UFC 171: Johny Hendricks and the Fighters with the Most to Lose
UFC 171 is set to become one of the most significant mixed martial arts events of 2014. The pay-per-view will feature two former world champions in Carlos Condit and Jake Shields. Both are vying for the top spot in their division, and the former is facing a possible title shot opportunity with a victory on Saturday night.
In addition, Ultimate Fighter winner Diego Sanchez will battle to remain relevant within the lightweight division, and Johny Hendricks will see his second opportunity to capture the UFC welterweight title.
UFC 171, taking place at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, will represent a defining moment in the careers of the four aforementioned fighters. A loss for any of these combatants will represent a significant step backward and hurt their chances of reasserting themselves in their respective and extremely stacked divisions.
At UFC 167, Hendricks came up short in a controversial loss to Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight title. A month later, St-Pierre relinquished his title and announced an indefinite hiatus from MMA.
Soon thereafter, UFC president Dana White stated that Hendricks would face the division’s No. 3 contender, Robbie Lawler, for the vacant championship title. However, as it stands, Hendricks finds himself in a peculiar situation.
UFC 171 will mark Hendricks’ second straight championship title match. If he loses, a third championship bout will be far from automatic, and he’ll be forced to work his way back up a talented division, which includes the likes of former interim UFC and WEC champion Carlos Condit, Robbie Lawler, Rory MacDonald, Jake Shields and Demian Maia.
Nevertheless, the four-time NCAA All-American wrestler out of Oklahoma State University is confident in his abilities and knockout power. In fact, his tweets on March 8 indicate Hendricks’ focus on the title:
— Johny Hendricks (@JohnyHendricks) March 8, 2014
For Hendricks, another championship loss would serve as a devastating blow to his career and force him to reevaluate his place in the 170-pound division.
Condit is the No. 2-ranked welterweight in the UFC. He sports a respectable 29-7 record, never being knocked out in his career. Condit is a former WEC welterweight champion and won the interim UFC welterweight championship title at UFC 143.
However, despite coming off a win at UFC Fight Night 27, the 29-year-old is 1-2 in his last three bouts. At UFC 171, Condit faces a hungry and determined fighter with knockout power in Tyron Woodley.
Nevertheless, Condit has been highly incentivized by the UFC. Earlier this month, the “Natural Born Killer” was told that he’d receive a title shot upon securing a victory at UFC 171. However, if Condit loses against the hard-hitting Woodley, he will be 1-3 in his last four fights and miss out on the possibility of securing another world title.
Sanchez is one of the UFC’s most exciting fighters. He brings an aggressive, all-or-nothing, go-for-broke type of style to the Octagon. This has garnered him a 24-6 record and seven Fight of the Night bonuses. His intensity in the Octagon is almost unparalleled, and the New Mexico native is definitely a fan favorite.
However, “The Dream” is ranked No. 15 by the UFC and is 3-4 in his last seven outings. Having once fought for the lightweight championship at UFC 107, this Saturday, Sanchez will face a non-ranked opponent in Myles Jury.
Jury is an undefeated fighter from California. He is also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and sports a 13-0 record and an 84 percent finish rate. However, by far, Sanchez will represent the biggest name Jury will have fought to date. For the 25-year-old, a win over Sanchez would allow him to stake his claim among the 155-pound ranks.
Sanchez, on the other hand, cannot afford a loss at UFC 171. If he ever wishes to contend for the title once more, his climb back into the UFC’s top 10 is pivotal.
Upon his entry into the UFC in 2010, Shields was a highly touted prospect. He vacated the Strikeforce middleweight title to fight in the UFC. However, he struggled in his debut bout against Martin Kampmann, eking out a split decision victory at UFC 121.
Then, he lost his next two bouts against St-Pierre and Jake Ellenberger at UFC 129 and UFC Fight Night 25, respectively. His matchup against St-Pierre gave way to the largest UFC event in North American history, with an attendance of 55,724. Shields floundered his opportunity to acquire his second world title, and has yet to challenge for the belt again.
After his loss to Ellenberger, Shields racked up wins against Yoshihiro Akiyama, Tyron Woodley and Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Demian Maia. The California native is 3-0-1 in his last four fights and has acquired a great amount of momentum heading into UFC 171.
However, at 35 years old, if Shields wishes to challenge for the welterweight title once more, it will behoove him to stay the course and post up one or two more dominant wins. As the No. 6 contender, a win over a key, top-five opponent would serve him well. However, a loss against a No. 12 contender in Hector Lombard on March 15 would decimate his chances of making it back to title contention.