Now that there is a champion in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s welterweight division, the question becomes, Who is the top contender?
The answer is complicated.
Johny Hendricks won the vacant title on Saturday night with a unanimous decision victory over Robbie Lawler in the main event of UFC 171 in Dallas.
The title was vacated when Georges St. Pierre decided to take a hiatus from the sport and vacate the title he had held since 2007. Hendricks takes over that spot as champion, but there are plenty of potential challengers.
Hendricks refused to name whom from the crowded field should be granted the chance to fight him first.
“The UFC picks my opponents and that’s what I’m going to do. That’s the way I want it to be,” Hendricks said. “Give me whoever’s No. 2, and if he’s hurt give me No. 3. I don’t make those decisions. That’s above my pay grade.”
So who could it be?
Tyron Woodley won his second straight fight and improved to 3-1 in the UFC with a win over Carlos Condit on Saturday. The former Strikeforce champion was in control of the fight when Condit injured his knee when he was being taken down by Woodley, who then finished Condit off with a leg kick.
It’s pretty clear Condit would have earned the title shot had he won, so Woodley may have taken his place with the victory.
Hector Lombard also put his hat in the ring with a dominant win over Jake Shields on Saturday. Lombard has looked like a wrecking ball in two fights since dropping to 170 pounds, and the Olympic judo competitor could potentially be a marketable challenger for the belt.
There’s also an outside shot Hendricks could fight Lawler again. The two staged a very entertaining bout that came down to a razor-thin decision, so without a clear-cut challenger, a rematch is a possibility.
The most likely name at the moment, however, seems to be Rory MacDonald. As a training partner of St. Pierre, he has not fought for a belt in part because he was not going to fight his friend.
Now that someone else has the belt, it opens the door for the much-hyped prospect to get his shot.
MacDonald lost some of his luster with a split-decision loss to Lawler in November, but he bounced back with a victory over Demian Maia in February. He has won six of seven and this could be his chance to fight for a title while St. Pierre is out of the picture.
Then there is the question of St. Pierre and when he may return. UFC president Dana White still expects the longtime champion to return.
“This whole thing got blown out of proportion,” White said on the postfight show on Fox Sports 2 on Saturday. “He’s got personal problems and when he gets them handled, he’ll be back. He never said he was retiring.”
St. Pierre is expected to get an immediate shot when he does come back, so if that happens soon, he could be next, though that seems unlikely.
There is another wild card in the mix, as well. Nick Diaz said last month he would return from a yearlong pseudo-retirement to fight the winner of the fight between Hendricks and Lawler. But he apparently never discussed the plan with the UFC.
“Nick was there heckling Hendricks the whole fight,” White said. “He hasn’t talked to me about fighting.”
Diaz, coming off back-to-back losses and a year off, probably wouldn’t be the most deserving of the candidates. But apart from St. Pierre, he would be the most marketable, and while it is a sport, the UFC is a business.
White was noncommittal during a postfight news conference.
■ SIVER FAILS TEST — UFC featherweight Dennis Siver tested positive for human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) following a win over Manny Gamburyan at UFC 168 at the MGM Grand, according to the Nevada Athletic Commission.
Siver will face a formal complaint at a future NAC meeting.
The substance is most commonly known as a female fertility drug, often used by steroid users to restart testosterone production. It’s the same substance baseball player Manny Ramirez tested positive for in 2009.
Test results for Siver and Siyar Bahadurzada from that event were originally deemed inconclusive. Bahadurzada’s retest came back negative.
■ ‘SHOGUN’-HENDERSON REMATCH — The UFC will host a rare Sunday event this week, headlined by a rematch of perhaps the best fight of 2011 between light heavyweights Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
The card, which takes place in Natal, Brazil, airs on Fox Sports 1, beginning at 2 p.m.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.