Posted 03/16/2014 by Mike Fagan in Untethered MMA
 
 

UFC 171 Review

Five minutes separated Robbie Lawler from becoming the UFC welterweight champion in 2014. Lawler headed into the fifth round with Johny Hendricks tied two rounds a piece in the mind’s of most non-Douglas Crosby people. Whether he ran out of gas or the damage Hendricks inflicted started to add up or some combination of the two, Lawler faded and faded until a Hendricks takedown late in the round. He looked up at the clock and shook his head. The Hendricks camped breathed a little easier.

Lawler wasn’t even supposed to be there. A 3-5 run in Strikeforce dropped his career record to 19-9 (1 no contest), and whatever hope people had of the “old Robbie Lawler” coming back had dissipated. So it was a little surprising when Lawler knocked out Josh Koscheck in his UFC return. His followup head-kick KO of Bobby Voelker was more of what we expected. But then he capitalized on an uninspired Rory MacDonald, and the idea of Robbie Lawler, welterweight title contender, had to be taken seriously.

Even then, Lawler headed into last night’s main event near a 4-1 underdog. Lawler certainly looked a lot better than his run in Strikeforce, but Koscheck was old, Voelker was Voelker, and MacDonald wasn’t MacDonald. Hendricks, on the other hand, had beat a who’s who of welterweight – Fitch, Koscheck, Kampmann, and Condit – and had earned a decision over Georges St-Pierre on every scorecard outside two of the three judges sitting cageside. No one expected an easy fight for Hendricks, but his game was more diverse and, really, how long could Hendricks keep this run going anyway

Round one was close. Round two was Hendricks, and it looked like the talent disparity was starting to take over. Then Lawler landed a combination that sent Hendricks into a loop, and the fight’s dynamic flipped. Lawler, to his credit, kept up the pressure without NOSing his gas tank. He moved with Hendricks, standing in front of him, cutting off angles, and throwing measured combinations.

Hendricks survived, somehow, but Lawler continued his assault in round four. His 56-34 significant strike advantage mirrored Hendricks’ round two 42-21 advantage. By the end of the round, Hendricks looks as if he’s lost an eye, blood covering the entire right side of his face.

Despite the fifth round, Lawler could still hold out hope. Sure, Hendricks is the hometown guy, but this is Texas, where the Wild West lives on in the state athletic commission. Bruce Buffer announced the decision for Hendricks, but the official scorecards did not disappoint: Douglas Crosby awarded Hendricks a 10-8 in round two – which I don’t mind, though that necessitates scoring at least one 10-8 for Lawler in three or four, in my mind – and a 10-10 in the fifth round, a round as clear for Hendricks as a West Texas midnight sky.

Lawler attributed his rebirth to sparring. Not more focused sparring. Not improved sparring partners. But just…sparring again. And I’ve heard tales of Lawler camps that eschewed any sort of grappling for pad work. It makes you wonder what was going through Lawler’s head between 2009 and 2012: Did he stop caring? Was he too confident? Was he lazy? Is he a guy that needs direction that Pat Miletich (and now American Top Team) could provide that Matt Hughes couldn’t?

* * *

Joe Rogan declared Rory MacDonald his number one contender at 170 pounds, and if you think Joe Rogan thought of this spontaneously and independently, including telling the production truck to keep a Rory MacDonald highlight on hand just in case, then I’d like to tell you about the wonderful benefits of astrology and Power Balance bands and working for Nate Wilcox. It’s clear the UFC is angling MacDonald, and the rankings are in perfect place for them to do so. With Hendricks win, here’s how things look right now:

Champion: Johny Hendricks

1. Carlos Condit
2. Robbie Lawler
3. Rory MacDonald
4. Jake Ellenberger
5. Jake Shields
6. Demian Maia
7. Matt Brown
8. Tarec Saffiedine
9. Dong Hyun Kim
10. Tyron Woodley
11. Hector Lombard

On Monday, I expect things to look more like this

Champion: Johny Hendricks

1. Rory MacDonald
2. Robbie Lawler
3. Tyron Woodley
4. Carlos Condit
5. Jake Ellenberger
6. Hector Lombard
7. Matt Brown
8. Tarec Saffiedine
9. Dong Hyun Kim
10. Jake Shields
11. Demian Maia

This is mostly fine. I think bumping MacDonald over Lawler is incorrect, but it’s probably going to happen because of this push and recent results (Lawler lost! MacDonald won!). That said, even if you flip flop Lawler and MacDonald at 1 and 2, it leaves MacDonald as the next guy in line, because the UFC isn’t giving Lawler an immediate rematch here.

The exciting thing here, though, is how fresh the welterweight division stands now. The current top ten is almost a complete turnover from the heyday of GSP’s reign. Matt Hughes? Gone. Josh Koscheck? Gone. Jon Fitch? Gone. Thiago Alves? Gone. Martin Kampmann? Gone. The only thing that could make things more interesting is a funky Wisco wrestler.

* * *

There was some talk, including from Rogan on the broadcast, about Condit’s knee injury tarnishing the win for Tyron Woodley, and yeah, I guess that’s the case if you only caught the highlights. Woodley gave Condit problems from the opening bell, and looked well on his way to earning a decision. Things are different if this is the five-round fight it should have been, but not with Woodley in full control nearly halfway through a three-round fight.

* * *

Nick Diaz announced his interest in returning to fighting, though he wants Hendricks in a title fight that doesn’t make sense for anybody except Nick Diaz. If he’s willing to take a fight, any one of MacDonald, Lombard, and Woodley would be great. MacDonald could probably use a little more seasoning, and Diaz’s name and style would be great for his development; Lombard’s still green in the division, and a third quality win makes his title case that much stronger; and Woodley has the best recent case, but losses to Shields and Nate Marquardt are still fresh. If one guy gets Diaz, another gets Diaz, and the odd man out can dance with Lawler or Dong Hyun Kim (assuming Condit’s injury keeps him out for a bit).


Mike Fagan