UFC 171 was truly the night of the welterweights, nearly half of the UFC's top-15 ranked fighters showcased their skills on Saturday night and they all delivered interesting outcomes.
Headlining the prelims, Kelvin Gastelum (NR), the 22-year old TUF 17-winner defeated Rick Story (#14) by split decision in a back-and-forth fight. Gastelum took the early lead but it was Story who rallied later and nearly got the finish in the second round, but unfortunately for Story, it was not enough to gain the edge on the scorecards.
Hector Lombard (#12) defeated Jake Shields (#6) in a rather dominant unanimous decision victory that saw the former Bellator Middleweight champ rag-doll Shields on a few occasions and stifle his attempts to take the fight to the canvas. It was not the knockout victory that most had hoped for, but it was still a very impressive performance considering how easily Lombard was able to control an opponent who held victories over 3/4 fighters in the title picture.
Tyron Woodley (#11) defeated Carlos Condit (#2) by TKO (leg injury) in the second round. Woodley won the first round, and although Condit injured his leg in the second, it was due to a takedown by Woodley followed by a hard kick once they were standing that put him away. Although many fans are understandably upset by the way this fight had ended, We shouldn't use it as an excuse to disregard Woodley's performance.
Johny Hendricks (#1) defeated Robbie Lawler (#3) by unanimous decision after a highly competitive and thoroughly entertaining 5-round war. Many of the rounds were close, and both had their moments, but in the end, it was Hendricks who went home with the belt.
Now that the dust has settled in Texas, fans are left to wonder who gets the next shot at the belt, and what ranked match-ups will arise from these results. As a fan myself, I will speculate the most likely match-ups and give my reasoning behind them.
Johny Hendricks vs. Tyron Woodley
Johny Hendrick's first title defense will likely come against former Strikeforce Welterweight Champion, Tyron Woodley. There is an argument to be made for Lombard to get a title shot seeing as he beat Shields who earned a split decision victory over Woodley back in June, but back-to-back finishes over Condit & Koscheck will probably supersede this. This is a compelling match-up between two heavy-handed wrestlers, who, in many ways, are mirror-images of the other. Either man could knock out the other, but seeing as Woodley is the only one with a knockout loss on his record, Hendricks would be the more likely of the two to gain a stoppage victory. Regardless of if there would be a finish or not, it's hard to imagine this fight not being entertaining.
Rory MacDonald vs. Hector Lombard
Despite Joe Rogan hyping up Rory MacDonald as the next title contender, I think it's a bit early for that. MacDonald had a 5-fight winning steak snapped back in November when he dropped a split decision to Robbie Lawler. Although he rebounded with a unanimous decision win over Demain Maia, that win alone isn't enough to warrant an immediate title shot. In order to gain a shot at the belt, Rory will have to prove that he has learned from the mistakes he made against Lawler. Bring in Hector Lombard.
Stylistically, Lombard posses many of the same problems that Lawler did to MacDonald. Both are hard-hitting southpaws with good takedown defense, a solid chin and an aggressive demeanor. If MacDonald could defeat Lombard, then I think he will have done enough to get a shot at the winner of Hendricks/Woodley. The same of course goes for Lombard if he can beat MacDonald.
Carlos Condit vs. Robbie Lawler
Hopefully Condit's injury isn't too bad and this fight can get made in a few months. One could only imagine the kind of fireworks this fight would produce. I don't want to be one of those guys who says "this is guaranteed to be FOTN", but come on. Both fighters had recently lost their chance at UFC gold, Lawler on the losing end of a close decision and Condit in a fight many had pegged as a #1 contender fight. A win over the other, especially a finish, would propel the winner back into the mix. The loser wouldn't drop much considering both are still the elite of their weight class. Technical brilliance, heavy punches, head kicks, flying knees, this fight has all the makings to be one of the best fights of 2014 if it can come to fruition. Especially if it were a 5-round main event on a free card, like FOX.
