Brad: So what does Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks have to offer George St. Pierre besides superfluous g’s in his nickname? Quite a bit actually. In fact I have become convinced he will beat GSP. One might understandably ask if I’ve been drinking the UFC’s Kool-Aid, as it’s their job to make me believe such nonsense to make me want to watch. I mean GSP has fought heavy handed wrestlers before, right? Well yes, but Hendricks throws a couple new wrinkles in that I believe will be enough to undo GSP. In truth, rather than drinking the UFC’s Kool-Aid I’ve been making and consuming my own Bigg-Rigg flavor for a while now.
For the sake of simplicity, GSP has two skills he uses that set him apart and make him the dominant champion he is. The first, and biggest tool in GSP’s toolbox is wrestling, and more specifically his ability to set up and secure takedowns, and once on the ground his ability to maintain control of his opponent while avoiding submissions and pounding his adversary into an amorphous pulp. GSP’s second skill is his ability to manage distance while striking. He can close in, strike, and get back out of range before being countered better than just about anyone. The last heavy handed wrestler GSP fought, Josh Koscheck, and his orbital bone, can tell you all about this strategy. Hendricks however can overcome both of these obstacles.
First, Hendricks is an accomplished wrestler himself. For a means of comparison, in both GSP and Hendricks’ fight against their most relevant common opponent, Josh Koscheck, the wrestling end was basically a stalemate (excepting the first GSP vs Koscheck fight where GSP had the advantage, but was too long ago to be relevant). I know in MMA comparisons like this 2+2 often makes 5, but I am confident in Hendricks’ ability to keep the fight standing.
As for GSP’s uncanny ability to control distance, Hendricks is a counter striker unlike any GSP has fought. Unlike Koscheck and many other counter strikers who wait for their opponent to commit first and hope to unload as they move back out of range, Hendricks is constantly committing first, moving forward into striking range baiting his opponent into engaging. This seems like a subtle difference, but with Hendricks momentum carrying him forward he seems to be able to more effectively close distance and catch his opponent on the way out, landing combinations and driving them into the cage to tee off. This can be seen in the first round of his fight against Carlos Condit, and Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann both fell victim to his ability to close distance quicker than they expected, meeting with his +5 Left Fist of Hyperbole. I think GSP will feel the pressure, try to escape via takedown and be unable to, and will eventually get caught. That’s why I predict a much furrier welterweight champion come Sunday morning.
What do you think Larry? Would you like some diesel and beard crumb flavored Kool-Aid?
Larry: Let me start by saying that I absolutely refuse all Rigg flavored drinks, regardless of how Bigg they may be.
Brad is spot on about of a lot of things above. Hendricks is a master at closing in on guys, getting in their faces, and opening them up to his hook heavy striking. He’s nearly as good at closing in at Georges is at staying just out of reach. Hendricks hand speed is considerably better then he gets credit for. His punches are somewhat looped, but they tend to arrive faster then you’d think. Hendricks also brings very legit, one shot power into the cage. Add all that together with top class wrestling ability, and Johnny Hendricks is a nightmare for anybody. Well, most anybody.
Part of what has made Hendricks so effective, especially against Condit, is that he had a willing partner in the stand up game. Condit, who did outland Bigg Rigg, had no other path to victory, he had to trade. Ultimately the same went for Kampmann. He’ll have to be more creative against George, who will not be punching friends with Hendricks. GSP is a master a using his jab, specifically his stepping jab, and moving back out of range. Hendricks won’t find anyone home, as GSP will likely have time to move to saftey as Hendricks marauds forward.
The second, flaw in Hendricks game is his aggression. By moving in and punching as he comes forward, Johnny leaves himself open to being taken down. He’s got a shit load of Div 1 wrestling cred, but GSP is the better athlete of the two. With Georges’ sense of timing and Hendricks willingness to put his weight on his front foot as he advances, I believe GSP can finish takedowns on him. Once it hits the mat it’ll be all gravy for the cham. GSP is a superior positional grappler, and his top control is among the best in the sport.
If Hendricks’ winds up on his back, he might be hesitant to engage as often on the feet. That will allow for Georges to take over, dictating the pace with his innate ability to move, mix strikes and kicks, and move away. It’s true, Hendricks can knockout anyone (well, almost), but he’ll have to live and die by the sword on Saturday night. That’s how I see it, at least.
What about those apples, Brad? Still counting on GSP to get clipped?
