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History in the making: Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler put on instant classic in battle for abandoned throne

"Wow ... that’s one of the greatest fights. These guys stood in the pocket all night and traded. How Johny Hendricks got out of that third round, I'll never know. I had it two-two going into the last round. There is no loser in this fight, it was an awesome fight." -- UFC President Dana White

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When Johny Hendricks stepped into the cage on March 15, 2014, serving as one half of the UFC 171 pay-per-view (PPV) main event inside the American Airlines Arena in Dallas, Texas, he brought with him a knockout ratio of 53 percent, including a soul-stealing finish over top-ranked contender Jon Fitch in late 2011.

On the other side of the cage, also throwing hands for a shot at the vacated welterweight title, was the resurgent Robbie Lawler, who claimed a staggering 18 knockouts in 22 professional mixed martial arts (MMA) wins, a frightening percentage of 81 percent.

The idea that these two sluggers could last 25 minutes without someone going to bed sounded comical at the time.

In fact, the title that Georges St. Pierre left by the curb in the second half of 2013 was at risk of remaining single, after Hendricks -- under the tutelage of famed weight-cutting guru Mike Dolce -- failed to make his mark in his first trip to the scale.

A few sweats (and one re-calibration later) the fight was rubber-stamped by the Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation.

Any notion that "Bigg Rigg" would be hampered by his shaky performance on the scale was quickly dismissed by the time the bell rang for the promotion's final act in "The Lone Star State." Fresh off his controversial loss to St. Pierre just a few months back, Hendricks came out like gangbusters.

And was winning the exchanges through two rounds.

But there is no safety net in a fight against Lawler, a notoriously slow starter who simply laughed every time the bearded brawler barreled in with short flurries. After finding his sea legs by the end of the second stanza, the former Miletich prospect fired back with a "Ruthless" counter attack to even the fight by the end of the fourth round.

Hendricks, quite frankly, was a bloody mess.

As it does with all warriors great and small, fatigue reared its ugly head for the final frame.

But neither fighter was willing to concede defeat and what had been a back-and-forth war of attrition was sealed with a takedown late in the fifth round. One that undoubtedly swung the pendulum in the favor of Hendricks, the local favorite, who set the arena ablaze when Bruce Buffer made it official.

None of that matters now.

In just over 24 hours, UFC 181 will deliver "Hendricks vs. Lawler 2" from neutral territory, inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. "Rigg" is new and improved following bicep surgery, while "Ruthless" sharpened his blade on the iron of Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown.

Let's get it on.

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