UFC 167 “St-Pierre vs Hendricks” Main Card Breakdown

November 15, 2013

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UFC 167 “St-Pierre vs Hendricks” Main Card Breakdown



“UFC 167” airs live on PPV at 10:00 PM (EST) on Saturday, November 16.  Preliminary action begins at 6:30 PM (EST) on the UFC’s official YouTube and Facebook pages and continues on Sportsnet 360 at 8:00 PM (EST).

2013 is almost over and two UFC titles have already changed hands.  After a trio of defences, Ben Henderson was submitted by rival Anthony Pettis.  He had held the lightweight belt for 552 days.  In the middleweight division, the nigh invincible Anderson Silva was knocked out in the first round by Chris Weidman.  Silva had held the belt for 2,458 days.

As of November 16th Georges St-Pierre will have been the welterweight champion for 2,037 straight days.  On Saturday, he faces Johny Hendricks, picked by many as the man to finally unseat St-Pierre.  His one-punch knockouts of Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann have been on non-stop loop for the last month.  Make no mistake: if he catches St-Pierre with that left hand there will be a new welterweight champion.

The question is how far will St-Pierre go for one more day?

 

Flyweight Bout: Tim Elliott (2-1 UFC, 10-3-1) v. Ali Bagautinov (1-0 UFC, 11-2)

You hate to characterize all members of the former USSR as cold, calculating war machines but…these dudes fight like cold, calculating war machines.  In his UFC debut, Bagautinov fought tooth and nail with Marcos Vinicius, eventually pummeling him en route to a stoppage in the third round.  Consider that this was Bagautinov’s first fight outside of his native Russia, he was dealing with the hostile denizens of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and that Vina had only been stopped twice before in his career.  If you didn’t know who Bagautinov was, he picked the right way to get attention.

He’ll get another new stamp on his passport when he travels to Las Vegas to fight Elliott.  Prior to UFC 164, Elliott was viewed as an intriguing prospect missing a signature win.  That opportunity came courtesy of world ranked Louis Gaudinot.  The fight wasn’t close.  Two of the judges gave Elliott a pair of 10-8 rounds in a performance that displayed innovative striking and fierce ground and pound.  Elliott is now hovering near the top of the charts in the relatively sparse flyweight division.

This will be a fun one for the fans, if not for Elliott and Bagautinov.  They should skip the feeling out process altogether and focus on imposing their strategy as quickly as possible.  Bagautinov is a hyper-aggressive Sambo specialist who will have you backpedalling once he comes charging in.  Elliott is a smart fighter and he should use his size advantage to frustrate Bagautinov, allowing him to capitalize in the later rounds.  However it goes, this is going to be a dogfight.

 

Welterweight Bout: Josh Koscheck (15-7 UFC, 17-7) v. Tyron Woodley (1-1 UFC, 11-2)

Koscheck was a valuable architect in creating the blueprint for how a phenomenal wrestler can become a successful mixed martial artist.  As a contestant on the original Ultimate Fighter, he looked like he wanted nothing to do with the stand-up game.  Even his ground and pound lacked muscle.  He seemed doomed to forever wear the scarlet letter of “lay and pray” fighter.

Somewhere along the way, lay and pray became sprawl and brawl and Koscheck hasn’t looked back since.  He still uses his wrestling offensively, especially against those ill prepared for it (Paul Daley anyone?), but it is no longer his sole path to victory.  If anything, he has become overly reliant on searching for that power shot, which has once again stunted his growth as a striker (though in a different way than before).  When it works, as it did against Yoshiyuki Yoshida, Frank Trigg and Matt Hughes, it’s fantastic; when it doesn’t, getting knocked out by Paulo Thiago and Robbie Lawler happens.

Without Koscheck, there is likely no Woodley.  Woodley will be happy to return the favour by punching Koscheck in the mush.  If we can ignore his snoozefest against Jake Shields (best forgotten altogether anyway), you’d notice that Woodley’s striking has improved by leaps and bounds since his days in Strikeforce.  He’s comfortable now, even if he won’t be competing for K-1 anytime soon.

Should the grappling end up in a stalemate, the striking will be the key difference in this match-up.  Koscheck might have more experience, but Woodley has the kind of explosiveness that Koscheck has rarely had to deal with.  Speed kills, as they say.

 

Welterweight Bout: Rory MacDonald (6-1 UFC, 15-1) v. Robbie Lawler (6-3 UFC, 21-9 [1 NC])

Back in the days when Tito Ortiz reigned atop the 205 kingdom, people used to joke that Chuck Liddell took all the tough fights essentially acting as Ortiz’s body guard.  Whether he means to do so or not, by refusing to fight his close friend and training partner, MacDonald is serving a similar role for Georges St-Pierre.  They can’t match them up, so the two have teamed up to lay waste to the welterweight division.

