UFC 171: Hendricks vs. Lawler comes to us this Saturday from the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. The event also marks the dawning of a new era in the UFC’s welterweight division, as for the first time since UFC 63, a welterweight title fight will not feature Georges St. Pierre.

To put things into perspective, here are some of the things that were happening or had already happened during that time: the Pittsburgh Steelers were the defending NFL champions; one month later, the World Series came down to the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers; The Miami Heat had just won the NBA Finals three months prior; Italy had just defeated France in the Fifa World Cup; Shannon Briggs was a heavyweight boxing champion; the average gas price was $2.618. As you can see, we lived in a completely different world back then, both professionally and personally.

Anyway, Hendricks vs. Lawler will fight for the title that GSP left behind and whether fairly or unfairly, will also fight for the title of second best welterweight on the planet. The co-main event, while not for the title, has serious title implications, as Carlos Condit puts his title shot on the line (pro wrestling reference) against the guy who ironically called Condit a point fighter, Tyron Woodley. The artist formally known as “The Nightmare,” takes on highly touted, undefeated prospect, Myles Jury. Another major fight at 170 is going down, as Jake Shields takes on the hard-hitting Hector Lombard. The main card kicks off with what is sure to be a barnburner, as Ovince St. Preux takes on Nikita Krylov. The undercard features a ton of exciting fights, as well. Now, on to the good stuff. Here are my predictions for this card.

Ovince St. Preux vs. Nikita Krylov

The man that they call OSP has been on a bit of a hot streak, lately. Blessed with an 82″ reach, St. Preux has been making life difficult for opponents, particularly in his last three fights. A winner of 11 of 12, OSP, with another win, will look to add his name to the contenders list of one of the most talent rich divisions in the UFC.

Nikita Krylov looked absolutely phenomenal back in January when he made quick work of Walt Harris via 25 second TKO. My curiosity in Krylov is simple; if he can do that to men Harris’ size, what is he going to do at his first fight in the light heavyweight division? The scary thing about Krylov is that despite the fact that he has been fighting at what I believe to be the wrong weight class, he has finished all 16 of his victories (six by KO and 10 by sub). How his talents will translate to a lower weight class, remains to be seen.

Based on the statistics and everything I just wrote, I should pick Krylov to win, right? However, that is just not the case here. I believe that OSP’s considerable reach advantage and wrestling skills will be enough to earn him a decision victory. Krylov will find success at 205, but this may very well be a bad stylistic match-up for him.

Prediction: St. Preux via unanimous decision

Jake Shields vs. Hector Lombard

I have to admit, Jake Shields is probably my least favorite fighter to watch. Everything I say here is going to sound real subjective. At 3-0 with 1 nc in his last four fights, Shields is literally starting to creep into the title discussion, and with a win, can put himself into a possible number one contenders fight. However, while his recent record seems impressive, how he got there leaves a lot to be desired. He started this stretch off with a win over a fighter in Yoshihiro Akiyama that should be 0-25 in the UFC. He then defeated Ed Herman (that victory was overturned due to a failed post-fight drug test). His last two wins have come via split decision’s against Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia. In those “wins,” Shields did absolutely nothing to win; he merely managed to not lose those fights. Only an impressive win over Lombard will get people talking about Shields in a positive light.

In his last outing, Lombard finally did what we were secretly hoping he would have when he first signed with the UFC, create havoc. In blasting through Nate Marquardt, Lombard firmly announced himself as a major player at 170. However, he was supposedly on the right track after he destroyed Palhares, but was defeated by Okami. A winner of 33 fights, Lombard has a knack for implementing his will on his opponents; so much so, that he has won 26 fights via stoppage, with 19 of those coming by way of knockout. The most exciting thing about Lombard is that like Krylov, he is fighting in the division best suited for his frame. At 170, Lombard will be lighter and quicker; all while maintaining the power that he enjoyed at 185. Also, at 170, very few welterweights will be able to overpower him. My money is on there not being any welterweight that will be able to defeat him like Okami did, including Shields.

Well, I pretty much gave away my prediction with that last sentence. The one thing that Shields is good at is getting the fight to the ground and keeping it there. That strategy might not be good enough to defeat a high level judoka who is arguably much stronger than Shields. The longer this fight stays standing, the more likely that Shields is going to take a nap. That nap will probably occur early in the fight and will establish Lombard as a contender at 170.

Prediction: Lombard via 1st round knockout

Diego Sanchez vs. Myles Jury

Truth be told, Diego Sanchez will go down in history as one of the most exciting fighters in UFC history. A sadder truth is that he will probably never be involved in another title fight and will probably never regain the form he enjoyed from 2008-2009. For proof of that, one does not need to look any further than his last four fights. Although he is 2-2 in those four fights, he arguably did not deserve to win his fights with Gomi and Kampmann. That should put him at 0-4 in his last four, which would mean that his last legit win took place against Paulo Thiago at UFC 121 on October 23, 2010. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sanchez, but his greatest gift, is also the reason why he does not perform at the same level that he once did. Bring back “The Nightmare.”

