Life in the post-Georges St-Pierre welterweight division truly began on Saturday night, and the two top contenders in the division did everything they could across 25 minutes to make onlookers forget about the former champion. Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler stood in the pocket for nearly their entire bout, throwing all manner of punches, and each finding a great deal of success. Lawler had Hendricks hurt badly in the third round, the most danger the former Oklahoma State Cowboy has found himself in during his entire MMA career. Hendricks returned the favor in the fifth, as he capitalized on Lawler, who looked to be fading after a big onslaught in rounds three and four. It turned out that the fifth round decided the bout, and Hendricks walked away with the decision. When the judges scores were announced, it marked the first time in nearly six years that a man other than St-Pierre held the UFC welterweight title.
The question now, is who challenges Hendricks next? That was supposed to be determined earlier in the evening in a pair of welterweight bouts, but both played out in a manner that didn’t really set the winners apart from the pack at 170. Tyron Woodley looked good early against Carlos Condit, but most people expected that to be the case, with Condit coming on strong in the second half of the fight, like he did against Hendricks at UFC 158. The fact that we never got to see how Woodley dealt with Condit’s pressure and cardio later in the fight still leaves question marks about the former Strikeforce welterweight title challenger. The fact that the fight was finished due to an unfortunate and untimely injury to Condit’s right knee just makes it even more apparent that putting Woodley into a title fight would be premature at this point. The other option for a title challenger was supposed to be Hector Lombard if he could look impressive against Jake Shields, and I believe that Lombard is the best option at this point. While he didn’t stop Shields (who is notoriously difficult to finish), Lombard showed that his cardio is fine at 170 in addition to having dangerous striking, excellent takedown defense and very good takedowns and top control of his own. I think Lombard loses against the elite fighters in the division, but as far as who showed the most last night, I have to give him the nod. Also, Lombard has been known to put on inconsistent performances in the past, so if he’s kept out of the title picture for too long, there’s a good chance he loses without ever getting a shot at the belt. The other name floating about as a potential title challenger is Rory MacDonald, who is coming off of a decision victory against Demian Maia at UFC 170. Rory lost to Robbie Lawler just two fights ago, so I think he needs to pick up at least one more win before being a true title contender. For that reason, I think the top of the welterweight division should be scheduled as follows: -Johny Hendricks (c) vs. Hector Lombard -Tyron Woodley vs. Rory MacDonald – To determine the #1 contender -Robbie Lawler vs. the loser of Tarec Saffiedine/Jake Ellenberger -Winner of Saffiedine/Ellenberger vs. Dong Hyun Kim Obviously a couple fighters who competed last night are notable by their absence from that scenario. Carlos Condit seems to have a lengthy recovery ahead of him if early reports of his knee injury (torn meniscus and ACL) are true. Jake Shields has done nothing to impress in a series of fights now, and I think the UFC will try to use him to build up younger fighters (Kelvin Gastelum, perhaps), if they keep him around at all. There were other divisions in action on Saturday night as well. At lightweight, Myles Jury put on the performance many expected out of him, and Diego Sanchez wasn’t able to turn it into a brawl as he had hoped. In fact, the bout was lopsided to the point that even the judges couldn’t award Sanchez a typical controversial decision. While it wasn’t the type of performance that will have people clamoring to see more of Jury, it was exactly what he needed to do, and Sanchez is an excellent name to add to his resume. Kicking off the main card, Ovince St. Preux made short work of Nikita Krylov, using the “Von Flue” choke to render the Ukrainian unconscious just 89 seconds into the bout. St. Preux should be commended for taking the path of least resistance and forcing the still extremely green Krylov to grapple with him. While Krylov has some power on the feet, he’s still out of his element on the ground against fighters who know what they’re doing, and St. Preux took full advantage. The preliminary card saw some great performances as well, and given the way this card was set up, of course a few of them came in the welterweight division. The early front runner for fight of the night was between Alex Garcia and Sean Spencer, who put on one of the better individual rounds of the year in their second stanza. They were one-upped by the final prelim bout between Kelvin Gastelum and Rick Story, who showed exactly why so many people were excited to see them square off. Of course, both bouts were outdone by the main event, but they still provided quality entertainment early on in the evening. Another fighter who put on an excellent performance was Dennis Bermudez, who stopped Jimy Hettes in the third round of their featherweight bout. It was Bermudez’ most complete performance in the UFC, and he needs to take a big step up in his next bout. Speaking of steps up, Justin Scoggins once again looked fantastic at flyweight, and he is going to find himself in the title discussion very shortly in a division that remains wide open. UFC 171 was an event designed to clarify the welterweight division in the wake of Georges St-Pierre, and while the belt found a new home following what was the greatest 170lb title fight since Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg 2, the overall contendership picture remains as murky as ever.
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