With the vacant UFC Welterweight Championship on the line, it was Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks who was victorious over Robbie Lawler via unanimous decision on Saturday night in the main event of UFC 171 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
Yahoo! Sports' Kevin Iole shows the judges cards and Hendricks' reaction to the victory:
All three judges have it 48-47 for Johny Hendricks.— Kevin Iole (@KevinI) March 16, 2014
Hendricks collapses in joy. Lawler standing in corner with hands on his hips.— Kevin Iole (@KevinI) March 16, 2014
ESPN's Brett Okamoto shows how the cards broke down:
Hendricks, Lawler scorecard pic.twitter.com/D7FIaXYO0d— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) March 16, 2014
Iole also shows how he would have scored it:
I have Lawler winning the fight 48-47, three rounds to two. Rounds 1, 3 and 4 for Robbie, 2 and 5 for Johny— Kevin Iole (@KevinI) March 16, 2014
UFC fans who watched Saturday night's fight won't be forgetting it anytime soon. Hendricks and Lawler went toe-to-toe for five rounds with each fighter having his chance to take the match over.
Hendricks' performances are expected at this point, but, as ESPN's Okamoto points out, Lawler's ability to keep Hendricks off kilter was equally as impressive:
Man Robbie Lawler is giving a star performance. Like, sign me up every time this guy fights performance.— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) March 16, 2014
Without a takedown in the fifth round, this fight may not have gone Hendricks' way, but in the end "Bigg Rigg" was able to obtain the vacant Welterweight Championship.
Lawler kept it simple after the fight (per Iole), saying "Hats off to him because he fought a hell of a fight."
Hendricks was coming off a tough split-decision loss at the hands of former champion Georges St. Pierre, but St. Pierre’s decision to walk away from the UFC and vacate the title provided Hendricks the opportunity to gain the highest achievement in the sport.
Since he lost to Rick Story on the The Ultimate Fighter 12 finale in December of 2010, Bigg Rigg has been an absolute force in the welterweight division. Before the controversial loss to St. Pierre, Hendricks had strung together six wins over some of the biggest names in the weight class.
While Hendricks was handed the defeat against St. Pierre, it was clear from his performance and the damage he did to the then-champion that the decision was questionable and that the challenger would eventually get another shot at the title.
Most fans wanted to see Hendricks avenge his loss and take the title from GSP, but beating Lawler and winning the belt under the bright lights of a UFC pay-per-view main event is a great accomplishment regardless of who he fought.
Marc Raimondi of FOX Sports notes that Hendricks would like to see Lawler again in the future:
"I promise you I'll be facing him again and when we do, I hope I can come out with a better performance," Hendricks said.
With Tyron Woodley squaring off against Carlos Condit earlier on the PPV card in a title eliminator—Woodley won via second-round TKO—MMA fans were treated to a new champion and a new No. 1 contender all in one night.
After turmoil following the departure of welterweight mainstay St. Pierre, the victory for Hendricks and the clear future of the division has reestablished stability.
Fight Grade: A
The welterweight division has always been known for its exciting action, but the title fights in this weight class have been boring at times over the last several years due to the game plan of former champion St. Pierre.
Now that GSP has left the sport, the vicious battles that result in abrupt endings will become the norm once again, especially with fighters like Hendricks and Lawler around. That’s great news for a large contingent of fans who were tired of seeing St. Pierre grind out five-round decision victories.
Which fighter has the better chance to be the face of the welterweight division?
Hendricks proved once again how much skill he possesses in the wrestling aspect of MMA, but there is no denying that the power he has (in his left hand especially) makes him one of the most dangerous one-punch knockout artists in the UFC.
Lawler deserves immense credit for stepping into the Octagon and giving his all, showcasing his own array of power strikes across all five rounds. The decision didn't fall his way, but there's no doubting that he gained a few new fans after his impressive showing.