DALLAS -- Johny Hendricks did what UFC champions do: He won the fifth round.
Hendricks (16-2) claimed the vacant UFC welterweight title on Saturday, defeating Robbie Lawler via unanimous decision at UFC 171 at American Airlines Center.
Judges Aladin Martinez, Mike Gonzales and Doug Crosby all scored the bout for Hendricks, 48-47. Martinez and Gonzales awarded the third and fourth rounds to Lawler (22-10). Crosby scored the second round 10-8 and the fifth 10-10.
The back-and-forth affair came down to the final round -- similar to the last time Hendricks fought for a UFC title. In November, Hendricks came up short in a title bid against Georges St-Pierre when he lost a pivotal fifth round at UFC 167 in Las Vegas.
"I had to come back in the fifth round," Hendrick said. "I knew that I lost that round last time. If I had went out there [at UFC 167] and fought like I did today, maybe the belt would have been mine before this."
Hendricks, who lives and trains in Dallas, refused to let history repeat itself in his backyard with 19,324 in attendance. With the title up for grabs in the fifth, Hendricks hurt Lawler with a series of straight lefts before scoring a double-leg takedown that sealed the round.
The fight was an instant classic from the opening minute. Hendricks got off to fast start, jumping ahead of Lawler 2-0 on all three judges' cards. His main offense came from the straight left, although he mixed in a strong dose of leg kicks as well.
"It was an amazing fight. I had it 2-2 going into fifth round," UFC president Dana White said. "I felt whoever won the fifth round would win the fight."
The two welterweights smiled at one another throughout the first two rounds, although Hendricks' disappeared in the third round when Lawler landed a momentum-swinging left hand to the chin.
Hendricks stiffened immediately, although he never went down. Lawler, perhaps pacing himself, stayed on Hendricks with right hooks and straight lefts, but stopped short of swarming him aggressively.
"Round three he hit me and at that moment I was like, 'S---. I've got to fire back. If I don't, he's going to kill me,' " Hendricks said. "He's a heavy-handed dude, obviously. Nobody has made me look like this."
Lawler's confidence rose as he headed into the fourth. He popped Hendricks with another counter left hand that opened a cut near his right eye. Hendricks squinted to see through the injury the remainder of the fight.
The shot enticed Hendricks to shoot for a takedown, which Lawler successfully stuffed. Hendricks refused to wilt, however, and responded later in the round with combinations. Lawler continued to smile through it all.
Hendricks opened the deciding fifth round searching for a takedown. He pressed Lawler up against the fence long enough for referee Dan Miragliotta to reset them in the center of the cage.
Midway through the round, Hendricks landed a left to Lawler's chin that finally seemed to hurt him. The volume of Hendricks' leg kicks also started to add up, as well as knees to the body, as Lawler's movement slowed considerably.
Lawler retreated to the fence, where Hendricks scored a takedown that brought the crowd to a frenzy.
Hendricks becomes the seventh welterweight champion in UFC history. He also is the first man to hold the official title other than St-Pierre since 2006. St-Pierre vacated the belt due to personal reasons in December.