Originally scheduled to headline the Singapore card, Ellenberger pulled out due to injury and Saffiedine went on to defeat Hyun Gyu Lim by unanimous decision. Now re-scheduled for UFC 172 next month, assuming the fight happens, the winner would likely be a fight or two away from contending for the belt. Ellenberger is looking to get back into the win column after losing a dull unanimous decision to Rory MacDonald last summer, while Saffiedine is hoping to ride the momentum of a 5-fight winning streak. The winner should get Dong Hyun Kim. Kim is 10-2 inside the Octagon with his only losses coming to Condit and an injury against Maia. He is currently on a 4-fight winning streak with back-to-back knockout victories over Erick Silva & John Hathaway. Kim deserves a step-up in competition, and I believe the winner of this fight would be the best suited.
Matt Brown / Erick Silva (winner) vs. Jake Ellenberger / Tarec Saffiedine (loser)
I am well aware that everybody loves "The Immortal", and although his 6-fight winning streak his impressive, wins over the likes of Pyle, Mein and Swick aren't enough to grant a title shot. Brown is near title-contention but not quite there yet, and in a stacked division like welterweight, it'll be a tough road to that UFC title shot. A win over Erick Silva, who is not currently ranked in the top #15, won't help him much either. A win for either fighter won't be enough to get a #1 contender fight, but it will be enough to draw in a big name. The loser of Ellenberger/Saffiedine would fit the bill. Some people may argue that they should get the winner but I think Kim, who holds victories over both Brown & Silva, has a stronger case to fight the winner.
Demian Maia vs. Matt Brown / Erick Silva (loser)
Back in October, Maia seemed to be on his way to title contention. He had wins over Kim, Story and Fitch and it seemed a win over Shields could have been the last win he needed in order to earn a title shot. He lost a very close split decision and then more recently lost a unanimous decision to Rory MacDonald. Maia may be out of the title picture, but he still hasn't fallen very far. A step down in competition against the loser of Brown/Silva seems like the most logical option at the moment. It'd be a dangerous fight for Brown who has 5 submission losses on his record, but Silva on the other hand holds a black belt in both BJJ and Judo and has never been submitted in his career, while most of his victories (9/16) have come by way of submission. Either way, let's make it happen.
Jake Shields vs. Rick Story
Shields may not be in the UFC much longer if they decide to cast him aside like Fitch & Okami, but if he does stay, I think a match against Rick Story would be interesting. At one point in time, Rick Story had a 6-fight winning streak with wins over the likes of Alves & Hendricks. He has since gone 3-5, and has struggled to stay relevant after recently going back and forth between wins and losses. A win over Shields is unlikely, but he'll probably be given to Shields anyway in order to keep him away from the title picture for a little while.
This fight makes too much sense not to happen. Both are on 3-fight losing streaks, two of those coming by way of knockout, and one by decision. To be fair, it was against tough competition in Woodley, Lawler, Hendricks, Lombard, Ellenberger and Saffiedine. These two fighters may not have fallen as far as people think but the best way to find out who is worthy of a second chance is to have them fight. The winner would be on the long road back to relevance while the loser would be on a 4-fight losing streak and a running candidate to be dropped from the roster. It'd be a high stakes fight, and hopefully it would motivate them to but on a great show.
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Mike Pyle
Gastelum is undefeated at 3-0 in the Octagon, and 8-0 overall, but he is still very young at only 22 years old. His win over Story will likely vault him into the top-15 but we should remember that his performance was far from flawless, Story did have him hurt and gave him a close fight. I hope we don't see Gastleum get thrown to the wolves quite yet. He is full of promise but he needs to slow down a bit now and work his way up gradually. Personally, I think Mike Pyle would be a good opponent. Like Gastelum, Pyle has a recent split decision victory over Rick Story from last year. Pyle went on to get knocked out by Matt Brown but he has since returned with a brutal victory over TJ Waldburger at UFC 170. Rankings wise, they should be pretty close, and it would make for a good fight.
Tell me what you think in comments below!
If you agree/disagree, your thoughts on my match-ups, some of your own suggestions or even some fighters I didn't include on this list who you would like to see square off.