The main event of UFC 171 is a five-round fight for the vacant UFC welterweight championship between Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks and “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler. The current betting line for the fight at 5Dimes Sportsbook lists Hendricks as a -400 favorite (bet $400 to win $100) while Lawler is a +325 underdog (bet $100 to win $325). MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas originally opened up Hendricks at -290 and Lawler at +210, meaning there has been significant betting action in Hendricks’ direction. I disagree with the direction of the betting action as I’m picking Lawler to get the upset and win the vacant UFC welterweight championship. Here’s why. Hendricks (15-2) nearly won the UFC welterweight strap from Georges St-Pierre at UFC 167 last November, but while most observers including UFC president Dana White thought he won, he ended up dropping a split decision in controversial fashion. But after St-Pierre took a leave of absence from the sports, the UFC decided to create a vacant title and now Hendricks will face Lawler for the right to own it. And what a fight this is going to be. Hendricks showed in GSP fight that he is an elite welterweight with excellent wrestling and knockout power. In his career the 30-year old Texan holds notable victories over Carlos Condit, Martin Kampmann, Jon Fitch, Mike Pierce and TJ Grant, and his only losses are razor-close decisions to GSP and Rick Story. Hendricks has shown throughout his UFC career that his combination of takedowns and KO power is nearly unstoppable, and against Lawler he’ll hope he can land the takedowns or land that big blow that finishes the fight. But Lawler is a decent wrestler himself and, if he can keep the fight standing, he’s arguably a more dangerous striker than Hendricks is. And that’s what makes this fight so interesting. Lawler (22-9, 1 NC) is a long-time veteran of the sport and he has been terrific since returning to the Octagon, going 3-0 with knockout wins over Koscheck and Bobby Voelker and a decision win over Rory MacDonald that earned him a title shot at the vacant strap. The 31-year-old is known for his vicious knockout power but he also possesses some nice wrestling skills to go along with that, and in his UFC fights he’s shown that as long as he can use his wrestling in reverse and keep his fights standing he’s an absolute monster. He’s also shown that he’s not just a boxer anymore, but that he also has some nice kicks as he KOed Voelker with a shin to the dome. And in the past he’s shown he has a flying knee in his bag of tricks too. So if Lawler can stuff Hendricks’ takedowns attempts and keep the fight on the feet, he has a very real chance of becoming the new UFC welterweight champion of the world. I think this is going to be a very memorable fight with a very memorable finish. Although both men can most definitely put each other’s lights out, I have a feeling Hendricks is going to try and wrestle Lawler instead of standing with him. And while I think some of Hendricks’ first few attempts will be successful, just like in the Koscheck fight I think Lawler will eventually be able to scramble back to his feet and get the fight back where he wants it. And when he’s back on the feet he’ll feel a sense of urgency and unleash a powerful strike that knocks Hendricks out as Lawler becomes the new UFC welterweight champion. At +325, Lawler is a must bet at these odds. There is just too much value to pass up on this line as this fight is much closer to a 50/50 fight than the odds are indicating, in my opinion. I think Lawler will win by knockout but you can never discount the possibility of a decision, so I’d say lay off the props on this one and just make a straight bet on Lawler and hope he gets the W.
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