Hendricks vs. Lawler: What We Learned from the UFC 171 Title Fight

Steven RondinaFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2014

Nov 16, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Johny Hendricks (blue gloves) looks on between rounds of his welterweight championship bout during UFC 167 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sp

For almost six long years, Georges St-Pierre held the welterweight belt. For five of those years, his hold on it was utterly unbreakable.

Fighters like Thiago Alves and Dan Hardy were built up on the idea that they were the ones to give St-Pierre a challenge. Not necessarily beat him...but they could at least make him work for it. More often than not, they didn't.

When Johny Hendricks actually did, fans were taken aback, but excited. After all, is there anything more exciting than seeing somebody climb to the top only to get knocked back down? It's a sadistic lust that looms in any kind of celebrity worship, and sport is no different.

While St-Pierre denied fans the opportunity to see him fall, Hendricks assumed his place as the champion, in theory at least. In vintage St-Pierre-like fashion, he was regarded as a massive favorite over the first challenger to his perceived throne, Robbie Lawler.

Things didn't go as planned, though. Hendricks vs. Lawler proved to be a far more competitive fight than most expected. Many thought Hendricks would either knock Lawler out without incident or wrestle him en route to a handy decision victory.

Lawler, though, demonstrated surprisingly good takedown defense and did excellent work trapping Hendricks' hands during exchanges and rolling with the punches that got through. By the end of the fight, Hendricks was battered and bloody, while Lawler walked away looking like he just came out of the showers.

Matt Strasen/Associated Press

When the scores were read, though, Hendricks would get a (more or less) unanimous 48-47 nod from the judges, trotting away with a shiny new belt and a freshly rearranged face...just like Georges St-Pierre did to him months earlier. And just like with Georges St-Pierre, many disagreed with the decision.

Disagree with the decision, but no doubt that was a great title fight to watch, love watching guys who love to fight!

— Jared Hamman (@jaredhammanMMA) March 16, 2014

So what did we learn from that, then? Frankly, that Johny Hendricks may be the champion, but it will be genuinely surprising if he holds on to the belt for any length of time.

Hendricks has dynamite hands. He has strong wrestling. So does Tyron Woodley. So does Jake Ellenberger. So do several other fighters.

Part of that is because the welterweight division is really deep. Part of that is because Johny Hendricks isn't the same sort of truly complete package that Georges St-Pierre was.

Lawler made Hendricks look bad at points during the bout, landing stifling jabs again and again, deflecting punches and countering effectively. His superior striking wore Hendricks down to the point where he couldn't consistently land takedowns. Hendricks knew it, too.

"I'll get stronger. It's just my second fight for five rounds," he said after the fight. "I've been at this for six and a half years. Look at all the guys I'm fighting. They have eight, nine...12 years. I have a lot to learn still."

Matt Strasen/Associated Press

While Lawler has solid striking and inimitable savvy from all his time in the sport, he is by no means the welterweight division's Junior dos Santos or Urijah Faber. If Lawler can push Hendricks to the brink like that, so too can many other welterweight fighters.

And that, really, is why you should all miss Georges St-Pierre. St-Pierre was at the top of the mountain and therefore offered the longest, most entertaining fall.

Hendricks? That's just not quite as satisfying.