Brad: In truth, Larry is mostly right. Condit did outland Hendricks, but the first two rounds in terms of significant strikes were very close before Carlos pulled away in the third, and I would argue Hendricks did the most damage. Two factors- Condit’s epic chin, and the fact that some of the damage Hendricks did was to his own left hand and didn’t look quite the same afterwards- played a big role in how close that fight turned out. If GSP finds himself on the receiving end of any of a number of shots Hendricks landed on Condit in that fight, I have no doubt GSP would have been put to sleep. Putting GSP into those positions will prove more of a challenge however, so this is all a bit tangential. I just like to argue.
GSP is caution above all else. He receives criticism for this, but pragmatically it works and has for a while because his skills allow it to. The guy who got knocked out by a Matt Serra doesn’t become an Under Armour model and the face of MMA. The guy who learned from that mistake has. And Hendricks’ success through aggression may well be his undoing. His forward momentum chasing people down begs for a counter takedown, and no one is better at that and has better timing with it than GSP. I was hoping Larry wouldn’t pick up on that, but as long as GSP’s brilliant trainer Firas Zahabi who… you know… does this type of of thing for a living and has a reputation for meticulously analyzing tape doesn’t notice that too, Hendricks will be fine, right? Hendricks could counter the counter with a knee to the dome of the shooting GSP, but it is my understanding men who fight out of Texas don’t throw knees because their oversized belt buckles get in the way. Another thing that gives me hope for Hendricks is that GSP hasn’t fought a fighter with any semblance of takedown defense since Koscheck. That was nearly 3 years and precisely 1 ACL ago. We revere George’s wrestling without giving it much thought, but he hasn’t had to work hard to take anyone down in a while.
Even if GSP is able to take Hendricks down in this way, it won’t be the end of the fight however. Hendricks should be savvy enough to get back to his feet or at the very least stifle GSP’s attempts to advance and do damage from the bottom. While standing I don’t think GSP will be able to set his feet and get into a normal striking rhythm in the early going, and this is when Hendricks will be the most dangerous. But as Larry alluded to, as the fight goes on and if/when GSP is able to establish his ability to take down Hendricks and the pace slows, the fight will favor St. Pierre. Hendricks doesn’t flame out quite as horribly as Jake Ellenberger, but he did seem to fade against Condit and Koscheck, which doesn’t give me much faith in Hendricks performing well in the championship rounds.
Ultimately though, I do feel like Hendricks will clip him, and clip him early. There won’t be a typical feeling out process, Rashad Evans will have taken care of that for all of the other fighters on the card, doing it for three rounds earlier in the comain event. Hendricks will come out swinging, and crack GSP’s chin with the force of the Kool Aid man busting through a wall for no good reason. I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another one of Hendricks skills that set him apart, namely his accuracy at the end of a long seemingly wild combination. MMA stats are often a bit misleading, but in addition to having jaw dropping (or crushing from a different vantage point) power, according to Fightmetric.com
Hendricks is the most accurate (!?!) striker in terms of significant strikes GSP has fought since B.J. Penn. Not Condit, or Diaz, or Alves, or Hardy, but Hendricks. His striking may not be technical or pretty, but it’s effective and surprisingly efficient. I’ll leave you with this thought, everyone loses a step eventually, and with GSP’s zombie ACL he may lose his sooner than others. Hendricks is not the fighter you want to discover you’ve lost a step against.
Larry: The interesting thing about this fight is that I really can’t poke many holes in Brad’s argument. Johnny Hendricks is everything Brad says he is, including the owner of some obscene belt buckles (It’s a widely believed fact!).
The hole I will poke is that while Hendricks is technically more accurate then Condit or Diaz, I don’t find his striking to have the same depth. Hendricks is a straight forward puncher, while both Condit and Diaz use a more nuanced approach. Think of the times Georges has been in trouble with strikes, post-Serra. Condit rocked him with a brilliant kick that no fighter would have seen. Diaz uses crafty combos and both men use angles and footwork to land. The point I’m getting at is that it takes something unusual to get through to GSP. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be post-Serra, who’s knockout of GSP was the first of his career. If Johnny Hendricks hope to find success striking I believe he’ll have to land a punch we haven’t seen him land (or set that punch up in a way we haven’t seen). He’s capable of that, so I’m intrigued.
The second thing I’m going to take umbrage with is that Hendricks will simply get back to his feet if taken down. Hendricks has never really displayed any kind of positional wrestling at a high level. Sure he took Condit down a bunch, but it’s not like he carved his guard to pieces. I don’t see Hendricks being able sweep GSP and get up with ease. Georges is a good enough grappler to hold him down, pass, and grind Hendricks’ bones to make his bread. St. Pierre is also the larger of the two men, and I think probably the stronger.
I’m intrigued by this fight on the deepest level. Georges is a perfectionist and a superb athlete. He might have lost a step, but I think he was most then one ahead of The Bigg Rigg to begin with.