USA Today

After two rounds on Sunday at UFC Fight Night 38, we were all struggling to write eulogies for Dan Henderson’s legendary MMA career.

Then, a minute into the third, Hendo penned one for Mauricio “Shogun” Rua using just one punch.

It was a right hook, and Henderson landed it flush on Rua’s nose as the 32-year-old crowd favorite dropped his hands to defend a takedown. Rua somersaulted backward, and Hendo charged in to land another right, followed by a series of hammerfists that prompted referee Herb Dean to stop the action.

Just like that, Hendo changed the balance of the discussion. Suddenly, it was the 43-year-old who was back in the mix of the light heavyweight division and Rua whose storied tenure in the sport seemed on its last legs.

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Of all the fighters forced to walk the testosterone replacement therapy tightrope during the last several years, Dan Henderson always managed to pull it off with the greatest of ease.

While we vilified Vitor Belfort, snickered at Chael Sonnen and scoffed at Todd Duffee, Hendo largely got a pass. He was arguably just as culpable as the rest—all boxed into the paradoxical corner of claiming they needed TRT to compete while simultaneously denying it had anything to do with their success in the cage—but mostly we let him slide.

Maybe because MMA’s testosterone debate didn’t really reach its fever pitch until he was into his 40s, we cut Henderson some slack. Maybe because he never tested positive for anything and because he always came off as more open and honest about TRT than some other people we could mention, we were more inclined to believe his explanations.

Or maybe we just liked the guy.

Maybe we all admired his legendary career, lackadaisical cowboy attitude and swing-for-the-fences style and didn’t want to corrupt them with allegations of cheating.

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As one of his first official moves as UFC welterweight champion, Johny Hendricks told MMA Junkie Radio he's going to lock his new title in a safety deposit box.

Can’t say I blame him, as his 170-pound championship belt figures to be one of the fight company’s most sought-after items during the coming months.

His victory over Robbie Lawler at UFC 171 gave the division a titlist for the first time since Georges St-Pierre vacated the championship in December, but the rest of Saturday night's action did little to clarify the pecking order among a crowded and confusing crop of challengers.

As it stands, there are no fewer than five men who can make a compelling case to be Hendricks' next opponent, and that doesn’t even include the injured Carlos Condit or the streaking Matt Brown (who is out of the No. 1 contender discussion pending results of his May 10 bout against Erick Silva).

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At this point, there appears to be very little mystery left in Georges St-Pierre’s indefinite leave of absence from mixed martial arts.

In case you didn’t hear him the first time, the former UFC welterweight champion said on Monday he thinks major changes are still needed in how the sport conducts its drug testing.

Without them, he won’t return.

“Personally, I’m not interested in coming back if there’s nothing done in that regard…,” St-Pierre said during an appearance on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani. “The only thing I regret now is…I should have (made these demands) before this. Because this has been bothering me for a long time and I never said anything.”

USA Today

Sometimes you miss something without even consciously knowing it was gone. It's a nagging feeling, one that tickles the back of your brain. You sense something isn't right but can't always put your finger on exactly what's been absent from your life, what's made your dark, endless, dreary existence just a smidgen worse than it's always been.

Don't worry, though. If you're a mixed martial arts fan I've pinpointed it for you. What's been missing is an edge. For such a controversial sport, it seems, MMA is awfully staid and traditional. Fighters hug it out, compliment each other for their performance and offer endless platitudes about the "grind" and the value of hard work.

Frankly it can be boring as hell.

MMA needs a spark. It needs its Chael Sonnens, inexplicably confident and voluble in the face of stark reality. It needs its Jon Jones, flashy, cocky and inexpressibly amazing.

And it needs a dose of punk rock, a dangerous vibe that reminds us that this all started with Helio Gracie street fights and Jeremy Horn choking some dude in a warehouse in front of 17 violence-mad lunatics.

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Robbie Lawler flashed his pearly whites throughout his UFC title fight with Johny Hendricks. All but forgotten, one foot out the door just two years ago after a loss to Lorenz Larkin in Strikeforce, Lawler had worked his way back into title contention.

That, alone, is something to smile about. But getting punched in the face? Lawler was just so happy to be fighting for the belt that the mere thought of being there was enough to light up his eyes.

Hendricks lands a left hand? Smile.

Hendricks lands a big knee? Smile.

Matt Strasen/AP Images

Smart won.

Heart won.

Johny Hendricks was at his best when his best was needed Saturday at UFC 171, turning away a strong second-half push from Robbie Lawler to claim the vacant welterweight title via unanimous decision.

Their instant-classic fight began the post-Georges St-Pierre era in style—with a visceral, five-round slugfest that at times seemed the antithesis of the slow-and-steady performances that had become the norm from the previous champion.

If there were any lingering questions about what the 170-pound class would look like with St-Pierre out on his self-imposed sabbatical, Hendricks and Lawler provided the answers.

Their back-and-forth scrap will surely be a Fight of the Year candidate and set up a litany of fresh storylines for Hendricks as he begins his reign as titlist.

USA Today

The post-Georges St-Pierre era begins in earnest on Saturday night, when Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler scrap for the vacant welterweight title at UFC 171.

In addition to learning who will shepherd the 170-pound championship into this uncertain future, MMA fans stand a good chance of discovering the identity of the new No. 1 contender as well.

The winner of Carlos Condit vs. Tyron Woodley has the inside track to face the winner of Hendricks vs. Lawler sometime this summer, but Hector Lombard vs. Jake Shields could also produce a legitimate title challenger.

If ever there was a time to be bold in the welterweight division, it’s now.

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Robbie Lawler, circa 2001, was a fight promoter's dream. Raw-boned, corn-fed and lily white, the 19-year-old Iowan prodigy appeared to be cut from granite as he laid waste to Saburo Kawakatsu at a long-forgotten extravaganza in Hawaii. 

The world wasn't watching Shogun Fights, but that wasn't important, at least not for Lawler. One man who mattered was in the front row watching the laser light show and world-class fighters—Dana White, in his first year as UFC president and looking to reinvent the fight game.

White, on his way toward becoming one of America's most iconic fight promoters, knew what he wanted. And he wanted Lawler, going so far as to compare a kid in his fourth professional fight to the fearsome boxer Mike Tyson, signing him to a UFC contract in what he called "a Christmas present to myself."

At the time fans had a bit of fun with that piece of hyperbole. Though not yet bald and bombastic, White was already developing a reputation as an emotional and compelling interview. This, it was thought, was just an early example of Dana being Dana.  

USA Today

Arguably the most interesting thing about Saturday's fight between Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler is that it doesn’t really matter who wins.

Either way—and barring something unforeseen—the UFC 171 main event will usher in a new era for the welterweight division. No matter who hangs the no-vacancy sign on the 170-pound title, one of the fight company’s most reliable weight classes will be unequivocally changed.

For the first time since 2008, the welterweight class will have an undisputed champion not named Georges St-Pierre. Regardless of this weekend’s result, every man in the division will enjoy new life, and each of them will have a new target upon which to heap his most sinister desires.

Welterweight will be scruffier and a little rougher around the edges come Monday, with either Hendricks or Lawler at the helm. We’ll trade custom suits and polite sound bites for ball caps and straight talk, careful game-planning for bad intentions, and a half-decade of French-Canadian dominance for a wide-open division where it feels like anybody has a shot to wear the belt.