Johny Hendricks pairs savage punching power with elite wrestling skills. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Georges St. Pierre’s indefinite sabbatical left the door open for Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler.
Hendricks and Lawler with battle for the vacant Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight crown in the UFC 171 main event on Saturday at the American Airlines Arena in Dallas. The 170-pound throne was left empty when St. Pierre vacated the title in December, less than a month after he retained it with a controversial unanimous decision over Hendricks at UFC 167.
A two-time NCAA national champion wrestler at Oklahoma State University, Hendricks has compiled a 10-2 record since arriving in the UFC in August 2009. Lawler, meanwhile, has rattled off three straight wins since downshifting to 170 pounds, taking care of Josh Koscheck, Bobby Voelker and Rory MacDonald.
Sherdog.com touched base with a number of professional fighters and trainers to gauge their opinions on the UFC 171 headliner:
Andrew Craig: I think this is the most excited I’ve been for a card in quite some time. Not only are six of the baddest dudes at 170 pounds fighting, but it’s in the great state of Texas. I’ve been a fan of Lawler for a long time now, and I think it’s his time to shine. I know Hendricks has a hell of a chin, but I’m taking Lawler with a championship-round TKO.
Gabe Ruediger: I think initially they are going to stand, but Hendricks will eventually use his wrestling and put Lawler on his back. Both have KO power, but Hendricks’ wrestling is the big factor, in my opinion. Barring some amazing KO, I’m going with Hendricks by decision.
Benji Radach: Robbie can get it done, but both fighters can one-hit-quit anyone if they can land right. I’m way stoked to watch.
Tom DeBlass: I am going to go with Hendricks by decision. I believe he will be able to take the fight to the ground.
Tom Lawlor: Hendricks wins by TKO in round two, although I will be happy if Lawler wins so that marginal fans become confused and think I am the welterweight champ.
Luke Barnatt: Hendricks can wrestle his way to victory, but you can never count out Lawler. This is a super exciting matchup.
James Vick: I’ve got Hendricks by ground-and-pound.
Nick Ring: I’ve got Hendricks.
Keith Berry: Lawler wins by KO.
Mitch Clarke: Hendricks wins by decision.
Jeff Hougland: Hendricks should be defending his title against Lawler, not fighting for it. Hendricks wins by TKO in the fourth round.
Igor Araujo: Hendricks wins by KO.
Ray Elbe: Lawler wins by “Ruthless” KO, scoring an old-school victory for the fans of MMA from a time when it was called NHB.
J.J. Ambrose: I can’t pick in this one. They both hit like heavyweights. I’m looking forward to a great but short fight.
Ricardo Liborio: And the new champion of the world … Robbie Lawler.
Jason Dent: I probably shouldn’t pick with my heart, but I’m hoping to see Lawler pull off the W. I’ve had the privilege of fighting on the same card with him way back out in Hawaii. Hendricks’ wrestling mixed with his heavy hands might be too much, but I’m picking and pulling for Robbie.
Joe Duarte: I am a fan of both guys. They each have one-punch KO power, but I have to give a slight advantage to Hendricks for his wrestling. I’m not picking either to win. I’m rooting for both guys.
Jesse Ronson: Lawler has been around for a while and deserves it, but Hendricks is a hungry beast with a solid chin, even better wrestling and equal power. He wins. He can and will control where the fight goes. It only makes sense to go with Hendricks.
Daniel Downes: Next to Lazarus, Lawler has been more resurgent than anyone I can think of. Hendricks has the tendency to get reckless with his striking, and that could give Lawler the opening he needs to take control. After the GSP fight, though, I think that “Bigg Rigg” has learned a bit more about tactics, takes a more measured approach and wins by unanimous decision.
Nikita Krylov: It will be a very interesting fight between two devastating punchers. Each of them can throw heavy leather with both hands. It will be a surefire candidate to pick up the bonus for the most entertaining fight. I love those guys that have interesting fights and have the power to knock their opponent out at any time. Welterweight is a very deep and competitive division, and being the champ is a huge statement. I don’t even want to guess or assume who will be the champion, because these guys are hitting like heavyweights and anything can happen. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Tony Martin: Lawler wins by TKO in the later rounds. Lawler has a death touch in his hands. Hendricks is explosive, but Lawler is nasty.
