By Matt Saccaro
At UFC 171, Johny Hendricks fought Robbie Lawler in what became an instant classic. The two men traded scores of punches, bled, and even smiled during their 25-minute brawl that saw Hendricks leave Dallas as the UFC welterweight champion…but nobody really cares about that.
The “morning after” discourse isn’t about Hendricks overcoming a perilous weight cut or about the implications of Hendricks being the first champ of the post-GSP era. It’s about two stars of a bygone era—Nick Diaz and Georges St-Pierre.
Nick Diaz stole some of the press at the weigh ins, heckling Hendricks for being a pound and a half heavy. That stunt soon snowballed into something more. At an unofficial media scrum, Diaz proclaimed he was in fighting shape. In an interview with SportsNet, Diaz elucidated his presence in Dallas.
“[The UFC] bought me a ticket, for once, they bought me an actual ticket…Maybe they want me to fight Johny Hendricks! Take an ass-whooping right to your face, bro…I’m ready to fight. I’m ready to fight the right fight…I need a title fight. I need a real fight. Give the fans what they wanna see. That’s why I’m here.”
The heat is on Diaz, now, not the guy who just captured the belt. But it wouldn’t be a welterweight affair without GSP’s name being thrown around, which it was by Hendricks himself at the post-fight presser.
To an extent, it’s understandable why people aren’t pouring paragraphs of praise on Hendricks; he’s mild-mannered. Even his call-out of GSP was tame. And his views on star power are problematic for an organization reeling after the loss of its biggest names.
“I think you can let your fighting [talk],” Hendricks said in response to Diaz claiming he was the only draw in the division. “I think this is what’s gonna do real good for our weight class—let the fighting do everything.”
That’s certainly an admirable way to look at combat sports, but it isn’t true. To quote The Simpsons, “Every good scientist is half B.F. Skinner and half P.T. Barnum.” Just so, every fighter needs to be half Georges St-Pierre and half Chael Sonnen. It has been proven time and time again that emotional investment generates PPV buys. “These two fighters really hate each other” sells well, even if it’s not the truth. “I respect him; he’s a great opponent” always fails to move the needle, as factual as it might be. In that regard, not pushing Hendricks in articles is forgivable. His behavior and words won’t garner page views and aren’t conducive to strong post-fight narratives.
Dana White is also partially responsible for the lack of hype because he was mum regarding the future of welterweight. What can the media write about other than Diaz vs. Hendricks if the boss shrugs his shoulders at a division teeming with contenders? Another issue is that the would-be challengers, in the minds of some, didn’t look wholly impressive. Tyron Woodley defeated Carlos Condit due to a “freak injury” and Hector Lombard bested Jake Shields but many felt the fight was lackluster. Diaz, despite having not fought in a year and being on a two-fight losing streak, somehow came out of UFC 171 looking like the most impressive welterweight.
UFC 171 was a spectacular event, but the fallout was anything but. Perhaps some part of the blame for the UFC’s inability to create stars falls on our shoulders, since when we have a chance to try and build a new star, we ignore him and bellow smoke into old ones, just so their waning flames might linger a little while longer.