'Ruthless' Robbie Lawler, not Carlos Condit, was right championship choice to fight Johny Hendricks at UFC 171

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Robbie Lawler will take on Johny Hendricks for the now-vacant welterweight title at UFC 171 on March 15, 2014, in Dallas, Texas. While some mixed martial fans were surely left scratching their heads with the choice of Lawler instead of Carlos Condit, it's hard to argue with the remarkable year "Ruthless" had in 2013.

When Friday, Dec. 13, 2013 began, Georges St-Pierre was the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight champion of the world.

When the day finally concluded 24 hours later, "Rush" was no longer champion, had no definitive answer for when -- or even if -- he'd return to competitive mixed martial arts (MMA), and two men -- one who St. Pierre just squeaked by at UFC 167 via controversial split-decision -- Johny Hendricks and "journey man," Robbie Lawler, were hand-picked to duel for the vacant 170-pound strap.

The fight will serve as the main event of UFC 171, which is set to go down on March 15, 2014, at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.

While Hendricks was a shoe-in for the next shot at the title because of the circumstances in which he lost to St. Pierre, "Ruthless" has had a long, winding and circuitous road back to title contention in any MMA promotion ... let alone the sacred waters of UFC.

The current three-fight UFC tenure of Lawler, 31, is his second stint with the Zuffa-owned company. The first ran from 2002-2004, starting off with three explosive wins and sparking high expectations. But at the conclusion, Lawler had endured high profile losses to the now retired Nick Diaz and to the late Evan Tanner, which left him with a disappointing Octagon slate (4-3).

After he parted ways with Dana White and Co., Lawler struggled to find consistency as a Middleweight. After competing in organizations around the world like IFL, Pride FC, Elite XC and a lackluster stint with Strikeforce (3-5), "Ruthless" returned to the Octagon where he left it ... as a Welterweight.

And he hasn't looked back since.

Lawler's resurgence began at UFC 157 in Feb. 2013, surging back into contention at 170 pounds with back-to-back knockout victories over Josh Koscheck and Bobby Voelker. He topped off those performances most recently with a big decision win over Rory MacDonald.

Put simply, the man has earned his title shot.

Now is this a knock on someone like Carlos Condit? Absolutely not. Quite frankly he, "Big Rigg" and Lawler remain interchangeable in the title picture. But, with the roll American Top Team member is on since his return to UFC -- combined with Condit already having had a recent title shot -- Lawler and his 18 wins coming by way of knockout are the right direction for a "fight promoter" like UFC to go.

Indeed, a division spearheaded by a striker the likes of Lawler -- or even Hendricks for that matter -- will signal a changing of the guard following six years of St. Pierre rule.

What's more, the match up between Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler certainly makes sense considering that both men are ranked first and third respectively on UFC's Welterweight rankings. It's not like the curious case of Josh Thomson, who was recently awarded a Lightweight title shot (it has since been revoked) thanks to one spectacular head kick.

Surely, "Ruthless" will have his hands full with Hendricks on March 15. In fact, BestFightOdds.com already has him listed as +200 under dog. But, being a long shot is a position in which Lawler has clearly flourished since returning to UFC.

And there is no reason to think he can't continue to ascend -- and surprise -- in 2014 and beyond.

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