell with such conviction, Liddell was coming off of five straight (T)KO victories.
Sobral’s willingness to stand is what keeps this fight from becoming your traditional striker vs. grappler match up. Sobral, although the dominant fighter on the ground has a good stand up game, the difference between Lawler and Sobral is that Sobral can survive on the feet against some heavy hitters but Lawler hasn’t faired well against grapplers. Sobral has defeated some top level strikers, and some that pack a serious punch, he submitted Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (The only man to ever knockout Antonio Rogerio Nogueira), Cyrille Diabate, and a young Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. In an interview with MMA Prime TV’s Aaron Tru, Sobral made it clear he wasn’t afraid to stand with Lawler but was aware he had to stay away from his right hand.
“My game plan is to try to beat him up standing if I have a chance to beat him” Sobral said. “Stay away from his right hand and that’s it”.
Sobral seems willing to engage with Lawler on the feet, but it won’t be likely that Lawler will follow Sobral to the ground unless he is delivering some fight ending blows following a knock down. Sobral’s ability to stand and trade keeps this from being your classic striker vs. grappler, it doesn’t mean that Sobral shouldn’t take this to the ground however; his best route to victory is still his submission game. Will he try and beat Lawler at his own game or will he go with what seems proven, and that is get Lawler to the mat, and work for the submission? Will Lawler come out swinging for the fences like the Robbie Lawler of old, or will the new and more patient Robbie Lawler show up, the one that bides his time, and waits for his opportunity to pounce? I can’t answer those questions, but on Wednesday night, we will get our answers.