Bold Predictions for UFC 171: Who Will Be the New Welterweight Kingpin?
The post-Georges St-Pierre era begins in earnest on Saturday night, when Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler scrap for the vacant welterweight title at UFC 171.
In addition to learning who will shepherd the 170-pound championship into this uncertain future, MMA fans stand a good chance of discovering the identity of the new No. 1 contender as well.
The winner of Carlos Condit vs. Tyron Woodley has the inside track to face the winner of Hendricks vs. Lawler sometime this summer, but Hector Lombard vs. Jake Shields could also produce a legitimate title challenger.
If ever there was a time to be bold in the welterweight division, it’s now.
Begin the slideshow and face the future with clear eyes...
Robbie Lawler Becomes UFC Welterweight Champion...in 2014!
You, me and the oddsmakers all know the UFC welterweight title is there for Johny Hendricks to take at UFC 171. He’s the 4-1 favorite for a reason—namely a better-rounded skill set and a pedigree as a two-time NCAA national champion wrestler. So, why do I get the distinct impression we’re not going to see a particularly smart fight from "Big Rigg" against Robbie Lawler this weekend?
Because Hendricks loves to throw them bungalows.
Sure, he might spend a few minutes sticking to a safe, takedown-oriented game plan, but sooner or later he and Lawler are going to give the people what they paid to see. When that happens, Hendricks will be sprinting pell-mell into the teeth of Lawler’s attack.
That fight is the only kind His Ruthlessness can win here, and when it develops, he will.
Robbie Lawler, UFC champion in 2014? Believe it.
The thing about Johny Hendricks, which is lost in the warm glow of glorious knockouts, is just how pedestrian he's been through much of his MMA career. Between walloping Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann in mere seconds, he was pushed to the limit multiple times, often against the kind of competition you'd expect someone with his skill set to smash into pieces.
It's this tendency to fight to the level of his competition that makes me think old man Dundas may be on to something here. Robbie Lawler could indeed become a UFC champion in 2014, more than a decade after he was compared to Mike Tyson. What a world!
Fans Continue to Regard GSP as the True Champ
When UFC 171 fades to black, either Johny Hendricks or Robbie Lawler will walk out of the Octagon with a shiny new title belt around his waist. The blogs will rejoice in the new champion and a breath of fresh air after years of totalitarian rule. Fans will cheer this exciting new era and bow before our new 170-pound overlord.
But inside? Deep down where pretenses can't survive the lack of light, where no one needs convincing, least of all you? You'll know it's a lie. Neither Lawler nor Hendricks will be the true champion. The real champion will still be that guy somewhere in Canada, butchering the English language in that charming way he has, plotting his return to the cage.
Lawler and Hendricks may leave Dallas in possession of a belt, but it's merely a bauble. Until he loses a fight in the cage, the true champion is Georges St-Pierre.
I think a certain amount of pining for St-Pierre is justifiable, since the GOAT welterweight walked away in December with the 170-pound strap still in his Louis Vuitton carry-on bag. On the other hand, so long as Saturday’s main event plays out according to chalk and Hendricks wins, I don’t think he’ll face significant credibility issues.
A lot of people thought he defeated GSP at UFC 167 anyway, so a victory over Lawler will merely be hailed by many as Hendricks' rightful coronation. Now, if Lawler wins, will there be a lot of grumbled speculation about how he’d do in a bout against St-Pierre? Sure, and we’ll just have to live with it until The Special One returns.
The good news about that is that I’m starting to feel like GSP will be back sooner rather than later, so we might not have to wait as long to find out.
Carlos Condit Makes It 28 Stoppages in 30 Career Wins
During the suffocating dominance of the Georges St-Pierre era, it was often easy to overlook what a fine MMA fighter we also have in Carlos Condit.
He must be considered on the short list of welterweights whose fortunes improved most demonstrably when St-Pierre called timeout on his UFC title reign three months ago. In a division that is full of guys who are all hoping to upgrade their positions as perennial bridesmaids, he now has one of the shortest paths to redemption.
He’ll take the first step on Saturday, dusting Tyron Woodley like your grandma’s china cabinet. I’m thinking via flying knee, midway through the first round.
When the referee steps in to call it off, Condit will have scored his 28th stoppage in 30 career wins and will advance to face the winner of Hendricks vs. Lawler at a time to be announced.
He’ll win that one too, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. One stoppage at a time.
Poor Tyron Woodley—he's in the biggest fight of his life, at the height of his game, yet bound to disappoint. In typical UFC fashion, he's been pushed to the moon, from obscurity to an unstoppable force in the blink of an eye—creating expectations that no mere human could possibly meet.
His thighs—normal human ones—have been described as being "literally tree trunks."
Unfortunately for Woodley, he's kind of muscle-bound and stiff, a classic grinder who's not nearly as explosive or as athletic as he'll need to be to have a chance against Carlos Condit. Only two men have had their hands raised against Condit in the last four years—St-Pierre and Hendricks. And Woodley, simply put, is not in that class.
UFC 171 Prelims Don't Drive Fight Pass Subscriptions
Every time the UFC holds an event, thousands of fans, desperate for their weekly fix, sign up for Fight Pass, the UFC's new premium video service.
Fans want to see fights. A select few want to see them badly enough to drop $9.99.
Each event is another opportunity to hook us in. Alexander Gustafsson was the tipping point for many. Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva added thousands more.
Resistance is futile. Eventually a fighter you can't wait to see will be available only on an Internet stream. That's when the promotion will get you—at least that's the nefarious and frankly brilliant plan hatched by the masterminds at Zuffa.
The Fight Pass prelims at UFC 171, however, won't contribute much to the UFC's eventual world domination. Not a single bout features two fighters with a Wikipedia profile: the eternal symbol of moderate relevance. There is no killer app here. This is filler in its purest form.
Fight Pass may indeed end up working. It may become an integral part of being a fan and part of the culture that diehards can't do without. But, if so, it won't be because of prelims like this one.
No, it won’t, but I also don’t think that’s really part of the plan. I doubt anyone at UFC headquarters is expecting prelims before pay-per-view cards to spike viewership numbers.
Fight Pass will live and die by the popularity of its exclusive overseas Fight Night events. As my cohort Ben Fowlkes rightly pointed out on last week’s episode of the Co-Main Event Podcast, the current system essentially turns those cards into $9.99 pay-per-views.
Since the UFC doesn’t ask users to agree to any sort of contract when they sign up for the digital network, it seems reasonable to expect Fight Pass subscriptions will climb during months where it features must-see shows, and ebb when it does not.
I’m sure the people at Zuffa have made peace with that. It’s the way they set up the system, after all.
But to your point: Nah, prelims won’t move the needle much. That’s why they’re called prelims.