The Last Word on UFC 171
Mar 17, 2014 at 11:45a ET
By the time we got to the end of Saturday night, we were supposed to have carved out the beginnings of a new pecking order in the UFC's welterweight division. As it turns out, it is a messier process than we first imagined. We should have known better than to believe that power could be shifted smoothly to a new champion when the last one left on such bizarre terms.
Hendricks' late surge won him the fight and the title.
Not that there was a huge controversy when Johny Hendricks won the five-round UFC 171 main event; there wasn't. But we didn't walk away feeling like he was the decisive heir to dominance, either. Not after Robbie Lawler put him in trouble in the third and nearly pulled off the upset. If you watched the fight with any kind of objective eye, part of you had to feel that he deserves five more rounds with Hendricks more than anyone else. And that's a little bit of a problem.
The UFC's 170-pound division has always been so good that contenders routinely knock each other off. That's kind of what we're looking at now when we try to determine who might next be vaulted into the spot opposite Hendricks in his first title defense.
Let's take a look at the most likely choices and their cases for and against them as No. 1:
Pros: Has won six of his last seven, including wins over Demian Maia, Jake Ellenberger and B.J. Penn
Cons: His last loss is as recent as four months ago, so he's on a one-fight win streak. Not exactly a great selling point.
Pros: Two straight wins since moving to 170.
Cons: Should a win over Jake Shields - particularly one which he said he wasn't happy with -- vault him past Woodley, who beat No. 2 Condit?
Pros: Six straight wins, including five via knockout or TKO
Cons: No top opponents on that resume, and his next scheduled opponent Erick Silva isn't either.
Pros: Welterweight G.O.A.T.
Cons: Currently living a global life of leisure
The specter of Nick Diaz is out there, too, but let's be real: UFC isn't putting him in there for the belt, not after two straight losses, both in title bouts.
So there is no clear-cut contender for Hendricks, and Hendricks aside, UFC has been loathe to give a losing challenger an immediate second chance at a belt, so we can probably cross Lawler off the list, too.
Through no fault of the UFC's, the division is an exciting, crazy mess.
After losing to St-Pierre last year, Hendricks said he wouldn't be denied again, and he held to that promise with a fifth-round gut check that went somewhat under the radar in the context of his win.
Remember, as the fifth began, all of the momentum was Lawler's. Midway through it was anyone's fight and with about two minutes left in the round, Lawler made his move, landing two flush right hooks that pushed Hendricks backwards. Seconds later, Hendricks landed a pair of overhand lefts that changed the fight. Suddenly, Hendricks began moving forward and Lawler could not lift his hands all the way to his chin. Lawler tried to collect himself with a deep breath but Hendricks plowed forward with power punches. With 1:10 left, a Hendricks' left drilled Lawler, followed by an uppercut and a takedown, and that was a wrap.
It was an incredible display of courage and guts in a fight with a frantic pace. In fact, the two shattered the record for significant strikes in a UFC title fight, combining for 308. So much for the pre-fight theory of Hendricks' weight cut issue working against him.
Judging the Judges
Lost in the brilliance and ferocity of the the main event was the scorecard turned in by judge Douglas Crosby, who inexplicably ruled round two a 10-8 round for Hendricks.
To put this in no uncertain terms, that is the single worst round score I've seen in a major title matchup. There is nothing to justify that score. Nothing.
Hendricks did out-land Lawler, but not by some overwhelming margin, and he never had Lawler in any kind of trouble. It was as routine a 10-9 round as you could imagine, and not nearly as dominant as Lawler's round three performance, which Crosby scored 10-9 for Lawler.
Judging is entirely subjective and difficult, and to be fair, there are hardly enough 10-8's handed out, but this is not boxing. There is limited time to recover from a 10-8 round and still win a decision, so a judge must be sure that his score meets the spirit of the judging criteria. Hendricks did not win round two by a margin large enough to warrant that huge swing.
Last week, I wrote a column wondering if Diego Sanchez was nearing his end as a viable UFC fighter. On Saturday, we saw more evidence that he is, as he was outclassed by young Myles Jury in a unanimous decision loss.
So what were his thoughts afterward?
"It really was just an off night," the 32-year-old said. "I don't want to make any excuses because I'm not that guy. I must've eaten something bad because I got really sick late yesterday. It really hurt my rehydration process and I couldn't keep fluids down. Jury fought a great fight but I know I could've given a better showing for the fans and myself."
Even if you take him at his word, the defeat marked the seventh time in his last eight fights he's been out-landed. During that time, his opponents have landed 703 strikes while he's landed just 367. Sick or not, that's a troublesome trend that shows no signs of reversing itself.