Undefeated prospect, Myles Jury, is in an interesting spot going into this event. He is 4-0 in the UFC, undefeated, and yet he doesn’t have a considerable amount of hype. He has defeated Michael Johnson, who is on a tear at 155. He torched Ramsey Nijem. Perhaps it was his performance against Mike Ricci that cooled people on the idea that Jury could be a future contender. Whatever the reason, Jury has a huge opportunity on his hands. If he is able to defeat Sanchez, he could find himself on the cusp of a top 10 ranking. How do you make sure that Jury doesn’t perform like he did against Ricci? You put him against a man that simply doesn’t have boring fights. Will Jury answer the call?

This is probably the toughest fight on the entire to pick. Could Jury’s wrestling game stifle Sanchez? Sure, but Sanchez could also lure Jury into a brawl, which common sense will tell you, favors Sanchez. Regardless of what Michael Johnson is currently doing, this is the biggest fight of Jury’s career. While I believe he will be a future contender at 155, Saturday won’t be his night. Expect Sanchez to remind people about why we loved him to begin with. A steady blend of timely strikes and chaos will be the reason why Sanchez will have his hand raised after three hard rounds.

Prediction: Sanchez via unanimous decision

Carlos Condit vs. Tyron Woodley

Much like Shields is my least favorite fighter to watch, Carlos Condit is my favorite fighter to watch. Condit has had many great performances throughout his UFC career; none greater than his fourth round TKO of Martin Kampmann back in August. Contrary to Woodley’s foolish words, Condit is not a point fighter. Those words and thoughts are laughable at best. In fact, 27 of Condit’s 29 wins have come via stoppage (14 by KO, 13 by Sub). What makes Condit so dangerous is his methodical approach to fighting. He finds opening where no one else would, and hits you with something that you didn’t see coming (see his headkick vs. GSP). Condit, as his nickname implies, is a natural born killer.

If a book was written about Tyron Woodley, it would be called A Tale of Two Fighters. I by no means, mean that as a compliment. While Woodley has loads of talent, he can be prone to point fighting; ironic given his recent statements about Condit. Six of his eight stoppage victories came in the first half of his career. To be perfectly honest, and brutally so, any man that gets out struck by Jake Shields, need not give his opinion on who he thinks is a point fighter. So which Woodley will show up: the one that knocked out Jay Hieron in 36 seconds or the one that loss to Shields?

While this will certainly be a highly contested fight, it is Condit’s to lose. In my opinion, Condit holds a definitive advantage no matter where this fight plays out. If this fight stays standing, I favor Condit’s technique and creativity over Woodley’s power. If it goes to the ground, Condit is one of the best at turning a bad situation into a submission win. At the end of the day, this fight isn’t hitting the ground. If it does, it’ll be because Condit is finishing the fight there after blasting Woodley with the same hook that floored Dan Hardy.

Prediction: Condit via 1st round TKO

Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler

Johny Hendricks is one of, if not the scariest fighter on the planet. His big left hand is lethal enough to be considered downright illegal. Merely tapping you with is sends you into a state of unconsciousness. While Hendricks is man of great talent, it is worth noting how easily he could have been out of this position. To be quite honest, Hendricks should probably have more than the two losses on his record. He should have losses to Mike Pierce, Josh Koscheck, and Carlos Condit, to go along with his loss to Rick Story. People should really consider his fights with Pierce, Koscheck, and Condit when talking about the “robbery” against GSP. Anyway, all things being considered, Hendricks has this uncanny ability to knock people out with one punch. It is that power that makes him a severe threat to anyone in the division. Better yet, he is a threat to anyone at any weight class.

Speaking of gorilla type power, Robbie Lawler is one of the most devastating knockout artists’ in the world, as evident by his 18 career wins via KO. When thinking about Lawler, one cannot help but question how he got here. I don’t mean that as a shot at Lawler. I mean it as, how on Earth does a man lose to Lorenz Larkin, rattle off three straight wins, and fight for a title? Such is the case with Lawler, who at 31 (turns 32 this month) and nearly a 13 year veteran, is fighting at the highest level of his career. Over the past three fights, Lawler has displayed many new facets of his game, perhaps none bigger than discipline. With his evolving skill set and new fond love of a disciplined approach, Lawler is as big a threat to win a major title as he’s ever been.

Contrary to what media outlets everywhere have been saying, this is seriously a tough fight to pick. Lawler has been as good, if not better than he’s ever been in his career, while Hendricks is capable of putting on heart stopping performances. I hate to say this because it sounds so clichĂ©, but this fight will come down to whoever puts their hands on the other person first. I fully expect to see Hendricks attack first in order to close the distance and get this fight to the ground, where he’ll do his best work. Hendricks will do this enroute to winning at least three of the five rounds. This will likely set up a five round rematch between new champion ,Johny Hendricks, and Carlos Condit.

Prediction: Hendricks via unanimous decision

Preliminaries Quick Picks

  • Kelvin Gastelum over Rick Story via SUB
  • Raquel Pennington over Jessica Andrade via UD
  • Dennis Bermudez over Jimy Hettes via TKO
  • Sean Spencer over Alex Garcia via SD
  • Renee Forte over Frank Trevino via SUB
  • Justin Scoggins over Will Campuzano via TKO
  • Robert McDaniel over Sean Strickland via TKO
  • Daniel Pineda over Robert Whiteford via SUB