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Johny Hendricks says Robbie Lawler is a 'more dangerous fight' than Georges St-Pierre

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Like it or not, the immense shadow cast by Georges St-Pierre, a man widely considered to be the greatest welterweight to ever compete in mixed martial arts, is destined to loom heavily over next weekend's festivities in Dallas, TX.

Because of St-Pierre's decision to vacate his long-held title for an indefinite leave of absence, and thus remove himself entirely from a conversation which he dominated for eight transcendent years, the UFC's welterweight strap now lays unclaimed, while four ranked contenders jockey for pole position in this peculiar new landscape.

Yet for Johny Hendricks, the one-man wrecking crew who many believed defeated St-Pierre last November, the sting of UFC 167's controversial outcome may still linger, but once it comes down to brass tacks, St-Pierre was never the focus.

"It was always about the belt. The belt means everything," Hendricks reiterated on a Thursday media conference call. "So if I win next Saturday, my goal will be reached. I can't think backwards, I've got to think forwards. Look at our division. It's a pretty stacked division, very talented people are in the top-10. Now that [Georges] walked away, it's time for one of us to make our own mark."

To do so, Hendricks must now overcome a far different challenge than he faced before. In Robbie Lawler, "Bigg Rigg" meets an opponent whose skillset essentially serves as the yin to St-Pierre's yang.

Whereas St-Pierre was measured and steadfastly glued to his own strategy, Lawler is wild and often reckless. Whereas St-Pierre elected to grind his opponents to dust over 25 minutes, Lawler unabashedly prefers to headhunt, often to the tune of ferocious, sometimes frighteningly violent knockouts.

"Georges, you knew that he was going to throw a jab, a high kick, a low kick, and try to take you down. That's his gameplan," Hendricks said. "Robbie, if you make a mistake, we've seen it time and time again, he can knock you out. So you really have to make sure that you stay focused, cross all your t's and dot all your i‘s, and make sure that you stay solid. That's a lot more dangerous fight.

"But those are also the more fun fights for me. You don't know what's going to happen. All you know is that you're going to step into an Octagon and you hopefully get your hand raised."

The refrain that the UFC's welterweight division is now freed from St-Pierre's risk-averse tyranny is neither a new one, nor is it unfounded. St-Pierre holds the record for the most decision wins in UFC history (12), and of his second title run, eight of his nine successful belt defenses came at the judges' discretion.

"I think people have wanted to see a little bit of excitement," said former St-Pierre victim Carlos Condit. "I think Georges, from time to time later in his career he had some spurts of excitement, but for the most part people kind of knew what was going to happen. Now the division has been infused with some energy. There's a lot of buzz. What's going to happen? There's a lot of really, really tough guys bottlenecking at the top spots of welterweight, and I think it's an exciting time. We all get the opportunity to get in there and try to put that welterweight belt around our waist. It's just a perfect storm. I think the fans ultimately are going to be the ones who benefit with some really, really exciting fights."

Condit, along with Hendricks, Lawler, and Tyron Woodley, now make up the four-man mini-tournament field that will decide St-Pierre's successor at UFC 171.

The welterweight division is unquestionably talent-rich, and historically has been seen as one of the UFC's premier attractions, so for each of the four contenders, next week's event presents the opportunity of a lifetime. Now it's just a matter of who is willing to reach out and grab it.

"If you look at these other three guys, we all can make our own destiny," Hendricks concluded. "It doesn't matter if GSP is going to be here or not. We're all exciting. I think that's what makes the fans excited now, is that they don't know what is going to happen. They don't know if we're going to knockout each other out, they don't know if it's going to be a five-round war. All they know is that they can't blink or they can't get up from their seats because they don't know what's going to happen. I think that's what's going to make this card great."