We’re coming off of an incredible weekend in the world of MMA, and of course, the MMA world is still buzzing about UFC 181, which gave us many things to talk about. As the last pay per view now sits in the rear-view mirror, we await the crowning of the first UFC strawweight champion, but not without a reminder about something the MMA world experienced last weekend.

No, we are not referring to the signing of Phil Brooks, previously known as CM Punk. While the UFC signing the former WWE Triple Crown champion was huge, we also cannot ignore the two title fights on the bill, especially not the headlining tilt with Johny Hendricks against Robbie Lawler for the UFC welterweight title.

In the end, Lawler got a close win, but with the way he brought the fight to Lawler in the first, fourth, and fifth rounds, the split-decision win would be enough to change the guard and bring the belt to the ATT standout. When the dust cleared, though, it left the world wondering who would be next for Lawler. While we don’t know the answer to that particular question, we can think of ten men with the best potential shot of threatening Lawler, if given the chance.

 

10. Dong Hyun Kim

“Stun Gun” dropped his most recent tilt to Tyron Woodley, a man whose name that—spoiler alert!—you will see mentioned here quite a bit, because everyone mentioned here is linked together in some way. Now, Kim owns wins over some of the men on this list, but how would a man who lost to Woodley remain a potential threat to Lawler? Consider the success Kim has had with taking guys down and smothering them, and we see that in eight of Lawler’s ten losses, he was either controlled at will on the ground for the duration of three rounds or submitted. Kim needs to get back to his winning ways, but if anyone could control Lawler, Kim holds a solid chance to do so.

9. Gunnar Nelson

One loss is not the death knell for a prospect in MMA, especially not when you possess the talent of the well-rounded Gunnar Nelson. Sure, he suffered a a loss to Rick Story that appeared more one-sided that the scorecards would have you believe, but all that the loss meant was that Nelson simply needs to return to the drawing board and round out his game to where he can keep his punches in bunches for ample amounts of time. In three of his five UFC appearances, he has been outstruck by his opponent, though he still won two of those three, and he does still have a high-level grappling game that usually gives Lawler fits, so if he can refine his game and put everything together as he has done in the past, it could pay serious dividends when it counts the most, and nothing counts more than beating the man that packs 12 pounds of gold and leather in his bags.

8. Matt Brown

Brown was the last man Lawler faced before Lawler signed on for the rematch with Hendricks, and needless to say, the bout was a fight if there ever was a fight. Still, Brown came up a tad short and now finds himself facing Tarec Saffiedine. Brown stayed busy in the Lawler fight  by attempting a multitude of takedowns and even sticking more shots, but Lawler proved more accurate with takedown attempts and striking, despite scoring slightly lower totals in overall strikes and significant strikes than Brown, but would Lawler be as accurate against Brown in a rematch, knowing that Brown will have no doubt learned from his mistakes in their first bout?

7. Neil Magny

Let’s start with addressing the obvious fact that last year, seeing Magny defeat any number of the men he has beaten either qualified as wishful thinking or stood firmly as “going out on a limb”. Nobody saw the man coming and even fewer thought he would ever be the guy to rise up the ladder and earn a case as a well rounded guy who could hold his own with elite fighters, but then, not every contender is a person that fans see coming. Right now, Magny is a jack of all trades, and his slow-burning rise to the top has given many reason to believe that maybe he can bite hard when he has to battle the big dogs, but he won’t get the chance to show the world without a chance to step his game up.

6. Hector Lombard

Lombard will get granted this: no man ever looks pretty in a bout with Jake Shields, even if they defeat Shields, and Lombard did answer any questions about his ability to go three rounds and win against a world-class opponent, but the wins must keep on coming. Fans know that Lombard differs from quite a few UFC welterweights solely because of his judo, something which very few men can exercise at this elite of a level. Supposing Lombard tops Josh Burkman and gets that fight with fellow ATT welterweight Tyron Woodley that he has always wanted, a fight with Lawler could create interest on the basis of the standup battle alone. With the “Ruthless” one’s takedown defense being one of the best in the game, Lombard stands to give Lawler a test on the feet, where very few men have survived with the champion without some semblance of a grappling game to fall back on, and as Lombard keeps his judo deeply tucked away in his back pocket anyway, nothing would stop either man from searching for a definitive finish.

5. Brandon Thatch

Thatch is, without question, one of the wild cards in this discussion, aside from Magny. He doesn’t sit very high on the UFC welterweight rankings ladder because he has yet to face a top 15 welterweight, and injuries have not helped his cause, but the man is a striker along the same vein as his UFC Fight Night 60 foe Stephen Thompson—who was seen, at one time, in the same high regard at the former RFA standout. Thatch, who has received a co-sign from former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre in the past, represents a style of striking that Lawler has never dealt with in the past because he can hit a man anywhere with anything and look good doing it.

The last man to do that to Lawler? Nick Diaz.

4. Tyron Woodley

Woodley has had his share of ups and downs, stemming from the Strikeforce days, but while there is no shame in losing to Rory MacDonald, Woodley brought his stock back up with a win over Dong Hyun Kim in the UFC’s return to Macau back in August. On paper, Woodley—much like a lot of other guys in the UFC’s loaded welterweight division—brings a wrestling base and a knack for heavy hands, two things which Lawler has faced before, but of course Woodley puts it all together in a way that no other past foe of the current champion has done. If any doubts exist about whether Woodley can do it on a consistent basis, Woodley will look to lay everything to rest when he sees TUF 17 winner Kelvin Gastelum in the co-main event of UFC 183, and who knows, perhaps Woodley may show off a facet of his game that not even the biggest Woodley diehard believed he could show off.

3. Kelvin Gastelum

It might seem like an act of kindness to consider the TUF 17 middleweight winner as one of the top threats to the belt, especially given the fact that he is still a young welterweight with a long way to go, but Gastelum is an ace at pulling through in underdog situations. He was not expected to win The Ultimate Fighter 17, but he took the whole thing, and then he went on to respond beautifully to the challenges he faced in his bouts with Rick Story and Jake Ellenberger. Should he get by the aforementioned Tyron Woodley at UFC 183, Gastelum may earn an opportunity to put his power and his wrestling to work against the apex of the division, namely the likes of Rory MacDonald and/or Johny Hendricks, en route to a bout with Lawler, but he does well to not look past the equally dangerous Woodley.

2. Johny Hendricks

Let’s be serious, the stats in Hendricks’ loss to Lawler might have reflected a wonderful performance from the former EliteXC champ, but that doesn’t mean that the loss was any more clear than Hendricks’ win over Lawler in Dallas. Sure, the now-former champ must go to the back of the line and rework his way into the title scene, but considering everything he has done to make both fights close. the journey to a trilogy fight with Lawler will be just as hard-fought as the journey on which he traveled in order to get his first couple of title shots.

1. Rory MacDonald

Love his style or hate it, but MacDonald is finally at the spot that many saw him reaching, and it’s all because of the way he has racked up his share of wins as of late. The aggression and urgency MacDonald has shown reflects a man that wants his shot at a title by itself, but add in the fact that Lawler’s career resurgence came partially at MacDonald’s expense, and in a bout that MacDonald looked, and the stakes start to raise up a little bit for this, the UFC welterweight division’s arguable “must-see rematch” outside of the trilogy between Lawler and former champion Hendricks.

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.