In 17 career bouts, Johny Hendricks has never been finished. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
They say everything thing is bigger in Texas, so it is only fitting that perhaps the two biggest hitters in the welterweight division will square off for the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s vacant 170-pound strap on Saturday at the American Airlines Arena in Dallas. When Georges St. Pierre announced late last year that he would be taking a leave from MMA, Johny Hendricks, a man many believe beat GSP at UFC 167, and Robbie Lawler, who earned a signature victory over Rory MacDonald that same night, were the logical choices to fill the void left by the Canadian.
Heavy leather figures to fly when Hendricks and Lawler square off in the UFC 171 headliner. However, the newly crowned welterweight king probably will not have much time to bask in the glory of victory, as the winner of the co-main event between Carlos Condit and Tyron Woodley could be next in line for a crack at 170-pound gold.
Here is a closer look at UFC 171 “Hendricks vs. Lawler,” with analysis and picks:
UFC Welterweight ChampionshipJohny Hendricks (15-2, 10-2 UFC) vs. Robbie Lawler (22-9, 7-3 UFC)
The Matchup: While Hendricks did not officially win his UFC 167 bout with St. Pierre -- he lost via split decision -- many observers had the brick-fisted Texan ahead on their scorecards at the end of the night. When St. Pierre elected to go on hiatus shortly thereafter, “Bigg Rigg” was a natural choice to vie for the welterweight crown.
Lawler, meanwhile, also punched his ticket to title contention by taking down a vaunted Tristar Gym talent at UFC 167. Before Hendricks nearly toppled St. Pierre, Lawler utilized an aggressive approach to take a split-decision from MacDonald, a fighter many believed could eventually succeed “Rush” atop the division. It has been a remarkable resurrection for Lawler. After an uninspiring tenure in Strikeforce, “Ruthless” dropped to welterweight upon his return to the UFC and has since posted a 3-0 record in the Octagon, taking out Josh Koscheck and Bobby Voelker, as well as MacDonald.
The change in weight classes and a move to American Top Team has rejuvenated Lawler. While he struggled against dominant wrestlers in the past, he is now able to sprawl and defend the takedown or use guard to create space and return to his feet. Both Koscheck and MacDonald attempted to outwrestle Lawler, but neither was able to control him consistently.
Both Hendricks and Lawler had success at UFC 167 as southpaws taking on orthodox opponents who relied heavily on their jabs. Obviously, in a lefty-versus-lefty showdown in which both men are known for their prodigious power punching, the matchup changes.
It is no secret that Hendricks loves his left hand. However, he is less one-dimensional than in the past, as he showcased a jab more frequently against St. Pierre. Still, the Team Takedown product will double up on power punches often, and his tendency to put all his weight into his left hand makes him a constant knockout threat.
As one of the savviest counterpunches in MMA, Lawler is well-equipped for when Hendricks rushes forward. The former EliteXC champion is adept at countering with his lead right hook or overhand left. Hendricks is prone to dropping his guard after throwing his left, which could prove disastrous against someone with one-shot finishing ability.
Of course, Hendricks has other options. He is skilled at closing the distance and then forcing tie-ups, a position from which he will unload uppercuts, as well as knees to the legs and body. Hendricks is exceptionally strong in close quarters, as he outmuscled St. Pierre throughout their November meeting. Eventually, he expects to move to middleweight.
Lawler is known for his upper-body strength and solid sprawl, but Hendricks, a two-time NCAA national champion wrestler, has the tools to take him down. “Ruthless” utilizes his butterfly hooks well when on his back, but Hendricks should be heavier from top control than anyone he has faced, including Koscheck, who appears to be on the downside of his career.
Both welterweights have exceptional chins, which should make for some high-octane exchanges. Conditioning will also be a factor, but Hendricks proved he could hold up for 25 minute at UFC 167, although he was still at his most dangerous during the first two rounds. Lawler can expend energy in a hurry, but he did well in going the distance against MacDonald, especially considering that he was taken down four times in that bout.
The Pick: Lawler is certainly capable of catching Hendricks with a well-timed counter, and it is unlikely that it will be something the “Bigg Rigg” can simply shake off. However, Hendricks has right blend of striking, clinch work and top game to keep Lawler off-balance. Hendricks wins via decision or late TKO.
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