UFC Welterweight Division Picture Much Clearer After UFC 171

Dan HiergesellFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2014

Nov 17, 2012; Montreal, QC, Canada;  Johny Hendricks reacts after knocking out Martin Kampmann (not pictured) during first round action of their Welterweight bout at UFC 154 at the Bell Centre.  Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Like Optimus Prime or Starscream, the UFC welterweight division has began its intricate transformation.

But like any significant alteration, the 170-pound weight class needed a new beginning.  UFC 171 ultimately served as that AllSpark.

Without former champion Georges St-Pierre at the helm in the cage and out of it, the promotion was in need of a new titleholder.  One who could make sense of this whole mess and finally shed some light on the future of a division dictated under one man for nearly six straight years.

Well, it has finally happened.  The transformation has commenced.  Johny Hendricks has earned what he arguably deserved to have back at UFC 167 by outlasting and outscoring Robbie Lawler in a five-round bloodbath this past Saturday in Dallas.

The blistering main event not only produced one of the most entertaining fights in recent divisional memory, but it offered fight fans from all corners of the globe immediate insight into the world of UFC welterweights.

Now even though Hendricks vs. Lawler stole the show with a barbaric back-and-forth that even Diego Sanchez himself would think twice about, the division's eagerly anticipated transformation would not have gotten underway if not for other main card welterweights looking to impress.

Carlos Condit blew his knee out in heartbreaking fashion, allowing Tyron Woodley to capture his third finish in just four fights and create the sort of divisional buzz that Daniel Cormier would die for.

Hector Lombard tossed Jake Shields around like one of those wrestling dolls you used to drop elbows on from the top bunk, suggesting his power and judo skills have what it takes to sustain a run at the title.

Matt Strasen/Associated Press

But let's not forget the world-class chin and destructive ability that Lawler displayed in a losing effort.  He looked every part of a UFC champion as he withstood the aggressive and calculated dynamo that is the bearded man.

So what does this all mean to a division still churning after the sudden departure of one of the greatest champions of all time?

It's simple.  The division now has an identity.  It now has a name to hang its hat on.  A champion for hungry contenders to set their sights on.  One who will welcome each and every one of them with closed fists and wide eyes.

With that said, there isn't exactly a clear-cut favorite to get the next shot at the title and put Hendricks' first defense into motion.  Not that there aren't any good candidates, it's just that there are simply too many names capable of earning that right.

But hey, that's not necessarily a bad thing, right?

In any case, the UFC has a lot of sifting and deciding to do.  It could easily construct a list of potential title contenders, but only one guy is going to get a chance at the newly instated champion.

So you have to ask yourself, who deserves it?

On one hand, you have Woodley, a guy who has gone 3-1 in the division since losing a Strikeforce welterweight title fight to Nate Marquardt back in 2012.  He seems to possess the athleticism, natural strength and explosiveness to push Hendricks to the absolute brink.

On the other hand, you have Lombard, an accomplished journeyman who the UFC has been eager to cash in on.  But while his controlling power and ability to finish fights fuels his candidacy, it's his repeating disappearance late in fights that suggests he may not be ready.

And on the other other hand, somewhere buried deep under a rock you have Nick Diaz, a mixed martial arts veteran who often beats his opponents down before they ever step inside a cage.  A guy who will have to do a whole lot of talking to leapfrog other rising candidates like Rory MacDonald, Tarec Saffiedine, Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown.

But to have all of these options means that the UFC welterweight division should be able to flourish and transform from within despite GSP's mysterious absence.

The divisional picture seems to be much clearer now and has fallen into the worthwhile hands of a champion who deserves every bit of praise he may get.

As for Condit, let's hope he makes a quick recovery in order to preserve a potentially masterful rematch with "Bigg Rigg."


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