ATLANTA (AP) Tyron Woodley took the welterweight championship from Robbie Lawler on Saturday night, stopping him with 2:12 left in the first round at UFC 201 at Philips Arena.
The former All-American wrestler at Missouri dropped Lawler with a devastating right hand – after an effective fake – and scored several strikes while Lawler was on the mat and against the cage, leading referee Dan Miragliotta to call the bout.
The 34-year-old Woodley – who waited some 18 months for a title shot – improved to 16-3. Lawler, also 34, fell to 27-11. He was making his third title defense.
Woodley had not appeared in the Octagon since January 2015, when he defeated Kelvin Gastelum.
The day before UFC presented its first event since being purchased by Hollywood entertainment conglomerate WME-IMG, Lawler – who earned fight of the night honors in his first two title defenses – said he was looking for a knockout, but it wasn’t the outcome he was anticipating. Woodley’s victory was the fastest in UFC welterweight title history.
Woodley spent some alone time in the Octagon on Saturday afternoon and said he visualized himself with the championship belt at the end of the night.
“I was just nervous that I wasn’t nervous,” he said. “Something told me that you’ve just got to enjoy this moment. I’ve been in this sport for 10 years and I’d never enjoyed the moment. I felt confident to enjoy this moment because I knew I’d be the world champion. … I saw myself several times knocking him out in several different rounds.”
Although Lawler let his guard down at an inopportune time, Woodley said he did not see a particular weakness that he could exploit so early in the bout.
“There wasn’t a chink in his armor, but I knew he’d be thinking about my wrestling and I knew he’d be thinking about my right hand, so we had several different plays, as we call them, to use that right hand and get to that powerful punch,” Woodley said.
Lawler, who made his UFC debut in 2002 but left the sport for several years before returning in 2013, was philosophical about losing the championship.
“It is what it is,” Lawler said. “He feinted me and my hand went down, he threw a punch over the top and caught me with the old T-Wood bomb and I was sitting back too much and he took advantage of it.”
When asked if he felt he deserved a rematch with Woodley, Lawler said, “Deserve and actually getting are actually two different things, but I feel I deserve something and we’ll see if I get it.”
In the semi-main event, Karolina Kowalkiewicz struck repeatedly with her knees through three rounds and gained a split decision over Rose Namajunas in a victory that moved the winner closer to a shot at UFC Strawweight champion Joanna Jedrezejczyk.
“Joanna is a very good fighter and I respect her very much; she’s the best in the world,” Kowalkiewicz said. “I may not be the best but I can beat the best.”
Kowalkiewicz remained undefeated at 10-0 and relied on her Muay Thai training to dispatch the 24-year-old Namajunas (6-3), who sustained a bloody nose in the first round but gave Kowalkiewicz with a bloody nose in the second round.
Two judges scored the fight 29-28 for Kowalkiewicz while the other had it 29-28 for Namajunas. Kowalkiewicz posted 131 strikes to Namajunas’ 79 and had a critical knockdown in the third round, although Namajunas was able to keep her opponent at bay with a number of heel strikes.
The pay-per-view card opened with flyweight Ryan Benoit (9-4) taking a judges’ split decision over former Colombian Olympic wrestler Fredy Serrano (3-1), handing Serrano his first UFC loss. Bantamweight Erik Perez (16-6) defeated Francisco Rivera (11-7) by unanimous decision in a bloody battle. Welterweight Jake Ellenberger (31-11) posted a TKO victory over Matt Brown (22-15) at the 1:46 mark of the first round.
In the evening’s preliminary bouts, Damien Brown (16-9) dropped Cesar Arzamendia (7-4) twice in the first round and at the 2:27 mark was declared the winner via knockout in a lightweight battle; welterweights Mike Graves and Bojan Velickovic (14-3-1) fought to a majority draw; Wilson Reis (21-6) scored a first-round victory with a submission over Hector Sandoval (12-3); 260-pound Anthony Hamilton (15-5) dropped 241-pound Damian Grabowski (20-4) with a knockout; and Jorge Masvidal collected a unanimous decision over Brit Ross Pearson.