Amercian Airlines Center in Dallas hosts UFC 171 this Saturday night when Robbie Lawler (22-9) and Johny Hendricks (15-2) square off to decide a new champion at 170 lbs.
The surprise retirement announcement by former UFC welterweight title holder and arguably the top pound for pound MMA fighter on the planet Georges St. Pierre immediately after his 10th straight successful defense this past November prompted the UFC brass to crown a new champion as quickly as possible.
Not surprisingly, the UFC turned to Hendricks, who lost to GSP that very same night via a controversial decision. Lawler looked spectacular in disposing of GSP protege and top contender Rory MacDonald on the same card, to determine the new welterweight belt holder.
Oddsmakers sent out Hendricks as a heavy favorite at -400 and it didn’t take long for bettors to force bookmakers to raise the price even more. The betting odds currently list “Bigg Rigg” as high as -460, with the take back on “Ruthless” a generous +365.
Simply put, bettors would need to conclude Hendricks chances of having his hand raised at over 80% to make laying that much chalk offer value. Meaning Lawler would need to be able to emerge victorious better than 20% of the time since the “vig” charged by bookmakers needs to be accounted for, in order to give this dog some bite.
Lawler, 31, has undoubtedly paid his dues having fought under the banner of countless promotions before ultimately returning to the UFC. He seems to be in a very good place mentally, believing it’s his time to be rewarded for all that hard work and sacrifice.
Lawler should have a significant weight advantage the night of the fight since he walks around much heavier than his opponent, and with that he’ll also enjoy both a reach and height advantage as well. The southpaw has devastating one-punch knockout power, and only 5 of his last 12 bouts have been left in the hands of the judges.
Lawler also has good defense, avoiding 64% of his opponents’ strikes and 63% of take-down attempts. While offensively he’s been successful on almost 70% of his own take-downs, but once the fight hits the mat he attempts very few, if any, submissions.
Speaking of one-punch fight changing power Hendricks, also a southpaw, possesses one of the most feared left hands in MMA. But as dangerous of a striker as he may be, it’s his elite wrestling pedigree that’s gotten him this far. In fact, against Carlos Condit, he was able to take-down a usually elusive fighter on 12 occasions, ultimately earning a title shot against GSP.
Statistically Hendricks takes his opponents down almost 5 times per 15 minutes, and has proven to be extremely difficult to put on the mat himself. Even GSP who prides himself on being able to take a fight wherever he pleases, when he pleases, was only able to take Hendricks down 3 times in their 5 round brawl.
Hendricks will have the better offense and defense against Lawler even though “Ruthless” has one of the sturdiest jaws in the sport and should be able to take this bout into deep waters. I don’t see many ways he could win this fight. In fact, the only way I believe Lawler would exit the cage with UFC gold on Saturday is by knockout.
I can’t envision him submitting Hendricks and I can’t see him winning via decision by outscoring the favorite either. Lawler has a puncher’s chance absolutely, but Hendricks is well known for his excellent chin and, more importantly, his team’s ability to implement a game-plan that keeps their fighter out of harms way.
Bottom line: Though the price is very high and may only go higher, I do believe in this case it’s warranted. Since Hendricks will have the advantage no matter where the fight takes place, and has all the tools needed to either grind out a decision or possibly end the fight sooner, my pick to win is “Bigg Rigg.”
Selection: Johny Hendricks
Vegas-Runner, a pro sports bettor in Las Vegas, has been featured on CNBC/ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @vegasrunner, at Pregame.com and on AM 1100 ESPN (also FM 98.9) on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. when he co-hosts First Preview. Contact Vegas Runner at [email protected].