It had been over six years since anyone other than Georges St-Pierre wore the UFC welterweight title. The pound-for-pound great's reign came to an end when he vacated the strap at the end of 2013, and on Saturday night at UFC 171, Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler stepped in to determine who would be the new king of the 170-pound weight class.
"Bigg Rigg" was looking to make good on his second attempt to claim championship gold after he was controversially edged out by the French-Canadian at UFC 167 last November. Standing in his way was the resurgent veteran who had toppled three consecutive opponents—two of which came in brutal fashion—en route to earning his first shot at a UFC title.
With two of the welterweight division's heaviest hitters throwing down, there was figured to be a shootout in Dallas. That's precisely went down, and the leather flew with ferocity in the main event.
In what will go down as an instant classic, Hendricks and Lawler battled tooth and nail until the bitter end. Both men had huge moments where they staggered and wobbled the other, but it was Hendricks' timing and will to win that earned him the unanimous decision victory. The two-time Division I national champion wrestler put together a solid flurry and finished with a takedown late in the fifth round to secure the victory.
If a new champion is going to be crowned after six years, that's how it should be done, folks.
While Hendricks and Lawler slugged it out to determine the next welterweight champion, the co-main event carried heavy implications as well. Former interim champion Carlos Condit was looking to make good on earning the next title opportunity when he squared off with Tyron Woodley, and the former Missouri University wrestling standout was eager to prove he was worthy of the same thing.
Despite the fight ending in unfortunate fashion with "The Natural Born Killer" injuring his knee, Woodley picked up the biggest victory of his young career. "The Chosen One" was able to land some big shots early and weathered the flurries Condit fired off as he picked up the win via second-round TKO.
Although the card for UFC 171 was predominantly a showcase for the welterweight division, there were fighters from all corners of the UFC roster who showed up in Dallas to sling leather and throw everything they could muster with the worst of intentions. There were shootouts up and down the card as the action rolled out at a fast and furious pace.
Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from UFC 171.
Four months ago, Hendricks was forced to exit the Octagon on the rough end of a debatable split-decision loss. The Oklahoma native told Joe Rogan in his post-fight interview the belt he earned had been taken away from him and promised to never let it happen again.
While he took a beating in the middle rounds of his title fight against Lawler, Bigg Rigg became the new welterweight champion based on his heart and ability to utilize his superior wrestling at the most opportune moment of the fight. The Team Takedown representative stood toe-to-toe with one of the most feared knockout artists in the game and earned every ounce of gold that now is wrapped around his waist.
With Hendricks making good on his second championship attempt, he will now await the UFC's decision as to which welterweight deserves the next shot.
Despite his loss in the main event, there is no reason for Lawler to hang his head following the five-round war the two men put on in Dallas on Saturday night. The savvy veteran put on one of the definitive performances of his storied career as he took the heavy-handed Hendricks to the wire.
When Woodley asked for the fight against former interim champion Condit, his intention was to jump to the front of a crowded welterweight title picture. While The Chosen One came into the fight as the obvious underdog, his power punching and takedowns made the difference in the opening round.
Where Woodley's conditioning was figured to come into question against the high out attack the Albuquerque native historically brings, the 31-year-old St. Louis native held strong and was able to keep Condit at bay. The surging contender was in control of the action, and when a leg kick forced Condit to drop to the canvas in agony, Woodley picked up the biggest win of his career.
With fellow American Top Team fighter Hector Lombard putting on a touchy performance earlier in the night, Woodley's stoppage victory over the former WEC welterweight champion will certainly put him within striking distance of the title shot he's so hungry to earn.
The lightweight division is brimming with talent, and there may be no brighter prospect at the current time than Myles Jury. The Team Alliance fighter has put together a consistent string of impressive performances, and he added the biggest of his young career in Dallas.
The 25-year-old Michigan native worked a cerebral and precision game plan as he picked apart gritty veteran Diego Sanchez. Where "The Dream" stayed true to form and attempted to turn the action into a dog fight, "Fury" kept his cool and punished Sanchez at every turn. By the end of the fight, the former The Ultimate Fighter winner's face was a bloody mask, and Jury picked up the lopsided unanimous decision victory.
With the win over Sanchez on Saturday night, Jury will absolutely move into the next tier of the division. He has collected five consecutive wins and has looked more impressive with every showing as he's climbed the divisional ladder. The next few months will provide several clashes in the elite tier of the weight class, and Jury will certainly be paired up with one of the winners later in the year.
***Ovince Saint Preux had zero mess around in him as he made short and violent work of Nikita Krylov. The former Tennessee University linebacker dusted off the classic Von Flue choke to leave the Ukrainian motionless on the canvas. "OSP" picked up a highlight-reel finish and his third consecutive victory under the UFC banner.
***There were some full fledged wars on the card for UFC 171, but none better in my humble opinion than Kelvin Gastelum vs. Rick Story. The 22-year-old TUF winner came out crisp and sharp in the opening frame as he peppered the Brave Legion fighter. Gastelum appeared to be cruising to victory when Story rocked then dropped him in the second with the Yuma native being saved by the bell. The final frame saw plenty more of the back and forth with Gastelum taking the win via split decision on the cards.
While I personally disagree with one judge scoring all three rounds for Gastelum, I don't disagree with the talented young welterweight picking up his third consecutive victory under the UFC banner.
***As the only female pairing on the card, Jessica Andrade and Raquel Pennington had to represent for WMMA, and they put on one heck of a show. It was a back-and-forth affair throughout the 15-minute tussle with the Brazilian taking the split-decision nod on the judges' scorecards. Andrade overcame a huge size and reach disadvantage to pick up her second win under the UFC banner.
