This Saturday night (March 15, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweights Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler will throw down for the vacant 170-pound title in the main event of UFC 171, airing live on pay-per-view (PPV) from American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
The match-up came to fruition when longtime champ Georges St. Pierre famously vacated his belt after winning a narrow split decision over Hendricks in the main event of UFC 167 last year.
It was "Bigg Rigg's" second-ever mixed martial arts (MMA) loss, and Hendricks has since vowed to put an emphatic stamp on his future opponents.
He'll have his hands full with the highly experienced Lawler, who appears to be in the best shape of his lengthy career. "Ruthless" last fought at the same event, upsetting St. Pierre's student and good friend Rory MacDonald. The win gave him three straight in UFC since returning in early 2013, simultaneously making him an unlikely contender for the vacant belt.
This fight has all the makings of an explosive classic. On the other hand, we know that blockbuster fights don't always play out like they're supposed to.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Hendricks vs. Lawler:
Record: 15-2 overall, 10-2 UFC
Key Wins: Jon Fitch (UFC 141), Josh Koscheck (UFC on Fox 3), Martin Kampmann (UFC 154), Carlos Condit (UFC 158)
Key Losses: Georges St. Pierre (UFC 167), Rick Story (The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale)
Keys to Victory: Hendricks has become known as one of the most feared power punchers in UFC. His knockouts of Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann are embedded in MMA fans' heads due to the massive amount of replays they've garnered.
However, engaging in a slugfest is far from the best way to defeat a fighter like "Ruthless."
Hendricks also brings the knowledge and skills of a two-time NCAA Division I National Champion wrestler, and that's where he should look to win this pivotal bout. Hendricks maintains a ton of strength and power after cutting a massive amount of weight to make 170 pounds, so his best bet will be to take down Lawler and control him on the mat.
If he can, he'll go a long way in neutralizing Lawler's thunderous knockout power. "Ruthless" has also tapped out five times, but with only one submission win on his resume, that's an unlikely way for Hendricks to win. After his loss to "GSP," you can bet that "Bigg Rigg" is looking to fight smart and get his hands on the belt.
Sure, he might win a firefight, but he could also see his dreams go up in smoke with one punch, too.
Hendricks has a second chance at gold this Saturday night, something that many fighters don't ever get. He has to remain focused on Lawler and fight smart to get the job done.
Record: 22-9(1) overall, 7-3 UFC
Key Wins: Rory MacDonald (UFC 167), Josh Koscheck (UFC 157), Chris Lytle (UFC 45), Murilo Rua (EliteXC: Uprising)
Key Losses: Nick Diaz (UFC 47), Evan Tanner (UFC 47), Jake Shields (Strikeforce: Lawler vs. Shields), Ronaldo Souza (Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg), Tim Kennedy (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson)
Keys to Victory: Rejuvenated since making his way to American Top Team, No. 3-ranked Lawler shares a gym with fellow welterweights and UFC 171 participants Hector Lombard and Tyron Woodley.
That experience has undoubtedly paid massive dividends for "Ruthless," who was beginning to stagnate as a mediocre middleweight towards the end of his Strikeforce run. Always possessing otherworldly knockout power, Lawler is currently more dangerous than he's ever been.
That's saying a lot, so it won't be a surprise to see Hendricks use his wrestling advantage to stifle Lawler's stand-up skills. Given Lawler's 57 percent takedown defense rate, Hendricks should have ample chances to get this fight to the ground. That's why Lawler has to show up ready to fend off multiple attempts in order to unleash his trademark strikes.
Lawler has also only submitted one foe throughout his career, so any attempt at a finishing hold would be a surprise. He's going to come out fast and attempt to shock the world with an enormous knockout win. We've never really seen "Bigg Rigg's" chin put to the test, but if there was ever a time for it to happen, it's tomorrow night in Dallas.
No one is giving Lawler much of a chance. If he can keep this fight standing, however, there's a big possibility he'll make them eat crow.
Bottom Line from Dallas: The bottom line for this fight is that we will see the heir to "GSP's" long-held throne crowned in Dallas.
In his pre-fight interviews for UFC 171, Hendricks has teased a move up to 185 pounds and even said that he wants St. Pierre to return. But, he hasn't really talked all that much about fighting Lawler, something that could definitely come back to haunt him when it matters most.
Hendricks appears confident as usual, but it's almost like he feels he already has the belt around his waist.
That's a recipe for disaster against a fighter of Lawler's caliber, especially when he's at his peak performance. Lawler is calm and confident as well, and his new team has increased his abilities exponentially. He used to not even spar; now he's taking out some of the best welterweights in the world.
We'll see if he can defeat the top-ranked Hendricks. "Bigg Rigg" has all the tools to win this fight anywhere it goes, yet there could be something lacking in his mental preparation. If that is indeed true, Lawler has a great chance to cap off his Cinderella story with an unexpected championship reign.
Either way, we should be in for a barnburner. That is, if Hendricks is willing to engage Lawler on the feet. Enjoy the fight, fans.
Johny Hendricks expects to win the belt he feels should already be his at UFC 171. But is he looking past an ultra-dangerous opponent in Robbie Lawler?