Lawler had been having a good time at middleweight, competing with big names while still being able to enjoy the occasional cheeseburger.  He’d held the EliteXC title and even challenged Ronaldo Souza for Strikeforce gold.  It was good work.  Then the UFC came calling again and Lawler knew that his home was at 170.  The rededication to weight cutting has paid off with two straight knockout victories.  No more having to throw punches from the bottom with a 200+ pound gorilla on top of him.  His famed power (18 wins by knockout) would be even more effective against opponents his own size.

Unfortunately for Lawler, MacDonald has been damn near untouchable since a disappointing loss to Carlos Condit.  Not only is he incredibly talented and quick, he has a reach advantage over the majority of the division.  He put those long arms to good use in a solid, if uneventful win against Jake Ellenberger.  That win had critics decrying his safe tactics, though what should he have done against a killer like Ellenberger?  Stand in the pocket and trade haymakers?

It’s tough to envision how Lawler could come out on top here, just based on the versatility of MacDonald.  He can control the distance and also take fights to the mat at will, the latter having been a weakness of Lawler’s for years.  If Lawler can somehow pull off a tremendous upset (he’s the biggest betting underdog on the card next to Will Campuzano), he’ll be in line for his first UFC title shot 11 years after he first stepped foot in the octagon.

 

Light Heavyweight Bout: Rashad Evans (13-3-1 UFC, 18-3-1) v. Chael Sonnen (7-6 UFC, 28-13-1)

To say that Evans is in a bizarre holding pattern right now would be an understatement.  His last two fights (a unanimous decision loss to Antônio Rogério Nogueira and a split decision win over Dan Henderson) did nothing to combat the notion that he is mentally prepared to leave the fight game.  I’m not telling you anything he hasn’t said himself.  While it’s always admirable when a pro athlete can recognize his own mortality, the fact is that a thoughtful fighter is a careless one and a careless fighter doesn’t win too many matches.

I can’t be the only one who thinks that this fight would be more compelling if Evans were dropping down a weight class to face Sonnen.  This should be Evans’s fresh start, his last run in a new division that he could have been competing at his whole career.  Much like Lyoto Machida, Evans’s name value would have immediately thrust him into the orbit of the middleweight title, rather than the nebulous status he holds at 205.

From a purely stylistic viewpoint, there’s no reason these two can’t deliver a memorable tilt.  On paper, Evans should have the advantage in speed, wrestling and striking.  His major weakness is his recent complacency, something the current version of Sonnen is designed to exploit.  Everyone knows his plan is to stomp across the cage and engage immediately, a tactic that served him well in a massive win over Shogun Rua.  That should play right into the counter-punching of Evans, but I would have said the same thing in his previous fights and he just hasn’t been able to pull the trigger.  The winner gets to claim the title of toughest Fox Sports analyst.

 

Welterweight Championship Bout: Georges St-Pierre (18-2 UFC, 24-2) v. Johny Hendricks (10-1 UFC, 15-1)

I can’t remember the last time there was a title fight with more questions surrounding the champion than the challenger.

How can St-Pierre win if he can’t take Hendricks down?  Can he avoid the left hand of Hendricks, which has felled so many before him?  At what point can the king no longer hold off the young lion (Hendricks is actually only two years younger than GSP, but he has considerably less mileage)?

There’s no questioning that the jab of St-Pierre will go a long way towards slowing Hendricks’s advances.  It’s only one part of the solution though.  In Hendricks’s last fight against Carlos Condit, he showed a willingness to take a shot to the face if it meant he could score two or three of his own.  The jab was a surprising new weapon in the fight with Josh Koscheck, to the point that Koscheck took several to the eye before adjusting his approach.  By then it was too late.  Hendricks has had time to study that fight over and over again, so St-Pierre will need a new wrinkle if he wants to catch Hendricks off-guard.  For a fighter who is always one step ahead of the game, it must be a welcome challenge.

Previous opponents Dan Hardy, Koscheck and Nick Diaz all thought they’d have the magic bullet to wrest the belt away from St-Pierre.  After all, if Matt Serra could do it, why couldn’t they?  Each one was neutralized.  The mentality that you are only one punch away from destiny doesn’t serve you well when the fight reaches the later rounds and you realize that that one punch is never coming.  Hendricks can’t bank on a quick finish.  He needs to be prepared to win at least three out of five rounds, easier said than done against St-Pierre who rarely drops even one.

It’s also worth noting that Hendricks himself is not immune to takedowns.  In Hendricks’s only loss to date, Rick Story was able to take him down on more than one occasion, though Story wasn’t able to mount any significant offence while there.  Should St-Pierre manage to do the same, his advanced jiu-jitsu should allow him to do what he does best and keep Hendricks glued to the mat.  St-Pierre is a master of scoring points on the ground while at the same time draining the reserves of his opponent.  Hendricks will need all the strength he can muster in his first ever five round fight.

Whether it lasts 25 minutes or 25 seconds, there are two numbers that truly matter for each man:

For St-Pierre: 2,038.

For Hendricks: 1.

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