It will officially mark a changing of the guard this weekend in Dallas at UFC 171 when Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler collide for the UFC’s vacant welterweight championship. The landscape of the 170-pound division was changed immeasurably when longtime superstar Georges St.Pierre decided he needed time away from the Octagon and vacated his title after a lengthy reign atop the division.
St.Pierre couldn’t be touched for several years and finally voluntarily gave up his title after making nine straight successful defenses and firmly establishing himself as the sport’s PPV king.
Hendricks was a prime candidate to be involved in the title affair as many fans and media members believed he should’ve gotten the decision against GSP at UFC 167. St.Pierre emerged with the title thanks to a controversial split decision verdict and after that performance walked away from the sport. He hasn’t completely ruled out a return but it’s clear he’s enjoying his current sabbatical.
Hendricks’ stock rose after that impressive effort and now he is right back in the spotlight against the dangerous Lawler. “Ruthless” has risen to prominence in his second go-around with the organization going 3-0, including knockout victories over Josh Koscheck and Bobby Voelker and a decision victory over highly touted contender Rory MacDonald.
This matchup should be an outstanding contest. Hendricks is one of the hardest punchers in the division and he’s shown his concussive power in the past in first round Knockout of the Night performances against Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann. He has eight career knockouts to his credit and is coming off back-to-back Fight of the Night performances. His biggest career win in the promotion was an exciting decision victory in a title eliminator at UFC 158 against former interim champ Carlos Condit.
While his striking is formidable, the element of “Bigg Rigg’s” game that Lawler doesn’t possess is a tremendous wrestling background. The two-time NCAA national champion showcased his strength in that department during the St.Pierre fight last November. While Hendricks has no fear in the stand-up game it could be his strength in the grappling game that may prove the difference against Lawler.
Lawler has tremendous punching power as well which is why fans are so excited about this weekend’s tilt. He’s shown a diversified striking game since his return to the Octagon adding some dangerous leg kicks to his attack to go along with his brutal striking game. He seems to have a newfound maturity and while never much of a talker seems to be embracing his second UFC stint more than his first go-around. Lawler is a proven finisher with 18 knockout victories in 22 career wins and has only been stopped once by strikes against Nick Diaz back at UFC 47.
It’s a huge opportunity this weekend in Dallas for Hendricks or Lawler to make some history and to make their mark as the new top dog in the 170-pound division. It promises to be an action-packed contest and no matter who emerges with the belt they will find themselves with a number of hungry title contenders to deal with. The welterweight landscape has never been more wide-open and more competitive.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports