Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Johny Hendricks wants to make GSP "exciting", ignores reality

I know that the odds are with Hendricks in a way that they haven't been with a fighter, against GSP, since BJ Penn.  And with Weidman's victory over Silva, well, I'm sure that's added a heady air of optimism for Johny Hendricks and Alexander Gustafsson.  It's proof that these dudes aren't invincible.

That said, Hendricks has a big, big uphill battle.  The battle comes on two fronts.  The first is that he's fighting Georges St-Pierre and the second is that he's fighting Georges St-Pierre.

The problem is that GSP isn't like Hendricks other opponents in terms of technique.  There is probably no fighter in the UFC who is as technical in so many areas as GSP.  The guy has all the core strengths of MMA down at an expert level. 

I hope that Hendricks is spewing BS when he says stuff like all he wants to do against GSP is punch him in the face.  Because that's the plan of a moron and if he does that, GSP will handle him like a child.  Confidence is great, but taking your opponent's skills likely is just arrogance.

The second problem with fighting GSP will be when the cage door closes and he's in there against GSP.  I think the real difference between GSP and Hendricks is that GSP will fight a very smart fight.  You listen to one of his strategy guys, John Danaher, and he talks about how it's reductive to just say, "Oh, this guy's jujitsu is better than this other guy's, or his striking is better".  He talks about how they train for key transitional states and develop strategies for them.

Johny Hendricks has several key transitional states, shall we say.  Well, two.  In particular, he uses the threat of a takedown to cover for his crude striking technique.  This was in particular evidence in the Hendricks-Condit fight.  Pretty much every time Condit started to get off on his striking, Hendricks took the fight to the mat.  He couldn't hold it there, but he took Condit down time after time, which nerfed Condit's superior striking and opened the door for Hendricks to land strikes of his own - which he would not have otherwise been able to do.  The other key transitional state is Hendricks ability to cover distance to connect with an overhand right.

However, that's pretty much the catalog of his skills.  When being outstruck, take a person to the mat, and use the hesitation caused by his ability to take people down to use his ability to cover distance to connect with the right.

This is not a bad strategy.  It is, furthermore, a strategy that has been employed successfully by one of GSP's former opponents, Josh Koscheck.  It a great style . . . but styles make fights and Hendricks doesn't have a great track record against people with good takedown defenses.  He got a split decision against Koscheck and Mike Pierce and he lost to Rick Story.  Sure, he KO'd Fitch - but that has the air of a fluke, it happened in 12 seconds.  But, in general, he's struggled with wrestlers.

He has not, of course, fought an MMA wrestler of GSP's ability, because GSP has the best MMA wrestling skillset with the possible exception of Jon Jones.  GSP has a great takedown defense.  He's not going to be worried about Hendricks ability to take him down.  So one of the key transitional areas for Hendricks to win is going to be nullified by GSP's fantastic takedown defense.  Which leaves Hendricks ability to cover distance with the overhand right . . . and we know what GSP's defense against that is going to be.  He's going to jab.

If Hendricks goes in there thinking he can just re-fight the same fight he used against Condit, Koscheck, Pierce, etc., on GSP, that ignores the differences in the skillset that GSP has.  If he tries to fight the same fight - which, to be honest, he probably will because he always fights the same fight - he will likely find his offense stifled by GSP's command of those key transitional states, that GSP will have answers for the questions that Hendricks poses.

Which is the real crunch time for people who fight GSP.  It's the same dilemma that fighters have faced since GSP's striking has gotten really good, since after his defeat to Serra.  A fighter is very likely going to find themselves in a situation where the regular tools they use to win fights don't work.  Nick Diaz was not able to employ his rolling style of BJJ to grab an arm or leg to transition into a submission or sweep while GSP's control of distance nullified Diaz's boxing.  Condit was only briefly able to use his striking effectively against GSP.  Shields couldn't use his submission game and only showed as well as he did because of five pretty flagrant eye pokes that the ref did not see.  Koscheck could not close to land his overhand right or take GSP down.  Alves so feared GSP's shot that he did not aggressively pursue his leg kicks.

All of these fighters - with the momentary exception of Condit when he got the head kick against Georges - shut down when they realized how little they could do to him.  They withdrew into their shells and did not aggressively pursue an offensive strategy.  And waiting for GSP to make a mistake is, generally, an exercise in futility.

Hendricks is going to have to face that when the cage door closes.  He'll come at GSP for a little bit but he'll get his takedowns stuffed, he'll get jabbed when he tries to close the distance and there's a real good chance he will get taken down.  Then he will realize that nothing he has done in the past will work.  He needs to change things up, right then, right there.

A few fighters can do this - Jones showed it in his fights against both Machida and Evans.  I think Weidman has it, too, the ability to change the context of the fight into one that favors your abilities - Weidman headbutted Silva's hand!  How about that as a way to show your contempt for Anderson Silva's striking.  Dominick Cruz can do it, too.  But it's rare and Hendricks hasn't shown any abilities in that area.  He has one fight.  He fights that one fight.  And it's a good fight and if GSP wasn't there, it might be enough to make him a champion for a long time.  But the same could have been said of Jon Fitch.  Fitch fought a good fight and he was very good at fighting that fight.  He was on an 8 fight winning streak before GSP beat him, and then he had a five fight winning streak before his career kinna fell apart.  But since it was the same fight, when he got into the cage with Georges, Georges just hit him like a train.  There's a really good chance that Hendricks is going to be hit by a train, too, because a guy who fights one fight is like a gift to GSP.

And when Hendricks realizes this, there's a really good chance he won't "make GSP exciting" (though I would characterize it more as, "Hendricks won't make Hendricks exciting") as he clams up and his offense flags due to his inability to deal with the multifacted nature of GSP's skillset.  He'll stall and GSP will have to carry the fight and it's really hard to finish a guy when all he wants to do is make it out of the round standing.

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