I had an article about Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks but I threw it away. (And, for what it's worth, I thought Hendricks won the fight - that my predictions were wrong and this post addresses that.) This is one of those times when I wish my blog had more exposure than it does because this is something no one has said and I think it's really important:
Georges St-Pierre does not seem to have fully recovered from his knee surgery. And, at any rate, since his return from break hasn't been fighting with the same efficiency as before.
Up until this point, I had been making excuses for GSP's relatively poor performance against Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz. Condit had the advantage of GSP's ring rust and Condit's primary trainer being GSP's trainers down at Jackson-Winkeljohn. That's why GSP had such a relatively hard fight against Condit. Against Diaz, oh, he had a flu. Sure, GSP dominated both fights but . . . not in the style to which I have become accustomed. Yes, he won both fights but he seemed to lack the utter, total, multi-faceted dominance of his previous fights. There were moments when both Diaz and Condit seemed to be, well, winning. In the Diaz fight, there were points where GSP seemed, well, tired.
Against Hendricks, GSP lost, in my view. Indeed, over at MMADecisions.com, it was nearly unanimous that GSP lost. Regardless of whether GSP “really” won is a different issue – that GSP got his ass kicked.
If you look at my previous articles about GSP-Hendricks, it's easy to see that I didn't expect that. The more I thought about it, the worse it looked, stylistically, for Hendricks. It isn't like GSP hasn't fought wrestlers with good power punching before, right? And the most trouble Hendricks has been in has been with fighters with a style similar to GSP – Hendricks had split decisions against Koscheck and Mike Pierce. Hendricks lost to Rick Story. Discarding (albeit with reservations given Hendricks punching power) Hendricks' win over Jon Fitch, Hendricks doesn't do really great against other wrestlers. Furthermore, Hendricks had a very tough fight against Carlos Condit, an opponent that GSP rolled over with only one real bump along the way.
But Hendricks really kicked Georges' ass. Even if you think that GSP won enough rounds to win the decision, GSP lost the fight. Hendricks nearly finished him a couple of times, he may have landed fewer blows but they were much, much harder.
After I heard Joe Rogan point out that more than half of the blows that have landed against GSP have come in the last three fights – that in 21 UFC fights, 12 of them five rounders that went the distance, GSP has taken half of all shots in the last fifteen percent of his UFC career – it occurred to me why GSP has taken such a battering. The short answer is that GSP isn't moving as well as he used to move and he's exerting more effort to do it. While Hendricks is the highlight of this, it was evident in all three fights, really, because, well, GSP got hit a lot, something that doesn't normally happen. There was a time, before GSP's knee surgery, where he was basically untouchable. Successful power punches against him were happening at the rate of two or three a round. But since his return from his knee surgery, he's literally being hit 5 times as much per minute in the cage.
He got this incredible defense from the very thing that made me a fan of him in the first place – he had this nigh superhuman ability to cover distance. From way across the cage, he could shoot in, land some shots and then disappear. It was like magic. Go and watch his fights with guys like Thiago Alves or his second fight with Josh Koscheck. His defense was as close to perfect as anyone in the octagon, better, I think, that Anderson Silva's at Silva's peak.
So, frankly, I expected the fight with Hendricks to resemble GSP's second fight with Kos, where Kos could do nothing to GSP except walk into GSP's jab and wing the occasional power shot. Instead, GSP was flat-footed with bad footwork. Sure, Hendricks is also able to cover a lot of distance, absolutely, but – as I said – it isn't like this was GSP's first rodeo. But where he was able to dance circles around Koscheck, connecting at will, making Kos at the top of his game look like he should be in another sport – the same Koscheck that lost a split with Hendricks, the same Koscheck whose fighting style is almost identical to Hendrick's – well, Hendricks shows better ability to cover distance and get inside GSP's defenses.
The other place where this is pretty clear is . . . GSP's power. Yeah, yeah, I know that GSP has been criticized for not finishing his fights, but, man, sure, he might not have finished them but his opponents looked like they'd been hit by a truck and in many, if not most of them, at some point GSP had his opponent's seriously rocked. This was true even in the eye-poke-athon that was GSP-Jake Shields – Shields had a plenty hard head but when GSP connected with a high kick, Shields was on his heels on rubber legs.
GSP has not rocked a single person since coming back from his leg surgery. Not one. Nick Diaz even commented on GSP's lack of power and Hendricks said that he was never in trouble, even though there was a time when GSP regularly rocked guys with very hard heads.
Against Hendricks, GSP landed several quite clean head kicks. I had predicted this. GSP is taller than Hendricks so landing the high kick would be easier than against almost any other opponent – he hasn't fought someone shorter than him since Thiago Alves. None of the head kicks seemed to faze Hendricks . . . and GSP kicks, or kicked, quite hard. Hard enough to send people stumbling back, hard enough to put them on their heels, knock them down, put them on rubber legs. They just bounced off of Hendricks. I could see their lack of impact, moreover. It wasn't like Hendricks got hit really hard and just ate it, the kicks lacked drive. I couldn't help but think if Lyoto Machida had landed one of those kicks that the fight would have ended.
Power also comes from the legs, though. The explosiveness needed to really hurl yourself into a fight comes from the legs. If GSP's legs, or, perhaps, more properly, leg is messed up, it's going to effect his ability to throw himself into blows. It “feels” to me like GSP can still tag a person with speed but that he lacks the power to hurt them.
Since the ability to hurt one's opponent is a vital component of defense in combat sports, GSP's inability to hurt his opponents makes him more vulnerable. If you're already suffering from a reduced ability to move, well, you're in pretty serious trouble. It might explain why you're now being hit five times as often.
Since GSP is so good, though, him at 80% is still championship caliber. Absolutely. But it's a different kind of champion. It's a champion who gets hit a lot, one who doesn't have a long shelf life. Especially if he also lacks power.
Moreover, GSP has been talking for a while now about memory problems. While the Joe Rogan Experience podcast where GSP talks about his memory losses might just mean that GSP is weirder than we imagined and thinks, and has long thought, that he is being abducted by aliens, after the fight with Hendricks, GSP was talking about how he couldn't judge who won the fight because he couldn't remember it, that he had blurred vision, stuff like that. That's bad juju.
For many fighters, the end comes fast. Chuck Liddell was on a seven fight winning streak before he just collapsed, losing five of his last six fights and winning against another nearly shot fighter in Wanderlei Silva (sorry, Wandy, but it is what it is). Four of Liddell's losses, including the last three, were by brutal KO. The same thing happened with Jens Pulver – overnight he went from being one of the best fighters in the world to being virtually everyone's punching bag. Tito Ortiz . . . aw, hell, I could go on and on about it, it's a well-known thing that for fighters the end can come fast and is usually ugly. Do we really want that to happen to GSP? To see an increasingly ragged GSP drag himself into the cage to be thrashed by an increasingly irrelevant group of wannabes and has-beens? I do not. Especially if it means gambling with his health.
Still, to me, it seems increasingly clear – GSP isn't the fighter he was before the knee surgery. It breaks my heart to have to say that, as GSP was my first real MMA man crush, but the evidence seems clear, to me. GSP's once incredible ability to cover distance, and the power that brought, is gone. He's fighting on one leg. Yeah, he's Georges fucking St-Pierre, so he's still a top caliber fighter – if he wants to be, if he's otherwise healthy. Regardless of whether GSP retires, I think we need to acknowledge that he's on the downhill side of his career and that can be agony to watch. So if GSP wants to get while the getting is good we should look him in the eye, shake his hand and thank him for his ability as a fighter and ambassador of MMA.