For the first time since Matt Serra shocked the mixed martial arts (MMA) world nearly seven years ago, someone other than Georges St. Pierre will be holding the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweight title.
But will it be Johny Hendricks or Robbie Lawler?
What we have here is a battle of two powerful strikers, though tomorrow night's match-up might not be as close as some people anticipate. I'm not sure that applies to the co-main event between Carlos Condit and Tyron Woodley. I suppose that all depends on how well the former has prepared for the latter's wrestling.
Though I'm not sure anything can prepare a fighter for three rounds against Diego Sanchez.
"The Dream" will try to make his main card match-up a nightmare for undefeated lightweight wunderkind Myles Jury, who could secure a signature win this weekend in "The Lone Star State." Speaking of signatures, we may need someone to sign the death certificate if Hector Lombard lands clean on Jake Shields.
Stirkeforce import Ovince St. Preux rounds out the PPV line up opposite former heavyweight Nikita Krylov. Who gets it done in the heart of Texas and who leaves Dallas with a demotion?
I'm glad you asked...
170 lbs.: Johny "Bigg Rigg" Hendricks (15-2) vs. "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler (22-9)
Nostradumbass predicts: This is one of those "heart wants, but brain knows" type of picks. Hey, I get it, the Robbie Lawler comeback story is a fantastic one. And it's still hard to believe he's just 31 years old. But is he championship material?
He's looked great since coming back to UFC last February, but let's not overlook the fact that both Josh Koscheck and Bobby Voelker -- both of his knockout wins -- are a combined 0-6 since May 2012. Against "Ares" he was the better fighter, but the finish wasn't as easy to secure.
That worries me here, because the knockout is his only way to win.
Is he going to out-wrestle a two-time NCAA Division I national champion? Lawler has one submission win in 31 professional fights, so I think it's safe to say that Johny Hendricks is not in any danger of getting stuck in a gogoplata, or anything else, for that matter.
And let's keep in mind this is the same Lawler who lost decisions to Renato Sobral, Tim Kennedy and Lorenz Larkin under the Strikeforce banner.
"Ruthless" is a deadly striker with great instincts, but Hendricks is the more complete fighter.
That's not to suggest that "Bigg Rigg" hasn't had his share of close calls. The Koscheck fight was about as close as you can get and Mike Pierce was giving him his share of problems. Like Lawler, most of his knockouts come against the mid-to-lower tier of the division.
But that's because he fights smart.
The Carlos Condit fight is a perfect example of making adjustments in order to secure the win. And like a lot of people, I had him winning the Georges St. Pierre fight. Even if you scored against him, it's impossible to deny he treated "Rush" like no other fighter had before (Matt Serra notwithstanding).
I would expect this one to reach the scorecards.
Lawler is going to try to bang it out on the feet and I'm sure his opponent will oblige. But when bodies refuses to hit the floor, Hendricks will change things up to make sure he wins the rounds -- and not necessarily the striking exchanges -- because the belt is on the line.
Final prediction: Hendricks def. Lawler via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Carlos "The Natural Born Killer" Condit (29-7) vs. Tyron "The Chosen One" Woodley (12-2)
Nostradumbass predicts: Carlos Condit was able to get himself to the top of the welterweight division by side-stepping a few landmines in a dangerous 170-pound battlefield. If you look back on his UFC career since crossing over from WEC in early 2009, "The Natural Born Killer" faced opponents who played to his strengths.
Had he met Jon Fitch or Josh Koscheck during their heydays in 2009-10, we might be having an entirely different conversation.
That's because Condit struggles against high-level wrestlers. That's not a Nostradumbass supposition, it's an admission from the fighter himself, who recognized after his loss to Johny Hendricks -- which came on the heels of a defeat to Georges St. Pierre -- that his wrestling defense needed work.
I'm not sure that's the kind of thing you can tighten up in one training camp.
It also doesn't help that he's built like one of those giant trees from Lord of the Rings. Any fighter who isn't short and stocky with a low center of gravity has to look like a turkey on a platter for Tyron Woodley, a two-time Division-1 All American wrestler with over 100 collegiate victories.
And I don't imagine he thinks he's Floyd Mayweather based on two recent knockouts.
If he really is "The Chosen One," then he will not dick around on the feet against Condit, where he runs the risk of getting KTFO. Instead, he will use what strikes he has to get in close and make things ugly, whether it's by way of wall-and-stall or dump-and-hump.
Either way, Woodley is not throwing away a potential title shot when he knows he only needs two out of three rounds.
Final prediction: Woodley def. Condit via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Myles "Fury" Jury (13-0) vs. Diego "The Dream" Sanchez (24-6)
Nostradumbass predicts: I know all the cool kids are picking Diego Sanchez to win his fight against Myles Jury, and for good reason. If we look at what "The Dream" did against Gilbert Melendez and compare that to what "The Fury" did against Mike Ricci, then sure, it looks like a squash.