Ryan Benoit: I think Johny is going to add a new KO to his highlight reel, just like [Martin] Kampmann and [Jon] Fitch. Johny wins by KO in round one.
Tom Niinimaki: They both have heavy hands, but I think it's going to be Johny’s strength that earns him the decision victory.
Seth Baczynski: I’ve got Robbie. It’s going to be a great scrap, but Robbie has experience and great combinations. Plus, he throws kicks and knees, while Johnny throws punches. If Robbie can get up if he gets taken down, then I think he will win. Either way, it’s a “Fight of the night”-caliber main event.
Josh Sampo: This is a fight I’m really excited to see. I feel that it is not going to the judges. Looking at it as a spectator, I think that everything favors Hendricks, but the new smarter-fighting Lawler is never one to count out. He is dangerous at all times. Based on facial hair, I have to go with Hendricks, as well. He needs to braid that beard up, put some beads in it and whip Lawler with it. If the fight stays on its feet, I feel that it’s anyone’s to take. However, it can go to the ground whenever Hendricks wants it to. I feel the winner gets his hand raised by KO.
Ramiro Hernandez: I think that they both have power in their hands, but I give the edge in striking versatility to Rob. Hendricks is a better wrestler, but Rob has shown the ability to get back to his feet against high-level wrestlers in the past. I think Rob’s southpaw stance gives Hendricks trouble landing his big left hand. Rob will stuff his takedowns and keep it on the feet, eventually out-striking him. I give this fight to Robbie via TKO in the third.
Mike Rhodes: I’m picking Hendricks via nasty left hand. Lawler is tough as nails and it will take a big hammer to take him out, but Hendricks carries Thor’s Hammer under that left glove.
Mike Ciesnolevicz: There is no denying Hendricks looked great against GSP and should be the champ right now. Hendricks was on the wrong end of a horrible decision. Lawler has a lot of momentum going for him. He is a former world champion coming down to the correct weight class for him. He is bringing with him a ton of experience and a new, improved skill set. Robbie seems to be in better shape, more well-rounded and more technical these days. Although Hendricks hits hard, I think Lawler is going to find his opening at some point in the fight. Lawler wins by TKO within three rounds. It could look like the [Josh] Koscheck-Lawler fight.
Zach Makovsky: I have a feeling this fight won’t make it past the second round, and even though it will be somewhat short, it will be a barnburner. Hendricks wins by TKO.
Robert Drysdale: Hendricks wins.
Kyle Kingsbury: I’m rooting for Robbie the whole way, but Hendricks will win.
Pat Miletich: After training Rob for over a decade, I’m a little partial on this one. Both guys obviously have a lot of KO power, but Rob is a slick striker and knows how to set traps. Johny could walk through most guys’ shots but won’t be able to do that with Rob. Johny has the edge in wrestling pedigree, but most people underestimate Rob’s wrestling and scrambling ability, and nobody understands the power until he hits them. I say Lawler pulls this off via KO in the second round.
Colton Smith: If Hendricks plays it safe and utilizes a wrestling and a smart pressure game plan, he will win the lopsided decision; but if he decides to test who has the bigger hammer, the underdog Lawler will win by devastating KO.
Travis Lutter: I think this is a very hard fight to pick, but I am going with Hendricks in this one. Hendricks is the better wrestler, but I would guess he is going to want to bang, so hopefully this one is fun to watch.
Mark Bocek: Hendricks wins by decision.
Eric Prindle: Lawler wins by TKO in the second round.
Travis Wiuff: I really like Lawler and have been a big fan of his since the beginning, but I have to take Hendricks to use his wrestling and win a decision.
Nam Phan: I say Hendricks wins.
THE FINAL TALLYPros Picking Hendricks: 20
Pros Picking Lawler: 11
No Pick: 11
Follow Mike Sloan on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mikesloan19.