The welterweight division sits in the shade of a former tyrant, and Johny Hendricks looks to liberate his weight class.
Last night, Johny Hendricks became the new UFC welterweight champion when he defeated Robbie Lawler in an instant classic. Hendricks dug deep late in the fight and, with the help of a few clean shots on Lawler’s chin, he solidified the close decision with a takedown in the closing seconds of the fight.
Hendricks is now finally set atop the division as the best welterweight in the world, a title that many a pre-fight interview reveals was a long sought after one for Hendricks who wants the division’s best to be chasing him down.
The title ‘new UFC welterweight champion’ was one that Hendricks (and the majority of those watching) thought that he had claimed back in November as he brought former champion Georges St-Pierre to a decision after giving St-Pierre his toughest test short of finishing him.
Now, whenever Hendricks is mentioned in the same sentence as a UFC championship, he is always reminded of the close decision loss to GSP and what the last few months could have been if the judges saw that fight in his favor.
The six-year reign over the welterweight division has left some very large shoes to fill and even though he seemed to have done enough against St-Pierre, Hendricks’ title victory on Saturday is just the beginning of an uphill climb towards pound-for-pound greatness.
The late triumph against Lawler was certainly a great showing of what Hendricks is capable of, even after being tested in previous rounds. Even the botched initial weigh cut weighed little on his mind. The biggest asset that contributed to Hendricks’ success was the added diversity of his strikes.
Lawler was clearly aware of the pawing right hand with the left hand behind it and was keen to duck out of the way of that potentially fight-ending punch. When Hendricks couldn’t find his target, he instead switched up his knockout shots to slick combinations, punctuated by a low kick which tenderized Lawler’s leg. This new fold in Hendricks’ game completed his stand-up diversity past just a quick finisher.
We shouldn’t be surprised to see him brutalize and batter opponents if he so chooses to conserve energy.
This fight will begin Hendricks’ uphill battle against the remnants of a division whose former champ was cemented in to the foundation of his championship status. Hendricks will now have to live up to a former champion in St-Pierre who he holds a loss against, just before fighting for the same belt, this time, with no owner. Hendricks’ isn’t the successor to the welterweight title on paper but instead an alternate timeline.
A rematch with St-Pierre is a must for Hendricks and a win for the record books would solidify him as the new king. I have no doubt that he is a handful for the entire division and there are clear advantages he holds over each contender in the division, not to mention that his first defeat at the Rick Story could not be duplicated today if they were to fight.
Until Hendricks’ defeats St-Pierre officially, his belt has a kind of interim feel to it but the fact that Hendricks didn’t let fate repeat itself in the closing moments of his fight against Lawler shows us that he knows how to win and that his promise following the St-Pierre fight was indeed a threat to any would-be opponent.
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