The Bloody Elbow staff takes a look at how things could shake out in the UFC's welterweight division following UFC 171. Specifically, we address who should be the No. 1 contender, and who Johny Hendricks should face in his first title defense.
Stephanie Daniels: Call me a devoted, diehard fan, but I would like to see a Lawler rematch. 1, 3 and 4!
You could also do a 4 man tourney of sorts and pair off Woodley/MacDonald and Diaz/Lombard
The winner of those two matches fight each other for the next title shot.
Fraser Coffeen: Lawler is the #1 contender at this point - I don't honestly see how you could argue otherwise. Woodley, Condit, Shields, Rory, Ellenberger... all have very recent losses. The only person without a recent loss near the top is Lombard, but he has not yet put together the kind of resume to make him #1.
So, the second question - who should be Hendricks' first defense? Obviously the ideal answer is GSP, but that's not happening... yet. So if you're going to have rankings, and you're going to use them, it should be the #1 contender, and again, that's Lawler. I don't love the immediate rematch, but what other options do you have? Again, any of those folks I just mentioned will be hard sells. Add in the fact that this was a great fight, and I don't think you'd get any real pushback on Hendricks vs. Lawler 2. Meanwhile, get Lombard, Woodley, the Tarec/Ellenberger winner, and Rory into a pair of contender matches to determine who comes next.
Not a good option (though one I am sure will get brought up)? Nick Diaz.
You know who totally WOULD be a great fit right here? BEN ASKREN. Smooth move on that non-signing UFC.
Nathan Wilcox: Yeah it's extremely annoying that the UFC couldn't see the value in Askren. Here's a highly skilled, if limited mixed martial artist, with a LOT of personality a GIFT for trash talk and a long and bitter history with Johny Hendricks. Also Hendricks seems tailor made to just dismantle Askren. What was the UFC afraid of? They made money on Jake Shields, they would have made much more money on Ben Askren and there's very little chance he'd take the title from Hendricks. They blinked. Our loss.
Brent Brookhouse: Call me crazy, but maybe this is a time to just turn to the panel of experts that were put together to create rankings. You can do the Lawler rematch or simply give the highest ranked guy a shot. It's not like the decisions include anyone exceptionally more marketable than anyone else right now. You put together the rankings...use them.
Trent Reinsmith: I have to agree with Steph and Fraser, Lawler comes out of UFC 171 as the No. 1 contender. Joe Rogan threw Rory MacDonald's name in the mix (and I can't be the only one that noticed that the UFC was quick to get that footage of MacDonald queued up to run post-fight), but I remain on the fence with MacDonald. Sure, he looked good against Demian Maia, and he's saying all the right things about wanting the title shot, but let's not forget that the two fights he had before he defeated Maia sent him a few steps back in the eyes of many, including Dana White. It doesn't help his cause that one of those losses was to Lawler. Lombard looks good at welterweight, but there are huge questions about his cardio. Woodley looked good as well on Saturday, but good enough to launch him to No. 1, I didn't see that. It's Lawler at No. 1.
As for who Hendricks should fight next, well, we know the UFC is not always in the business of putting the No. 1 contender in a title fight. Maybe the Hendricks win will be enough to get Georges St-Pierre back in camp, if so, that's a fight to make. If the UFC is interested in selling tickets and totally ignoring their rankings, they could throw Nick Diaz in there. And let's be honest, no one would be too shocked if they did that, because the UFC is not all that interested in rankings. If neither of those fights happens, Lawler is the man that should face Hendricks again, it's a sellable fight. Maybe not as sellable as GSP or Diaz, but more sellable than any other option right now.
As for Askren, I agree, that would have been the fight to make, but ego trumped doing the right thing on that one.
Tim Burke: I believe they'll drag it out as long as possible. Hendricks will go home for a few months to relax, and they might force the top 4 guys into a mini-tourney as suggested above. I see almost no chance of Lawler getting a rematch though. If they're going to have to choose someone to face Hendricks next with no more fights to sort anything out, my guess is that it will be Tyron Woodley. He's the best matchup for Hendricks on paper, and the win over Condit was much better than Lombard's win over Shields.
I do think it's funny that a lot of GSP detractors were overjoyed when he stepped away because it created so much more opportunity in the division. And now, a few months later, we can't even figure out a single obvious contender for a title shot.
John S. Nash: Obviously GSP is their number one choice, but since he hasn't announced a return yet, the UFC is going with option number 2 - Rory McDonald. The fact that Rogan immediately threw his name out there while the production crew was mysteriously able to put together a video package in a few minutes tells us that's the plan. It also probably tells us how much they want to cater to the very important Canadian market.
For Lawler, a rematch with Diaz seems like a no-brainer. It's a big enough fight to headline or co-main a FOX card or PPV and crowns a very marketable contender. In the meantime you can book Lombard-Woodley to see who's next in line.