The Fight Horizon – Welterweight Championship Edition

In today’s Mixed Martial Arts, new fights are announced so often it’s difficult to keep track of all of them, let alone understand how they came about and what the implications are. So twice a week here at The Fight Horizon on Inside Fights, writer Daniel Sohn takes a quick, but in-depth look at newly announced match-ups to mark on your calendar.

The Matchup:

Robbie Lawler (22-9 overall, 3-0 UFC – recent stint)

Strengths: Explosive striking ability, instincts, tenacity

Weaknesses: Technicality, strategy

Johny Hendricks (15-2 overall, 10-2 UFC)

Strengths: Wrestling, walloping punching power

Weaknesses: Cardio

The Date:  March 15, 2014 at UFC 171

Weight Class:  Welterweight

What led to it:  First of all, Georges St. Pierre vacated his long-held title to find some “me-time”. Second, Hendricks came a hair away from taking over as champ in his fight with GSP, while Lawler made potential contender Rory MacDonald look very average in their bout. Two of the top guys in the welterweight division, if not the two outright best, meeting to claim the now vacated UFC Welterweight title.

Why it matters:  Does it really need to be said? It’s the beginning of a new era after the end of a dynasty. Georges St. Pierre ruled the welterweight division for the past half-decade, firmly secure on his throne at the top. He’s stepping away, so after Lawler and Hendricks collide, we’ll have a new welterweight champion for the first time since…forever. GSP defended his belt 9 times. He was the champion for the past five-plus years. In today’s MMA, in the most competitive fighting organization on the planet, that’s absolutely incredible in every sense of the word. Guys just don’t do that. Unless you’re Jon Jones or Anderson Silva of course.

This is a chance for both Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler to make their mark in the UFC, in MMA and in history. GSP’s reign will forever be remembered as one of the greatest championship runs in MMA history, second only to maybe Anderson Silva or Jon Jones when it’s all said and done. But that reign ended by GSP’s own decision. And now the belt belongs to no one.

A chance to take over as champion, when the belt is up for grabs? This is what the welterweight division has been waiting for. No invincible, indomitable, unconquerable, indestructible champion to defeat to earn the title. No one touted as the greatest to ever do it by the UFC and MMA pundits alike. No bias towards the champion if the fight goes to a decision. Just another good fighter to beat, another guy who isn’t defending the belt for the umpteenth time.

For Hendricks, this is ultimate vindication, it just happens to be against someone other than GSP. But he’ll take it. His goal was to be champion and GSP happened to be in the way of that. Now Lawler is. Hendricks gets that second chance at winning it all and you can be sure he’ll do everything he can to get the taste of his last loss out of his mouth.

For Lawler, it’s redemption time. So many people wrote him off in the past, before and when he returned to the UFC. During his time at Strikeforce, he never strung together back to back wins and ended up at under .500. Three fights into his second UFC stint and he’s 3-0 against quality opponents, the most recent being the most important: a hard-fought, but decisive split-decision victory over Rory MacDonald. Not many, probably including Lawler himself, imagined he would be fighting for UFC gold just over a year after he returned to the Octagon. But that is exactly what will happen come next March, barring any unforeseen circumstances.

Again, this is the first time in over five years when GSP won’t be involved in a welterweight championship fight (not including interim). You absolutely can’t miss this one.

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