The Rear Naked Column 11.13.13: St-Pierre vs. Hendricks Breakdown
Posted by Samer Kadi on 11.13.2013
Johny Hendricks faces Georges St-Pierre in what may be the champion's toughest challenge yet at UFC 167! Can Hendricks dethrone him or does GSP reign supreme once again? 411's Samer Kadi takes a look!
In a year of quasi-desperate attempts to bolster PPV numbers with puzzling title shots, Johny Hendricks earning his the hard way is a breath of fresh air. After leaving Mike Pierce, Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, Martin Kampann and Carlos Condit in his wake, Hendricks has amassed an absolutely stunning winning streak in MMA's toughest and most robust division. With left handed power that would make even some heavyweights jealous, a highly respectable wrestling pedigree, and an ever improving overall MMA game, Johny Hendricks could well be Georges St-Pierre's stylistically most interesting challenger in years.
When a fighter exerts near-unparalleled dominance for as long as St-Pierre did, many will start latching on to the merest hint of vulnerability. Indeed, the champion's last few performances have shown some rare chinks in his otherwise impenetrable armor, and Hendricks is arguably the best-equipped man to capitalize.
Despite a typically decisive 50-45 victory over yet another elite contender, Georges St-Pierre's performance against Nick Diaz was far from flawless. This is neither due to his inability to put Diaz away, nor his failure to mount any overwhelming offense. In fact, Diaz was the last opponent St-Pierre was going to style on due to his cardio, toughness, otherworldly chin and ability to defend himself off of his back.
However, there can be no denying that the Canadian did not look his usual dynamic self. Chalk it up to his knee surgery, the fact that he didn't enjoy his usual break in between fights (it was his second bout in four months), or simply a result of a rare off night, the fact remains, St-Pierre did not look impressive. For the good of MMA, and the sake of one of the absolute greatest fighters to ever grace the sport, let's hope these are not the early signs of a small – but potentially costly – decline in which "Rush" loses some of his speed, athleticism, and trademark explosiveness, but rather, an isolated outing that will have no bearing on the future.
Admittedly, it does seem harsh to nitpick a performance in which St-Pierre did not lose a single minute. And yet, there can be no escaping the fact that he looked unusually tired as early as the third round – something that St-Pierre himself admitted to. Whether this is the early writings of a bigger narrative or simply fans and pundits blowing things out of proportion remains to be seen, but it is exactly the sort of rhetoric that makes his upcoming title defense against Johny Hendricks all the more interesting.
A two-time NCAA Division I champion, Hendricks possesses the kind of wrestling pedigree that will force the champion to stay honest. While he hasn't quite translated the same dominance to his MMA career, and his takedown defense has not exactly been bulletproof, Hendricks' mix of frightening power and strong wrestling base will undoubtedly prompt St-Pierre to deviate from the autopilot game he was able to utilize against Condit and Diaz.
One of Hendricks' most impressive attributes is the fact that he recognizes his main strengths, and uses them to compliment each other. The intimidating threat of his left hand allows him to close the distance on his opponents, throw power shots, and change levels. He may not possess St-Pierre's power double and seamless transitions, but his ability to bully opponents and stay glued to them is almost as effective.
Up close, Hendricks is scary. His reliance on his left hand does become a touch predictable from the outside, but he makes up for it with some thunderous short hooks and uppercuts once he closes the gap. Likewise, his dirty boxing cannot be underestimated. However, the champion's defense is built around spacing, footwork, and level changes. For Hendricks to close the distance, he will need to get past St-Pierre's jab and stuff his reactive takedowns. Staying upright is something Hendricks should be able to do more often than not, as he simply is too good to be taken down at will, but consistently getting past GSP's jab and initiating meaningful honest is a tall order. Moreover, finding himself on his back even once per round can prove to be a dream-crusher for Hendricks.
Meanwhile, landing the sort of shot that floored Kampmann and Fitch from the outside can prove equally tricky. Those punches came from a range that Hendricks will not be comfortable in, as St-:Pierre's reach, jab, and immaculate sense of distancing will put him in firm control on the outside. However, the Canadian's head movement is occasionally iffy, and his chin is unlikely to withstand a well-placed Hendricks overhand left, making that sort of KO possible, if unlikely.
For his part, St-Pierre uses the jab as the backbone of his offense on the feet, and does it to devastating results. Combining it with lead inside leg kicks, St-Pierre's striking gameplan is a relatively safe and straightforward one. He uses the jab to set-up his straight right, and will alternate his kicking patterns, throwing in his trademark switch high kick to keep his opponent guessing. He offers little in way of combinations, making him all the more difficult to counter, as his single strikes are typically precise, calculated, and well-measured.
When it comes to takedowns, St-Pierre might be better served to be less proactive with his attempts and wait for Hendricks to commit to any sort of forward rush before switching levels. His last three fights have shown a slight regression in the quality of his takedowns when he initiates them from distance, and exerting needless energy only for Hendricks to shrug him off would be ill-advised. Furthermore, once on top, GSP has been struggling to get much in the way of significant ground-and-pound going as off late. However, he remains the best in the world at shrugging off scramble attempts and retaining top position, forcing his opponent to work extra hard to regain his vertical base.
Despite St-Pierre looking increasingly human, he remains an overwhelming favorite in every welterweight fight. Hendricks could well land the best punch of his career and end the champion's legendary reign, but consistently shrugging off takedown attempts, finding a way past the jab while avoiding being dominated in the clinch seems like a tough ask. It will be more competitive than most of his title defenses, but Georges St-Pierre will likely find himself on the right end of another decision victory on Saturday.