In the end, a standup war came down to a takedown.
With the UFC welterweight title hanging in the balance in the fifth and final round, Hendricks went back to his wrestling pedigree and got the job done. With Lawler fading, Hendricks landed a late takedown. Lawler looked up at the clock and shook his head in dismay.
Game, set, match. Four months after being on the wrong end of a controversial judges' call in a title fight, Hendricks is now the UFC welterweight champion. He took the vacant title in the main event of UFC 171 on across-the-board scores of 48-47.
"Robbie was so freaking tough. I feel very blessed," Hendricks (16-2) said. "He caught me, in that fifth round I had to win it."
Hendricks, fighting in his adopted hometown, came out strong over the first two rounds. He mixed up used relentless low kicks to set up his big combos. At the same time, he wisely respected Lawler's powerful left hand, and thus stayed measured in his approach.
Lawler, for his part, relied primarily on his boxing. Starting late in the second round, he began fearlessly wading through Hendricks' punches, looking to land that big left hand.
In the third round, the left found a home. Lawler absolutely rocked Hendricks with a series of big shots and for awhile, appeared to have Hendricks out on his feet. But he never quite pulled the trigger, enabling Hendricks to regain his bearings and get back into the fight.
That didn't keep Lawler from pouring it on. A cut under Hendricks' eye caused earlier opened up hideously in round four. Lawler went to town on the cut, as for long stretches, Hendricks could do nothing but block the eye and keep it from taking further damage. Hendricks score a late takedown, but it was nowhere close to stealing the round.
With things looking all tied up heading into the final round, the title was in the balance. And it was Hendricks, who missed weight on his first attempt on Friday, who had the most left in the tank. Hendricks shot for a takedown, didn't get it, but worked Lawler over against the fence. Lawler was fading, and susceptible for the final takedown, which sealed the deal.
"Robbie is a tough dude," Hendricks said. "I'm not going to take nothing away from him, this guy's a stud. I promise you I'll be facing him again and when I do, hopefully I'll be coming out with a better performance.
With the victory, Hendricks became the UFC's first new welterweight champion since Georges St-Pierre defeated Matt Serra in April, 2008. Hendricks lost a controversial split decision to St-Pierre at UFC 167. In the aftermath, St-Pierre vacated the title, leading to Saturday's fight to fill the vacancy.
Although he came up a bit short, Lawler (22-10) justified all the big things that were predicted of him a decade ago. And while some online were trying to claim a controversy in the scoring, you'll get none of that talk from Lawler.
"He's one hell of a fighter, I was trying to roll and come back," Lawler said. "He was taking it to me, he got a couple takedowns, he fought one hell of a fight, hat's off to him."