Johny Hendricks outlasted Robbie Lawler over five rounds Saturday night to win a unanimous decision and the welterweight title at UFC 171 in Dallas.
All three judges scored the bout 48-47 for Hendricks, who became the first new man to hold the belt in six years. Georges St-Pierre was the undisputed champion since 2008, but abruptly vacated the title and took an indefinite leave of absence from MMA in December.
The evenly matched contest saw both men give and take massive punishment. Hendricks and Lawler, who have a combined 26 career wins by knockout, set a record in the bout for significant strikes, according to UFC statistics provider FightMetric:
Johny Hendricks' 158 significant strikes are the most ever landed in a UFC title fight; Lawler's 150 are 3rd most. #UFC171— Michael Carroll (@MJCflipdascript) March 16, 2014
The performance also netted each man a $50,000 Fight of the Night bonus.
UFC 171 bonuses Fight - Hendricks/Lawler Performances: St-Preux & Bermudez— UFCONFOX (@UFCONFOX) March 16, 2014
The first two rounds appeared to favor Hendricks, who used a diversity of strikes and some clinch work to keep Lawler off balance. In the third and fourth rounds, Lawler came back behind his massive punching power, hurting Hendricks with a heavy jab and a barrage of uppercuts and overhands.
In the fifth and deciding round, both men were exhausted, with Hendricks being the man who dug a little deeper in the final minutes. A takedown against the fence with about 60 seconds remaining likely sealed the fight and the title for Hendricks.
In the post-fight press conference, Hendricks discussed his desire to give the bout his full effort:
Hendricks, a former national champion wrestler, now moves to 16-2 in pro MMA. He has won seven of his last eight contests.
The 31-year-old Lawler has still won three of his last four and is 22-10-1 overall.
Scott Harris writes about MMA and other topics for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter.