At one point during the UFC 171 post-fight press conference, Hector Lombard was quoted as saying, “Now that Robbie is out of the picture, I believe that I can be a tough challenge,” to which someone on the dais quickly snapped, “How is Robbie out of the picture?”
It’s a good question. A better question, though, might be who else is in the title picture.
All it took was Georges St. Pierre stepping back/stepping down/taking a break/hanging it up/vacating the title to turn the one-man head shot that was the UFC welterweight division into a murder’s row, mug-shot lineup. While Robbie isn’t necessarily out of the picture, the panoramic view of the welterweight canvas is slowly being cropped after UFC 171. Some of the names being tossed about as the next possible contenders to Hendricks’ hardware include:
Dong Hyun Kim
Nick Diaz Nick Diaz
Georges St. Pierre
Seeing that list, the answer still isn’t as simple as multiple choice. It’s open-ended. It’s a question that begs for an essay-response.
The Diaz inclusion may be premature, but Diaz has gone on record that he would like to fight again, so it’s safe to assume that he may be unretired if given the nod for the title shot. While some may cry “Wolftickets!” at the thought of awarding a title shot to Nick Diaz since he’s been retired and lost his last two fights, there is intrigue for a number of fight fans. Nick polarizes so many that it becomes an easy fight to sell, especially since Nick laid much of the ground work this past weekend in Dallas, from heckling Hendricks at the weigh-ins to calling him out during a post-UFC 171 interview.
When Gustafsson/Jones ended in a squeaker, Gustafsson wasn’t put in the back of the line, but he wasn’t granted an immediate title shot either. While this precedent might make for a longer and harder road for a Robbie Lawler/Johny Hendricks sequel, it should put him against one of the other members of this list, which is still pretty solid company and still pretty close to the crown.
The Tyron Woodley response seems perfectly sound. He plowed through his previous two opponents before his fight with Carlos Condit. One of those opponents, Josh Koshchek, was the same fighter Robbie Lawler blasted through on his way to a title shot. However, the other opponent is a now retired Jay Hieron. Added to the fact that for some, the win against Condit is clouded in controversy due to the knee injury sustained by Condit during their co-main event tussle, and the picture loses even more focus.
For Rory MacDonald, does his impressive win over Demian Maia and his only loss in his last five fights to Robbie Lawler force pundits to see the forest from the trees, or does the fact that his last 4 fights have ended in decisions make the depth of field seem even shallower?
In his last two victories, Dong Hyun Kim has shown a penchant for finishing his opponents in a violent fashion. While Erik Silva and John Hathaway are certainly no slouches, one has been inconsistent in the UFC and the other hasn’t fought in over a year. If you’re looking for style points, The Stun Gun delivers. However, how does one measure the quality of those wins? By the finish? By the form? By the opponent? It only gets cloudier. Similarly, fellow judoka Hector Lombard could be mirror image of Dong Hyun Kim in terms of positioning due to his spectacular KOs of Rousimar Palhares and Nate Marquardt. However, Lombard has only won three of his five UFC fights. Despite his dominant win over a former champ in Jake Shields, Lombard may also find himself out of position and outside the frame.
The correct response is that there is no correct answer. For years, the answer was simple. There was no confusion. You could set your watch to GSP being front and center because the rest of the welterweight division was that far away from his place in the foreground. In the wake of his “break,” there is no shortage of contenders looking for a close-up. Now, it’s a question of how many are ready for that close-up. Even with a newly-minted champion in Johny Hendricks, the pecking order in the 170-pound division still seems volatile, uneasy, and fuzzy. But that’s also what makes the UFC’s 170-pound picture interesting—it’s a portrait that is still developing as each contender is posting selfies.