It’s hard to picture the welterweight division without Georges St-Pierre at the top of the throne, but we have to get used to it. A new king will be crowned on Saturday night.
At UFC 171 in Dallas, heavy-handed warriors Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler will clash in the middle of the Octagon like two titans fighting for their lives. Both men are hungry for gold, but only one will walk out of the American Airlines Center with the UFC Welterweight Championship around his waist.
Also on the card, welterweight dynamos Carlos Condit and Tyron Woodley will compete in the co-main event in hopes of earning the first crack at the new champ.
Plus, The Ultimate Fighter 1 winner Diego Sanchez returns to action against undefeated Myles Jury, Jake Shields battles Hector Lombard, and rising star Nikita “Al Capone” Krylov squares off with Ovince St. Preux.
RedHotVegas.com’s Roni Taylor is back once again to help break down this card. Let’s see who comes out on top in the prediction faceoff!
Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler
Mitchell Ciccarelli: With Georges St-Pierre's "retirement," the welterweight division has been kicked wide open, and a new era will be ushered in on Saturday night.
Hendricks is already considered by many as the "uncrowned" champ, after seemingly getting the better of St-Pierre through five rounds last November. Unfortunately for "Bigg Rigg," the judges weren't paying attention that night.
The Team Takedown leader is hungrier than ever to right that wrong and walk out of his home state of Texas with UFC gold in hand.
But first, he has to get past Lawler.
Since returning to the UFC last year, "Ruthless" has gone on an absolute tear and resurrected his career in ways that nobody thought he would. Seriously, if you would have told me last year that he would fight for a UFC title someday, I would have thought you were crazy.
As much as I have enjoyed his comeback story, I believe Hendricks' wrestling pedigree and vicious knockout power will prevail. What's your pick here, Roni?
Roni Taylor: I really hate fights like this because I am torn between my heart and my head.
My heart really doesn't like Hendricks, mostly because of how he acted after the GSP fight, so I want to root for Lawler to knock his block off.
My head, on the other hand, knows good and well that Bigg Rigg's wrestling prowess and one-punch KO power are going to be too much for Lawler come Saturday.
I would be shocked if this fight made it out of the first round. I am going to give this fight to Hendricks by way of yet another first-round TKO.
Expect to have a little deja vu from both the Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann fights, as Johny launches another one of his monster overhand lefts to seal the deal.
Ciccarelli’s pick: Hendricks by third-round (T)KO
Taylor’s pick: Hendricks by first-round (T)KO
Carlos Condit vs. Tyrone Woodley
MC: Whoever takes home the gold in the main event is going to have his work
cut out for them because he will have either Condit or Woodley in the crosshairs next.
I have said this for a long time, but I truly believe that nobody blends pure technique with raw violence at 170 pounds better than Condit.
He is "The Natural Born Killer" for a reason, but the one flaw in his game has always been his ability to defend takedowns against explosive, collegiate-level wrestlers.
A former NCAA Division I wrestler, Woodley is as explosive as they come. However, I don't see "T-Wood" grinding this one out.
Condit has been drilling takedown defense like nobody’s business, and Woodley seems to be more of a striker than a wrestler these days.
I think the former interim champ will bait Woodley into a firefight and eventually catch him flush for a stoppage.
What about you?
RT: As impressive as Woodley has looked with his KO wins over Josh Koscheck and Jay Hieron, I just don't feel he is on the same level as The Natural Born Killer.
Condit has the best combination of composure and aggression in the game today. His ability to methodically pick fighters apart, like he did to Nick Diaz, will prove to be the deciding
factor in this fight.
While Woodley has the edge in brute strength, Condit is the more cerebral fighter, and at the upper echelon of the welterweight division, that has proven to be a key component of success.
Carlos takes this one by way of TKO due to submission late in the third round after he frustrates Woodley with his outside striking and then catches Tyrone with a guillotine as he dives in for a lazy takedown.
Ciccarelli’s pick: Condit by second-round (T)KO
Taylor’s pick: Condit by third-round submission
Diego Sanchez vs. Myles Jury
MC: Nearly 10 years have passed since Sanchez dominated Kenny Florian to become
the first TUF winner in the middleweight division. The fact that "The Dream" is still competing at a high level, when all of his other TUF 1 brothers have fallen out, is pretty remarkable if you ask me.
