UFC 171 on Saturday night is headlined by the highly anticipated title bout between Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler for the vacant crown. That fight, however, is not the only welterweight scrap on the card.
UFC 171 features four more clashes at 170 pounds, and three of those bouts have at least one ranked fighter. The fight card in Dallas will shake up the welterweight division.
The six fighters participating in those fights are trying to get into title contention. They want to stake their claim in the division and challenge the winner of the main event.
Who will come out on top? Who will insert their names in the list of contenders? Let's take a look in advance of UFC 171.
Kelvin Gastelum vs. No. 14 Rick Story
Story has not had back-to-back wins since early 2011 when he was inching close to being a contender. He was derailed by Charlie Brenneman and never got back on track. A win over Gastelum will put him back into consideration.
Gastelum won the 17th season of The Ultimate Fighter by stunning the highly touted Uriah Hall. He followed that up with a stellar showing against Brian Melancon last August. The undefeated prospect can thrust himself into the welterweight rankings with a win over Story.
Both fighters will have to do a bit of work before joining the upper echelon of the division, but they are not far off. This is an important fight for both men and the division.
Story has a win over Hendricks, and Gastelum is a fast-rising prospect. They have good stories to assist in their marketing ability, should they reach contention.
Who can take that next step?
One has to wonder how Gastelum's rough weight cut will play against the ever-tough Story. I was firmly in Gastelum's camp until the weigh-ins. Story is an uphill battle for someone who struggled to make weight.
Story is not going to relent, and Gastelum will wilt as the fight goes on.
Prediction: Story defeats Gastelum by decision.
No. 6 Jake Shields vs. No. 12 Hector Lombard
The battle between Shields and Lombard may be the most intriguing stylistic matchup on the UFC 171 card.
The fight may or may not produce some of the most exciting action, but the technical acumen of both men make this one hard to predict.
Lombard has a strong judo background and incredible power in his hands, but he has struggled against strong grapplers. Can Shields use his wrestling and ground control to stifle the hard-hitting Cuban? Perhaps, but Lombard should be able to get back to his feet.
If Shields can keep Lombard down and win the fight, he will have one of the best cases for receiving the next title shot. Lombard would likely need at least one more fight, but a win would elevate him into the list of contenders, which is where he wants to be.
Shields has taken tough shots before, but if Lombard lands early, it will be goodnight moon. I sense that Lombard will connect and end this fight early.
Prediction: Lombard defeats Shields by KO in the first round.
No. 2 Carlos Condit vs. No. 11 Tyron Woodley
Condit has the best claim to being the next title contender, and a win should cement that. He is the No. 2-ranked welterweight and the former interim champion and had a close decision loss to UFC 171 title challenger Hendricks.
Woodley is 2-1 in the UFC, and the former Strikeforce welterweight contender can make it two straight with a victory over Condit. He can ruin "The Natural Born Killer's" title bid and join the premier contenders in the division.
Woodley has a good wrestling base with a lot of punching power. Condit is the total package. If Woodley can dictate where the fight takes place, he has the inside track to win in a three-round bout, but Condit is one of the best game-planners in MMA today.
The former Strikeforce contender has good odds to upset his opponent, but Condit is simply too well-rounded. He can win on points, but I expect him to touch up Woodley and finish him. Condit's striking has improved greatly over the years, and the angles he comes from will frustrate and confuse his opponent in Dallas.
Condit will put on a show en route to stating his case as the rightful next title challenger.
Prediction: Condit defeats Woodley by TKO in the second round.
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