UFC 171: If This Is What Title Fights Look Like with No GSP, Sign Me Up

Matthew Ryder@@matthewjryderFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2014

AP Images

For years, Georges St-Pierre was the king of the welterweight mountain. Men came from all around to hit the scales on a Friday and then take their beating from him on a Saturday, which was often dished out with the help of judges and followed up by some humble post-fight Frenglish.

It was a good era, one that people will tell their kids about for generations: This quiet Canadian mopped the floor with dudes of all shapes and sizes, all of whom were trying to varying degrees to troll or threaten him in some new way.

But the result was always the same, and it involved St-Pierre with his hand raised.

And now, if it's over even for just a few months, there's reason to enjoy the way the welterweight division looks in his absence.

At UFC 171, Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler slugged it out for the right to hold the title that GSP vacated, putting on a razor-thin scrap that blended the type of heart, technique and athleticism that people are dying for in modern MMA.

The two weren't there to ride out a decision (even if that ended up being the end result). Instead, they were content to trade shots and see which man could survive five rounds. Both did, which is more a testament to their toughness than either man's inability to finish.

They showed the world what can happen when a dominant, predictable champion is no longer in the picture.

Hendricks and Lawler provided a frenetic energy that had not been present in a St-Pierre fight for a long time. Instead of people asking, "Is this the guy to finally beat the champ," they had room to appreciate the skill on display. The bout became far more about the title and the warriors trying to win it than it was about one man's legacy and his relative invincibility.

That's not to downplay GSP's accomplishments or celebrate his exit from the sport. For far too long, people have been critical of the former champion's unwillingness to engage in wild brawls for fan amusement. It's easier to open his Wikipedia page and complain about the run of decisions than it is to break them down and ask why they're happening, so that's the road most people take.

However, decisions over Hendricks and Carlos Condit were among his most exciting performances, while decisions over Dan Hardy and Jon Fitch were delightful to watch because of the dominance on display.

Still, it was refreshing to see two 170-pounders who were willing to enter the Octagon and take a punch to give one in a fight that meant as much as one can in the UFC.

For too long, the buck stopped with GSP in the welterweight division. The ride was about a contender establishing himself, not about him rising to win a title, because no one could handle the champion. Furthermore, when a contender got the chance to prove otherwise, GSP would derail him in a very specific, largely uninteresting fashion.

Those days are gone, at least for now. With Hendricks holding gold and guys like Condit, Lawler and a possibly returning Nick Diaz nipping at his heels, to say nothing of interesting propositions like Hector Lombard and Tyron Woodley, the welterweight division is as interesting as ever, and the fights for the title are sure to be barnburners.

It's easy to be excited about that.


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