UFC 171's main event was an all-time great championship bout between Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler. Their match was an instant classic and was everything that is great about high-level MMA drama. It was back and forth, it was an emotional roller coaster, and both fighters had compelling stories coming into the match.
Johny Hendricks as UFC Welterweight Champion gives the promotion an excellent sense of continuity as his fight with retired champion Georges St-Pierre can be framed as a torch-passing moment. Hendricks has great star potential for the UFC, who will cash in on his exciting fights and folksy charm.
The fight was outstanding as Hendricks took charge early and Lawler came storming back in the middle rounds. It all came down to the 5th round and both fighters bared their souls looking for victory. And even that final round was a back-and-forth battle that Hendricks took over late, hurting Lawler badly with left hands and then sealing the fight with a takedown and pinning Lawler for the final thirty seconds of the fight.
The fight was a fantastic way to ring in the post St-Pierre era in the Welterweight division, and we can only hope to be treated to more title fights of that caliber.
More thoughts about tonight's fights:
- Hendricks' striking looked like it took another leap forward tonight as he was really stringing together punches, low kicks, and knees to just punish Lawler at times. Hendricks has been sneaky with his knees at range in the past, but it is becoming a centerpiece of his striking offense along with his left straight. He is also working in his right hand far more effectively and the addition of leg kicks were an excellent wrinkle for Hendricks also. He is becoming a more complete and more dangerous striker.
- Lawler looks like a totally different fighter since even 2012. His growth as a fighter has been amazing as his trip through the journey of MMA fighters trying to find how to train. His time at the Miletich camp was full of hard, full-on sparring, and then after leaving there he did a complete 180 and almost never sparred. He change locations to address a environmentally impacted asthma problem, and that has appeared to have solved a good deal of his cardio problems. Many want elite MMA fighters to have a clean and tidy path to greatness, but both Lawler and Hendricks hit road bumps during their development. Lawler took the path less traveled, but appears to be in a stride and it will be very interesting to see if he can keep it going despite the loss.
- Carlos Condit's night came to a very unfortunate end as his knee buckled first on a takedown and then after a kick. It always is less then ideal when a fight ends in a knee injury, and hopefully Condit is able to bounce back from a injury that could easily change his career.
- The end was doubly unfortunate because Tyron Woodley looked really good in this fight in the lead up. He was tagging Condit on the feet, and taking him down with ease. The knee injury wasn't a freak accident, it was on a takedown, and Woodley recognized that.
- Myles Jury, put best in his own words, put a beating on Diego Sanchez. Jury landed pretty much everything he threw, and while Sanchez had more success hitting Jury than he did against Gilbert Melendez, it was a pretty lopsided fight. A judge did find a way to give Sanchez a round, and it was part of a theme of questionable scorecards turned in by Texas SAC judges over the course of the entire night.
- Hector Lombard put a grown man beating on Jake Shields. It was basically one-way traffic for Lombard the entire fight, aside from one guillotine attempt at the end of the third. Lombard mixed together his hard hooks with great trips and footsweeps. One judge somehow saw fit to give Shields a round, presumably the last round for the guillotine.
- Ovince St. Preux was easily able to put Nikita Krylov to sleep in a Von Flue choke. Krylov basically showed how raw he is on the ground when he held on the guillotine after having his guard passed, a mistake that the majority of BJJ white belts are schooled not to make. The win for St. Preux could end Krylov's UFC run as it is painfully obvious he doesn't have the skills.
- The main event of the undercard featured a great fight between Kelvin Gastelum and Rick Story. Early it appeared to be all Kelvin Gastelum as he has added a quick jab to his striking game. Story landed a big right hand at the end of the second, and then a close fought third round. Two judges awarded the fight to Gastelum.
- The rest of the Fox Sports 2 segment was full of fun fights. Jessica Andrade and Raquel Pennington put on a real scrap as Andrade was able to trap Pennington on the cage several times and flurry, and got some hip throws in the first round. Pennington came back in the third round very strong, but it wasn't enough for two judges.
- Dennis Bermudez just beat Jimy Hettes down pretty much every second of this fight. Hettes' status of an interesting fighter, much less being a prospect, is completely revoked. Bermudez looked excellent and is deserving of a step up in the Featherweight division towards contendership.
- The highlight of the Fight Pass prelims was some young prospects getting cage time. Justin Scoggins looked excellent against Will Campuzano, showing off his excellent wrestling and ability to shift from striking and grappling. Similarly Sean Strickland looked excellent in less than a round of work against Bubba McDaniel. Both fighters are certainly worth keeping an eye on as they progress.
- The other two fights were fights featuring local Texas fighters against mid-level guys. Daniel Pineda nearly had a very nice kneebar that likely would have forced a tap in the gym, but little else against Robert Whiteford. And Frank Trevino leveraged his Muay Thai to get a win over Renee Forte.