Robbie Lawler and Johny Hendricks delivered in twenty-five minutes what Georges St. Pierre failed to produce in six years as welterweight champion: a competitive, action-packed, back-and-forth battle that left ringside observers split on a victor but unanimous on the excitement. When the judges had finally spoken, Johny Hendricks emerged with the belt around his waist and the UFC left Dallas with a highlight-reel fight reminiscent of Griffin-Bonnar, Sanchez-Melendez, Henderson-Rua, and other historic mixed-martial-arts wars.
UFC 171’s epic main event played in three parts. The favorite eking out competitive rounds through a well-rounded offensive arsenal to start the fight; underdog Lawler dominating through massive power shots in the middle of the fight; and the new champion demonstrating why fight fans call the final frame the championship round.
Johny Hendricks diversified his striking approach to gain an edge in the first two acts of the drama. In the opening frame Lawler, boasting a three-fight UFC winning streak after nearly a decade away from the promotion, used superior boxing to land several punches while Hendricks unleashed leg kicks and knees in the clinch to even the score. The second round witnessed more to-and-fro violence, with Hendricks punishing through frequent knees, kicks, and punches and fellow southpaw Lawler scoring with several overhand shots.
Momentum shifted in a massive way in rounds three and four. Lawler opened the third frame by unleashing leg kicks of the type he had earlier endured. Hendricks’s multidimensional approach continued to employ legs, knees, and fists in combination. Lawler landed a clean left uppercut to Bigg Rigg’s jaw midway through the round that put his survival in doubt. Hendricks stumbled for several minutes as Lawler swung away, connecting cleanly on numerous shots and appearing to be on the cusp of victory before the hometown favorite regained his composure.
Ruthless Robbie continued to tee off in round four, busting up Hendricks with jabs and looping lefts. Hendricks bleeding profusely from the right eye endured a barrage of shots and a massive uppercut around the 2:00-minute mark. Hendricks refused to go down and gamely returned fire. Bigg Rigg foreshadowed the last five minutes of the fight by scoring a takedown to conclude the fourth.
Hendricks drove Lawler against the cage to start round five, slowing down the pace and landing knees until the referee rebooted the fighters in the middle of the cage. Both combatants scored standing. Lawler hit Hendricks with a right hook and Hendricks answered with several hooks of his own that stumbled his opponent in a manner reminiscent of Hendricks’s earlier punch-drunk meanderings. Lawler appeared exhausted and punched out. Hendricks, as he had done in round four, finished strong with a takedown. Though Hendricks refused to relinquish top position, he didn’t exploit it, either. Nevertheless, the final offensive barrage on the feet and the takedown to bring the battle to the ground won the Dallas-area wrestler the round, the fight, and the belt.
Based on Big Rig winning the competitive early rounds, and his clear control of the final stanza, the judges unanimously scored the fight 48-47 to make Johny Hendricks the seventh man to hold the UFC’s welterweight strap.