UFC 195 kicks off the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s 2016 schedule with some traditional Octagon fare on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Welterweight has been one of the two marquee divisions during the UFC’s rise to power, and with its biggest star, Georges St. Pierre, gone from competition, no-nonsense elite fighters have stepped up to fill the void. While it does not stand to push any attendance, gate or pay-per-view boundaries, the UFC 195 main event is an under-the-radar welterweight title fight between champion Robbie Lawler and former interim titleholder Carlos Condit. At least from a competitive standpoint, it figures to extend the promotion’s current streak of hot headliners, which began at UFC 193 with Holly Holm-Ronda Rousey and continued at UFC 194 with Conor McGregor-Jose Aldo.
HOW WE GOT HERE: Four welterweights occupied the top two slots at UFC 171 in March 2014. Condit tore his ACL against Tyron Woodley in a contender eliminator, while Lawler and Johny Hendricks closed the show in a battle for the UFC welterweight title that had been vacated by St. Pierre. Hendricks had nearly unseated St. Pierre across 25 minutes in his previous outing, but the judges did not see it for “Bigg Rigg.” However, the scorecards tilted in Hendricks’ favor against Lawler, making him the first welterweight champion not named St. Pierre since 2008. In the time Condit spent on the sidelines, Lawler won two bounce-back fights to secure a rematch with Hendricks. “Ruthless” avenged his previous defeat with a 25-minute decision to capture the 170-pound title, 12 years after he had debuted with the promotion. Condit returned to the Octagon in May, as he traveled to Brazil, carved up Thiago Alves with strikes and forced a doctor stoppage. Lawler, meanwhile, defended his title against Rory MacDonald at UFC 189. Twenty-one grueling minutes ensued in the 2015 “Fight of the Year.” A trilogy bout with Hendricks seemed in order for Lawler, but it was not to be. Hendricks’ weight cut at UFC 192 in October went bad, resulted in an intestinal blockage and prevented him from mixing it up with Woodley. Because of the incident, Woodley was named as the No. 1 contender. The lip service did him no good, as Condit, despite his loss to Woodley, was booked opposite Lawler. While Condit has alternated wins and losses in his last four fights, the ease with which he returned to brutally finish Alves separated him from the pack at 170 pounds. The opportunity was based on his body of work as a decade-plus veteran in a competitive division. Condit views his shot at Lawler as his likely last chance to become an undisputed UFC champion, a realistic approach for the Jackson-Wink MMA rep. Lawler-MacDonald set an impossibly high bar for how much punishment an elite-level fight can contain, but Lawler-Condit pits two finisher’s finishers against each other. Considering their lengthy history of exciting performances and the welterweight mess behind them, the time was now to make the matchup ... A credible No. 1 contender is hard to come by in any division, which is why heavyweights Stipe Miocic and Andrei Arlovski were booked for the co-main event. Miocic had the best showing of his career in defeat, as he beat up former champion Junior dos Santos in a losing effort in a UFC on Fox headliner a little more than a year ago. The Ohioan rebounded with Sherdog.com’s 2015 “Beatdown of the Year” on Mark Hunt in May. Two weeks after Miocic mercy-stopped Hunt in the fifth round, Arlovski picked up his third straight win since returning to the UFC. “The Pit Bull” knocked out Travis Browne in an unforgettable single round, announcing himself as a potential threat to the heavyweight title again. Arlovski underwhelmed in his next outing, struggling to a decision against Frank Mir but nevertheless rides a four-fight winning streak into his showdown with Miocic. Strong Style Fight Team’s Miocic has won his last five. Theirs is a bout with serious implications for 2016, once the Fabricio Werdum-Cain Velasquez rivalry shakes out on Super Bowl weekend.
UNASSUMING LEGACY: Remember, the welterweight division is where St. Pierre’s “not impressed by your performance” was considered smack talk. The best of the best at 170 pounds have always been more concerned with fending off the competition than cutting promos about it. In an often silent-but-deadly weight class, Lawler and Condit are quiet enough staring around a room to let everyone know how much they do not need to talk. Take Condit’s 93-percent finish rate: No one is more prolific at taking out opponents at a high level. Only two of his 30 career wins have heard the final bell, and his finishes represent a near-even split between strikes (15) and submissions (13). He presents an appropriate threat to Lawler, who pushes close to an 80-percent finish rate. The difference: Lawler has only one submission to his credit. The 33-year-old champion boasts 20 wins by knockout or technical knockout and owns a 7-1 record since returning to the UFC two years ago. Nothing needs to be said for a can’t-miss title fight.
FIGHT PASS HEADLINERS: Lightweights Dustin Poirier and Joseph Duffy were set to headline a UFC Fight Pass event in Dublin in October. However, a last-minute concussion suffered by Duffy postponed the contest. To square up with Fight Pass subscribers, the UFC has kept the fight on the platform, this time on the UFC 195 undercard. Needless to say, there is a drastic difference between and empty Las Vegas prelim crowd and Ireland headliner around peak McGregormania. Poirier and Duffy take a step back in the third fight from the bottom at UFC 195. Realistically, theirs is probably the third best fight on the card.
BACK ON THE RADAR: Michael McDonald was barely old enough to legally drink in America when he began fighting the best bantamweights in the world. He knocked out former World Extreme Cagefighting champion Miguel Torres in April 2012, then submitted to Renan Barao after four rounds in an interim title fight in London 10 months later. He received a disclosed $15,000 for the effort. McDonald bounced back against Brad Pickett and went right back to top competition, pocketing $17,000 in a submission loss to Urijah Faber at UFC on Fox 9 in December 2013. Being on the wrong side of convincing losses left McDonald to question, “Was this adequate money to get hit by the world’s best on a regular basis?” He healed various injuries, sitting out two full years. McDonald returns to the cage a few weeks shy of his 25th birthday and will look for his sixth UFC victory against Masanori Kanehara. It remains to be seen whether or not McDonald can win enough to drum up larger paydays as he restarts his climb at 135 pounds. If he had been getting Sage Northcutt money while competing in title fights and facing former champions, he might have come back sooner.
AWARDS WATCH: If the Smartest Guy at the Bar could bet his life savings, it would be on Lawler-Condit for “Fight of the Night.” Expect a “Performance of the Night” bonus for McDonald, a hard-hitting bantamweight with a chip on his shoulder, and the welterweight slugfest between Lorenz Larkin and Albert Tumenov should yield rewards for the Russian.
Danny Acosta is a SiriusXM Rush (Channel 93) host and contributor. His writing has been featured on Sherdog.com for nearly a decade. Find him on Twitter and Instagram @acostaislegend.