***Winning streaks are tough to come by at the highest level of the sport, but Dennis Bermudez is in the process of building a monster. The TUF alum made Jimy Hettes his sixth consecutive victim as he drubbed the Pennsylvania native en route to stoppage in the third round. On the strength of this run, the 27-year-old will undoubtedly see a fighter from the next tier of the featherweight division in his next outing.
***The bout between Alex Garcia and Sean Spencer may have ended in a split decision in favor of the Tristar fighter, but both men were winners on Saturday night. The two welterweight fighters put a high-paced 15-minute firefight where both Spencer and Garcia were rocked on multiple occasions. It was far from a technical affair, but sometimes an old-fashion slugfest is chicken soup for the soul.
***South Carolina native Justin Scoggins provided yet another example of why he's one of the brightest young prospects in the flyweight ranks as he worked over veteran Will Campuzano on the preliminary portion of the card in Dallas. "Tank" picked up his second victory under the UFC banner and kept his undefeated record intact by utilizing a high-paced, pressure-filled attack to pick up the unanimous decision victory.
***First impressions are huge, and Sean Strickland made a great one on Saturday night. The 23-year-old stepped in on short notice to face veteran Bubba McDaniel and was able to keep his undefeated record intact as he submitted the Albuquerque-based fighter via rear-naked choke.
On a card filled with great fights, the welterweight showdown between Jake Shields and Lombard was the sleeper. With so much at stake where potential title shots were concerned, every 170-pound fighter on the bill needed to come out and show some moxie.
Although the Olympic judoka landed some blasters in the opening round, the final 10 minutes of the fight were lackluster. There is no doubt the former Strikeforce champion is a difficult matchup for any fighter inside the cage, but the American Top Team fighter basically went into cruise control once the action hit the canvas. While Lombard took the unanimous decision victory, it wasn't the caliber of showing that will earn him any favor in a heated title race like the one currently raging in the welterweight division.
The former Bellator champion is undoubtedly one of the biggest power punchers at 170 pounds, but his inability to keep pace throughout the entire fight will continue to haunt him in the aftermath of UFC 171.
Lombard is a bright orange Lamborghini in your garage you're only allowed to drive 7 minutes at a time.— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) March 16, 2014
There are going to be some tough times ahead for Robert "Bubba" McDaniel. The TUF alum was coming off a loss to Brad Tavares in his last showing, and he certainly needed a victory to keep the pulse on his roster spot in the middleweight division.
While the Texas native was originally slated to face Tor Troeng, the Swedish fighter suffered an injury and was replaced by undefeated 23-year-old Strickland on short notice. At nearly 30 fights logged on his career, McDaniel certainly had the edge in experience in the matchup, but he failed to utilize that advantage as Strickland locked in a rear-naked choke and forced him to tap in the opening round.
After catching criticism for his willingness to quit during his time on The Ultimate Fighter, and losses in two of his three showings since the show, McDaniel could be looking at a pink slip in the aftermath of UFC 171.
Another fighter who will most likely be looking for a new job on Monday will be Campuzano. The WEC veteran dropped down to flyweight hoping to put the brakes on a three-fight skid, but Scoggins proved to be too difficult a task on Saturday night. With four consecutive losses it will be difficult for Campuzano to keep his roster spot, even in a thin flyweight division.
When it comes to enthusiasm for what is happening inside the cage, Rogan's energetic commentary is certainly nothing new, especially when the action hits the canvas. The Eddie Bravo-trained practitioner is well-versed in jiu-jitsu and has been a crucial part in educating fight fans to what they are seeing unfold on the mat.
That said, Rogan's overexcitement when any variety of submission is attempted can have a wearing effect.
Will Joe Rogan ever see a submission he doesn't think is about to end the fight? Whiteford never changed expression and Joe still went crazy— Jonathan Snowden (@mmaencyclopedia) March 15, 2014
Scoggins can certainly fight, but his singing and dancing on the way to the cage toed the line the separating peppy and weird. That said, you can't knock the 21-year-old's enthusiasm and live-wire energy.
Nicknames in the fight game can cover the entire spectrum of strange, but Krylov's "Al Capone" moniker deserves a mention. It's also worth noting he was submitted with a Von Flue choke. That's right...a Von Flue choke.
Nikita "I can totally steal someone's whole name for my nickname" Krylov— Stephie D (@CrooklynMMA) March 16, 2014
Gonna be a spike to Von Flue's Wikipedia page tonight.— Dave Sholler (@Sholler_UFC) March 16, 2014
Fighters are paid to step into the cage and to put on a show. When those performances are of the special variety, the athlete's work is heralded and praised by the fighting faithful. That said, there are those unsung heroes behind the scenes who are never given their moment to shine.
On Friday afternoon at the official pre-fight weigh-ins, a white towel with the UFC logo played a large role in the drama that unfolded. Where the towel typically comes out once during the average pre-fight ritual, it was on overtime in Dallas, as UFC President Dana White and Burt Watson brought it into the game on three occasions.
Renee Forte was the first victim as he missed weight on the first attempt then proceeded to forfeit 20 percent of his purse to his opponent, Francisco Trevino. The Ultimate Fighter 17 winner Gastelum would be the next to get the towel treatment as he took to the scale for his bout with Story. The Yuma-based fighter missed the mark by two pounds on his initial attempt but circled back to make the 171-pound limit within the extra time allotted.
While the towel's two earlier appearances were solid stage time, there was no moment more tense than when Hendricks stood behind it for his time on the scale. The Oklahoma born knockout artist missed the mark by a pound and a half, which put the main event on the brink of chaos, but he was able to make the 170-pound mark within the two-hour period he was given.
It was a tough day on the grind for the official towel, and such hard work deserves to be recognized.
Duane Finely is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.