Thursday, October 31, 2013

Prediction on Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks in UFC 167

I'm going to make my prediction for Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks in UFC 167.  I think Hendricks is going to lose and do so pretty badly.  Bearing in mind that fighters lie, I believe Hendricks when he says he's going to try to wade through GSP's punches.  It . . . is his style.  To the extent that he has a plan B, it will be ground and pound.

People mention the tough fight that Carlos Condit put on against GSP as evidence that Hendricks, who beat Condit, has a chance.  Of course he has a chance.  The guy throws with power.  But Condit isn't Hendricks.  One of the incredible advantages that Condit had that Hendricks doesn't have is the fact that Condit's coach, Greg Jackson, was also one of GSP's coaches for years.  Condit trained with guys who helped train GSP.  It is also worth mentioning that Condit was GSP's first opponent after his knee surgery and even then, well, despite Condit's spirited effort, on the majority of cards, Condit lost every round - even the one where he almost knocked out GSP.  Most significantly, though, is that Condit's weakness - wrestling - is Hendricks' strength.

Hendricks doesn't have Greg Jackson in his corner to give specific, detailed advice about GSP.  GSP will have no ring rust.

I also don't like Hendricks' camp, Team Takedown.  He seems to be the camp king and I don't think someone who is so much a prima donna in his own camp really has what it takes to beat GSP.  There's no one at Hendricks camp that will really push him because he's the big star, he's the chief guy.  Tristar, where GSP trains, would be one of the best camps in the world regardless of GSP.  They just have too many top guys.  Rory MacDonald, John Makdessi, Ivan Menjivar, Francis Carmont, Mark Bocek and Mike Ricci are a probably incomplete list of Tristar fighters currently in the UFC, not counting GSP.  They've also got people in pretty much every major promotion, including Rick Hawn who has won a couple of tournaments in Bellator.  Not only can I find no evidence that any of Team Takedown's fighters are in the UFC, I can't find any evidence of them in Bellator.  Maybe they are, but . . . it is far to say that the level of training that Hendricks is getting at Team Takedown isn't really up there with what GSP gets with dudes like Rory MacDonald and Francis Carmont.

Additionally, well, let us look at his record.  None of this is to say that Hendricks has fought cans, he hasn't, but here's my brief analysis of his most recent fights:

He got a decision win over Condit, who has a weakness for wrestling (one that GSP also exploited).  He knocked out Martin Kampmann in shortly in the first . . . I said before the fight that Kampmann chokes and I think that was part of it.  Kampmann is also a slow starter.  Hendricks got a split decision against the fading Josh Koscheck.  He knocked out Jon Fitch, who was fading even faster - Fitch never really recovered from his shoulder separation.  He had a split decision against Mike Pierce, knocked out the unremarkable TJ Waldburger and lost to Rick Story.

Yeah, lost to Rick Story.

I know it was three years ago and Hendricks isn't the same fighter as he was, but let's face it - when Hendricks fights dudes who can wrestle, his record isn't quite as impressive.  The loss to Story, a split decision over Mike Pierce, a split decision over Koscheck.  Sure, he knocked out an injured Fitch, who was already on the down side of his career, but take out that flash knockout, and Hendricks' record against skilled wrestlers is one loss and two split decisions in the past three years.  His dominate fighting style fades with guys who can resist the takedown or threaten him with a takedown, and even then he struggled really hard with Carlos Condit.

Georges St-Pierre is widely regarded to be the best MMA wrestler in the sport.  No, that's not right.  He is considered to be the best MMA wrestler to have thus far been in the sport.  But wait, that's not all!  He's also a quite talented striker!  He's a much better striker than, say, Josh Koscheck or Mike Pierce or Rick Story - in the same range as Carlos Condit, actually.

Which is where the whole "wade through the jab" particularly falls apart.  Wading through GSP's jab generally ends up with a guy looking like he's been hit with a truck.  It was what Koscheck tried to do in the first and GSP literally broke his skull - his orbital bone, to be precise.  It's what Fitch tried to do, back when Fitch was regarded a top ten pound-per-pound fighter.

This is a bad stylistic match-up for Hendricks.  I suspect the fight will expose Hendricks' limitations as a fighter, too.  While he absolutely, no doubt in my mind deserves a title shot, he's got flaws in his game.  His striking is crude.  He has no jujitsu to speak of.  He's a good wrestler with a good power shot - like Koscheck before him.  His training camp doesn't provide Hendricks with the best possible training - it's mediocre with one guy who's really good and it's been a while since a guy in a mediocre camp won a UFC strap.

I think it's going to be a hard night for Johny.  I think the cage door is going to close and he's going to realize he's trapped in there with GSP.  I hope Hendricks brings it hard.  But I suspect that he'll start to wilt, sooner rather than later.  He hasn't really ever fought anyone with a good, stiff jab combined with a superlative takedown defense - much less someone as good at sweeps as GSP.  Like . . . a number of fighters before him, he'll find that nothing he does works.  Most fighters, when this happens, start to turtle up and just try to survive.  Even Nick Diaz did it!  There is something so . . . crushing about GSP's fighting style that even Nick Diaz fought primarily to survive, particularly in ground fighting.  I don't know if Hendricks has the gumption to persevere in the face of that kind of style.  I hope so but suspect not, particularly because of his camp.  Mediocre camps don't do well with great fighters, they're not equipped to handle them on a lot of different levels and one of those levels is that they have no leverage with which to push the fighter.