Sanchez is coming off a decision loss to Gilbert Melendez that will forever be remembered as one of the craziest MMA wars of all time.
He's going up against an undefeated star on the rise in "Fury" Jury and needs to deliver a win in order to stay relevant.
Jury is impressive, but I don't think we have seen him tested against a fighter of Sanchez' caliber yet.
I'll take Sanchez by a "dirty" unanimous-decision win. You see what I did there? Take your pick, Roni.
RT: It seems someone has been spending too much time on UrbanDictionary.com. I am a raving fan of Diego Sanchez because he is one of the few fighters out there that refuses to have a boring fight.
I'd like to change his nickname to "The Mexican Zombie" because just like Chan Sung Jung, Diego keeps coming forward no matter what his opponent does to him.
Yes, Jury has a perfect record, but I agree with you in such that Jury has never fought anyone as aggressive and durable as Sanchez.
This will be a rude awakening for Myles as he loses this one by decision. Diego will overwhelm him all three rounds for a 30-27 final tally.
Ciccarelli’s pick: Sanchez by unanimous decision
Taylor’s pick: Sanchez by unanimous decision
Jake Shields vs. Hector Lombard
MC: UFC 171 might as well be renamed "night of welterweights," as we have another top contender battle here at 170 pounds.
A former Strikeforce champion, Shields isn't the most exciting kitten in the litter, but he knows how to catch the mouse. In his last two bouts, he ground out wins over top contenders Woodley and Demian Maia.
Lombard just dropped down to welterweight this past October and absolutely destroyed former title contender Nate Marquardt in the process.
A similar win over Shields could catapult the former Bellator champ into a UFC title fight.
Shields is a grinder. He takes guys down and keeps them there. It's not pretty, but unfortunately, very few fighters in this world can prevent him from doing it.
Maybe I'm crazy, but I think Lombard is one of those few.
I like Lombard by another explosive TKO victory that will make the UFC brass seriously consider him for the next title shot. Am I out of my mind or do you agree?
RT: Yes, you are a little crazy, but it's not because you're picking Lombard to win this one. I do not like Shields' M.O. for winning fights.
It’s lay and pray, and honestly I don't think he is going to even get the chance to pretend to be a Snuggie on top of Lombard.
Hector backs his powerful striking with his elite-level judo, and I think that spells disaster for Shields. As much as it pains me to do so, I am going to agree with you again on this one.
I see Hector smashing Shields until he sees stars before the first five minutes have elapsed.
Ciccarelli’s pick: Lombard by first-round (T)KO
Taylor’s pick: Lombard by first-round (T)KO
Nikita Krylov vs. Ovince St. Preux
MC: I'll be honest with you; I have no clue why this fight is on the main card of a pay-per-view.
I'm not overly impressed with either one of these guys and would have preferred the Raquel Pennington vs. Jessica Andrade fight in this spot instead.
I know Krylov and St. Preux are both coming off TKO wins, but I don't think that warrants a PPV main card slot when you consider how awful they both looked before that. I'm not dogging on them, though.
St. Preux is still a diamond in the rough, and "Al Capone" looks like he has some serious potential as well. This could turn out to be a really good fight, so maybe I should just stop complaining.
I'm going to take OSP as the lone submission winner on the PPV.
RT: Looks like I am going to have to burst your bubble on this one, my friend. While I agree this fight will end in a submission, you got the wrong person getting their hand raised.
Krylov is not only a Master of Sport in Kyokushin karate, but every single one of his 16 wins have been in the first round, with 10 of those wins coming by way of submission!
I am actually pretty excited to watch this fight, as I think Krylov is going to chalk up another first-round
victory by way of submission, and I'll go ahead and call it now: arm triangle.
Ciccarelli’s pick: St. Preux by first-round submission (rear-naked choke)
Taylor’s pick: Krylov by first-round submission (arm triangle)
Mitch Ciccarelli is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report and co-host of Alchemist Radio. He is also a United States Airman. Follow him on Twitter @MitchCiccarelli.