Going apeshit and eating 600 punches en route to a decision loss to "El Nino" may be fun for the fans, but it doesn't do much to convince me Sanchez is a major player in the lightweight division. Did we already forget the Takenori Gomi fight? Click here for a refresher.
Prior to that, he was outclassed by Jake Ellenberger and barely squeaked by Martin Kampmann.
Jury, meanwhile, had a tough fight against "The Martian," but has looked terrific throughout his career. He was able to dispose of Ramsey Nijem with relative ease and snapped a three-fight winning streak for the resurgent Michael Johnson.
He's the real deal.
But the real question here is how well he holds up under pressure. Assuming Sanchez goes for broke -- which he probably will in a three-round fight -- then it's up to Jury to stay composed, because technique usually prevails over aggression when the mind is right.
Sanchez gonna Sanchez, no question, but I believe Jury weathers the opening onslaught, gets his head together and uses superior skill to outwork his foe. Diego doesn't mind getting hit and that's fine, but it also equates to points lost on the scorecards, something that will come back to bite him in the keister if he's unable to lure his opponent into a bar fight.
Final prediction: Jury def. Sanchez via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Hector "Lightning" Lombard (33-4-1) vs. Jake Shields (29-6-1)
Nostradumbass predicts: I know a lot of fans look at this fight on paper and think, "LOLZ! Shields is getting KTFO!" But those are the same fans who said that when he fought Dan Henderson, another heavy-handed Olympian. Most of them also predicted he would get out-grappled by Demian Maia last October.
Shields has been laughing at those fans his entire career.
There has been a lot of talk about the winner of Carlos Condit vs. Tyron Woodley getting the next 170-pound title shot. I guess it would be a good time to mention Shields beat them both. That guy fighting for the strap in the main event, Robbie Lawler?
Yep, beat him too.
Whether you think he's boring or just a tool, you cannot deny he is one of the best fighters at 170 pounds. I've seen people lambaste him for getting knocked out by Jake Ellenberger in New Orleans. Not me. I applaud him, because his dad died two weeks before the fight.
He could have easily backed out and nobody would have said one thing in protest, but instead, he grabbed his sack and went into the cage against one of the division's hardest hitters.
That doesn't mean he's a perfect fighter. His striking is serviceable, at best, and he's not exactly known for getting the crowd to its feet. But he's mastered the art of nullifying his opponents through constant pressure, stifling wrestling and slick jiu-jitsu.
That's bad news for Hector Lombard, who previously laid an egg against Tim Boetsch and Yushin Okami.
"Lightning" could knockout a rhino if he had a clean shot and I fully expect him to try to decapitate his opponent tomorrow night in Dallas, as well. If he can't, his judo is still a force to be reckoned with and I can't imagine a stronger guy at 170 pounds.
That's why he loses.
Lombard will come out swinging with bad intentions and a first-round knockdown would not surprise me. But once the Cuban-born Australian empties his tank with his initial blitzkrieg, Shields will make the necessary adjustments and out-work his increasingly-tired foe in rounds two and three.
Just like he's done his entire career.
Final prediction: Shields def. Lombard via unanimous decision
205 lbs.: Ovince St. Preux (14-5) vs. Nikita "Al Capone" Krylov (16-3)
Nostradumbass predicts: I've been trying to build a solid case for Nikita Krylov since this fight was first announced and it's proved to be a formidable task. After all, there isn't much to go on thus far in his career under the UFC umbrella, outside of a hideous performance against Soa Palelei and a 25-second win over college basketball player-turned 0-2 UFC heavyweight Walt Harris.
Add that to the fact that he's taking this fight on short notice and making his light heavyweight debut.
On the other side of the bracket, we have an established 205-pounder who continues to make forward progress. Ovince St. Preux is a combined 8-1 for Strikeforce/UFC and his lone loss is to Gegard Mousasi. More importantly, he's 2-0 since transitioning to the Octagon last April and a proven threat at light heavyweight.
Is "OSP" a world beater?
The jury is still out and I'm not sure a win in Dallas would help us answer that question. What we do know is that he's an exceptional athlete who has already shown he can do 15 minutes without pause. Krylov, on the other hand, has only left the first round once in his career, and that's when he was smashed by "The Hulk."
An early finish is always possible, but I wouldn't expect "Al Capone" to remain dangerous past the opening frame.
Final prediction: St. Preux def. Krylov via unanimous decision
That's a wrap.
MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 171 fight card on fight night (Sat., March 15, 2014), starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, right on through the FOX Sports 1-televised under card bouts at 8 p.m. ET and then main card PPV, which is slated to begin at 10 p.m. ET.
For previews and predictions on the preliminary card fights click here and here. To see all the odds and betting lines for UFC 171 click here and remember to come check us out after the show for all the latest results, recaps and coverage of "Hendricks vs. Lawler."
What do you think? Now it's your turn ... let us have it in the comments section and share your thoughts and picks for tomorrow night's event.