Here's how I think the fight will go.

I think the most likely scenario is that GSP strikes from the outside with Hendricks and then when Hendricks tries to jump in to land a bomb, GSP takes him down where he will try to pass the guard.  GSP will almost certainly pursue a reactive shot - he won't want to be caught coming in by a counter left, as Hendricks did to Fitch.  He'll wait for Hendricks to throw bombs - which he always does - and then, when Hendricks is off-balance, hit the power double.  This will make Hendricks timid with striking, I should note, if he doesn't walk into the cage timid because he fears GSP's takedown.

(The defense against this is a more technical style of striking, one that won't put Hendricks off-balance when he uses it.  He has not been developing such a style and trying it in the cage with the champ is a bad place to start pursuing technical striking.  Even if that has been a priority in his camp, in the cage, what generally happens is they keep it tight for a round or so and then, when they start to get a little tired, their technique falls apart and leaves them vulnerable.)

If GSP passes the guard, he'll try to submit Hendricks with either a kimura at any time or an armbar late in the round.  I think if Hendricks tries to shrimp out, there's a very good chance that GSP will take his back and pursue the rear naked choke.  If GSP can't pass, he won't worry about Hendrinks' submission game and will use G&P in the guard.  If Hendricks can get up, wash, rinse, repeat.  GSP will confuse Hendricks by mixing up strikes and takedowns in that way he does that can lead to the total collapse of a fighter's offense.

Second most likely scenario, GSP commits to an outside striking game.  He's got a lot of reach on Hendricks and Hendricks striking is very Hendo-esque.  But GSP has such good headwork and footwork, the odds of Hendricks catching GSP are slight, especially fighting against what I think is an eight inch reach disadvantage.  When GSP gets the better of Hendricks in the striking, Hendricks will pursue the takedown, like he did with Condit.  He'll find that GSP has a very substantial takedown defense - even if he gets it, it will be hard and rare and he won't hold it.  Indeed, he might discover GSP's sweeps - but if GSP commits to striking, expect him to simply get up.  If it does get to the ground with Hendricks on top, GSP has such great wrist control that it wouldn't be wise to expect ground and pound from Hendricks, not in a serious sense.

In either case, expect head kicks.  GSP is a little taller than Hendricks - an advantage he hasn't had over another fighter in quite some time - so he'll try to pass over Hendricks shoulder with high kicks and even spinning high kicks.

So, really, I see GSP winning this fight everywhere.  I think that Hendricks one chance for victory is a lucky punch, like he got with Kampmann.  There, I said it.  Kampmann, who chokes and starts slow, got clobbered by a lucky punch from Hendricks.  GSP does neither and has better footwork and head motion than Kampmann, regardless.

(This is in contradistinction to Chris Weidman.  I thought Weidman had a good chance against Anderson Silva because Weidman has everything Hendricks has and then everything Hendricks doesn't have.  Weidman has a top rank camp lead by Ray Longo and Matt Serra but also including John Danaher and Renzo Gracie - top guys.  Weidman is also a much better striker than Hendricks and has excellent jujitsu to accompany his wrestling.  Chris Weidman isn't just a left hook and takedown, he's a well-rounded fighter who, as Anderson Silva learned, can't get you one way will catch you in another.  He's the total package.  He's the kind of guy who beats top talent because he is top talent.  Johny Hendricks is not a one trick pony, he's a two trick pony . . .  but let's be honest, that's not a lot of tricks.  Avoiding the left and stuffing the takedown isn't really advanced combat planning for people at GSP's level of the sport.  Johny Hendricks is no Chris Weidman.)

I'm curious to see what happens after the fight, win or lose, for GSP.  The truth is it's Rory MacDonald's time.  If MacDonald gets a good win, he's the obvious candidate for title shot and the two have said they will not fight.  People keep saying that GSP needs to move up in weight but I never liked that plan.  If anything, GSP has been growing progressively smaller relative to other fighters over the course of his career.  He would be downright tiny to modern middleweights.

When GSP started, he was quite a bit bigger than average, but now he's merely average in size and shrinking as weight cutting gets more and more extreme in MMA.  It has been said that he could get down to lightweight, which is quite possible.  He is about 185 and a lot of lightweights, nowadays, cut down from that much . . . and there isn't anyone at lightweight that GSP wouldn't really fight, whereas welterweight has MacDonald and middleweight has Weidman.

My prediction is GSP by unanimous and clear decision.  It think that somewhere in the late first or early second, Hendricks will have tried everything he's got - which isn't a long list - and find himself shut down, offensively.  Then he'll go almost totally on defense and lose badly.

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