Johny Hendricks has many reasons to smile following his UFC 171 performance. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
Robbie Lawler made sure Johny Hendricks earned it.
Hendricks became the ninth undisputed welterweight titleholder in Ultimate Fighting Championship history, as he took a unanimous decision from Lawler in a grueling UFC 171 main event on Saturday at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. All three cageside judges scored it for Hendricks, as he carried the cards with 48-47 marks across the board.
The man they call “Bigg Rigg” replaces Georges St. Pierre atop the 170-pound division, sliding into the spot the former champion vacated in December.
Hendricks controlled the early exchanges with volume and variety, as he kept his “Ruthless” counterpart off-balance with accurate punching combinations, leg kicks and occasional knees and clinches. However, Lawler was no walk in the park. He turned the tide in the third round, where he wobbled Hendricks with a short left hook and piled on the punishment with follow-up punches. Lawler picked up where he left off in round four, as he cut the four-time NCAA All-American wrestler near his left eye.
The decisive fifth round belonged to Hendricks in the eyes of most. He wore down a fading Lawler in the clinch and ripped into him with left hands and leg kicks. A late takedown closed the door, as Hendricks kept the former EliteXC champion bottled up on the canvas in the waning moments. The frustration on Lawler’s face told the story.
Potential challengers for the newly crowned champion are already in line, Tyron Woodley chief among them. The American Top Team standout finished the notoriously durable Carlos Condit with a second-round takedown and follow-up leg kick in the co-headliner. Woodley’s takedown appeared to injure the knee of the “Natural Born Killer,” and his subsequent kick polished him off. The 31-year-old had Condit backpedaling with lightning-quick right hands in the opening frame.
Lawler does not figure to lose much ground in the welterweight division. He gave Hendricks a serious run for his money across 25 minutes, showing off the skills and resolve that have made him a fan favorite for more than a decade. A clash with the loser of the forthcoming UFC 172 match between Jake Ellenberger and Tarec Saffiedine would supply Lawler with a worthy opponent on the rebound and could serve as a potential springboard back to contention at 170 pounds.
In wake of UFC 171 “Hendricks vs. Lawler,” here are five other matchups that ought to be considered:
Hector Lombard vs. Rory MacDonald: Lombard blitzed Jake Shields early and then coasted to a unanimous decision over the former Shooto, Strikeforce and EliteXC champion, planting his flag as a top 10 welterweight. Despite recording his 23rd win in 25 fights, the Cuban judoka drew widespread criticism after appearing to ease off the gas in the latter stages of the match. Still, he did some excellent work in the first round, where he drew blood and staggered Shields with power punches. MacDonald took a unanimous verdict from 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist Demian Maia at UFC 170 in February, improving to 7-2 inside the Octagon.
Myles Jury vs. Joe Lauzon: Jury made the most of his opportunity in the spotlight, as he recorded a unanimous decision against “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 1 winner Diego Sanchez. The 25-year-old Alliance MMA representative countered Sanchez’s aggression with patient precision, sliced open “The Dream” with a right hook in the second round and mixed in well-disguised takedowns. A rising star in the lightweight division, Jury has won all five of his fights inside the Octagon. Lauzon halted a two-fight skid at UFC on Fox 9 in December, as he earned a unanimous nod over Mac Danzig.
Dennis Bermudez vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri-Clay Guida winner: Six-fight winning streaks tend to draw attention. Such is the case with Bermudez. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 14 runner-up was virtually flawless in dispatching Jim Hettes, as he wiped out the AMA Fight Club export with an accumulation of punches and one last knee strike in the third round. Bermudez, 27, has rattled off six straight victories since submitting to a Diego Brandao armbar at “The Ultimate Fighter 14” Finale in December 2011. Kawajiri and Guida will lock horns at UFC Fight Night 40 on April 11.
Jake Shields vs. Rick Story: Shields’ guile and determination were not enough to overcome the overwhelming physical tools of Hector Lombard, as the Cesar Gracie-trained Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt wound up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision. The setback squelched the momentum Shields had built in back-to-back wins over Woodley and Maia, leaving his place in the 170-pound pecking order in question. That he has not finished a fight in nearly five years does not help his cause. Story dropped a split verdict to “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 17 winner Kelvin Gastelum, as he lost for the fifth time in his past eight appearances.
Ovince St. Preux vs. Ilir Latifi: St. Preux has quietly put together a sustained run of success. The former University of Tennessee linebacker barely broke a sweat against Nikita Krylov, as he rendered the Ukrainian karateka unconscious with a shoulder choke in just 89 seconds. Somewhere, Jason Von Flue smiled. St. Preux owns a 12-1 mark over his last 13 bouts, a decision loss to former Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi the lone misstep. Latifi submitted French kickboxer Cyrille Diabate with a first-round guillotine choke at UFC Fight Night 38 on March 8.