Saturday, November 16, 2013

Looking for a Fight @ UFC 167: GSP v. Hendricks

Johny Hendricks looks to end Georges St-Pierre's reign at welterweight. (scifighting.com)
I mentioned that with the UFC celebrating it's 20 years this week that there's a lot to discuss and review. All networks that cover the UFC as well as the organization itself has done a great job showcasing how far the sport has come along in a short time. There's a lot to digest and a lot to take in, so I highly suggest you go peruse everything places like mmafighting.com and UFC.com have to offer. There is a mega card this weekend, so I'll just pass along a couple of quick thoughts on the UFC and how it's affected my sports fandom then get right to GSP v. Hendricks.

Personally, I first started getting into the UFC the first year after I graduate from college. My best friend from home had apparently gotten into it his senior year with his roommates, so he invited me over for a pay per view. I knew a little about the UFC. Very little. This was probably a couple of months before Roger Huerta's Sports Illustrated cover came out.

I'm a big sports fan, so I was intrigued by a sport that had caught the attention of my friend, who at the time, probably didn't know who Peyton Manning was.

We are sitting in the living room of his apartment, and I just start asking basic questions. Not about the rules, as I thought I'd be able to figure those out, but about the fandom of the UFC.

"Who's the biggest star?"
"Chuck Liddell."

"Who is the biggest fan favorite? The guy everyone likes?"
"Randy Couture."

"Who is your favorite fighter?"
"This up and coming guy, Georges St-Pierre (or how I transcribed it in my mind at the time: George St. Pierre)."

These basic tenants are what started my path to become a UFC fan. I can't remember what really made me decide I'm in on this sport. There wasn't a moment where I realized this sport was for me. What I do remember is just wanting to know about the fighters.

This actually proved to be kind of difficult way back in 2007. There was the Ultimate Fighter, but that didn't show UFC stars fighting. There weren't many options for free fights on YouTube or at UFC.com, and the amount of media (Fox Sports, ESPN, Yahoo!, and such) were barely or non-existent. I've never been a big message board guy, so I wasn't digging a bunker in Sherdog world, just looking around.

Over time though, as my friend and I would order the pay per views and watch them I just couldn't get enough. I quickly acted as my n00b self liking the champs, but as my knowledge of the sport developed I started liking other "non-champs" as well.

Slowly but surely I just kept consuming information. Remembering fights and fighters. Of course also finding a passion for the sport itself. My friend and I also grew up on the WWF. So while the UFC wasn't the spectacle the UFC (except for Dana White) was, I was happy to engage in the realness of the fighters and the storylines that UFC marketing put together. Let's face it, to get into this type of occupation, you probably have an interesting history.

Becoming a fan of the UFC wasn't a matter of getting into it, but rather just opening your eyes to the obvious. This is an exhilarating and thrilling sports event. There isn't a regular season in the UFC, it's the Super Bowl every month.

To this day, when people - notably: my friends who are primarily (not to be sexist, the UFC is fine for the whole family to love) 20-35 year old males - don't like the UFC, don't get it, think it's too slow, or most horridly find it to be homoerotic (another note: this specific person is not my friend he was a friend of a friend) I can't even begin to explain how wrong they are. To have those thoughts while watching the UFC is beyond my realm. I have no idea what these people are watching.

But hey, that's their right. If they're not into it, I'm not going to put them in a gogoplata to make them understand. I just don't get it.

So with the 20th Anniversary approaching and a great card about to take place Saturday night I'll be driving to South Jersey to that same friend's house to have some beer, smoke a cigar, eat some pizza, and watch some fights. Congrats, UFC and thanks.

BREAKDOWN

Johny Hendricks wants to knock out Georges St-Pierre. You don't say? Well, he's going to have to in order to get the belt on Saturday.

It seems every GSP fight is surrounded by the strength of his opponent. What the opponent brings to the table and can do to GSP. The spotlight is on the Champ, but when it comes to the storyline, it's about how GSP's opponent exposes certain risks in GSP's game, thus alluding to a close fight or that shocking potential upset. Kind of like when the Batman movies were always about the villain and never about, you know, Batman. "Hey guys, we got Schwarzenegger to be Dr. Freeze!"

The stance with Hendricks is easy. He might be the hardest pound for pound puncher the UFC has. Regardless of weight class, you don't see people get their consiousness clicked off quite as easily has Hendricks has been able to do in his recent fights. This is one-punch knock out power. No follow up ground and pound, no person that got hit attempting to defend himself. This is punch and goodnight.

Hendricks' power along with his elite wresting is certainly a threat. At this point he's probably better as an all around MMA artist than Josh Koscheck and even Matt Hughes in GSP and Hughes' third fight. I must admit, I wasn't a believer at all in Hendricks until his Carlos Condit fight. He was tenacious, closed ground, and made things difficult for Condit the entire fight. Hendricks ability to continually move forward and threaten his opponents is a unique skill for a UFC fighter, especially once you begin taking on elite competition.

Martin Kampmann and Jon Fitch serve as good highlight reel fodder, but let's be honest with those two fighters. Kampmann has made his livelihood getting clocked and either rebounding or not to win/lose a fight and Fitch just lost to Josh Berkmann. Neither were equipped with the proper tools to defend against Hendricks' assault while standing. GSP has great striking defense, and it doesn't translate to an easy target for Hendricks and his left hook.

We know the wrestling is there for Hendricks, but we also know GSP has some of the best MMA wrestling in the UFC. He's done well against every fighter, including collegiate champs like Koscheck. It is worth noting though that GSP did have to work harder for those take downs the second time against Koscheck.

Hendricks won't eliminate GSP's wrestling, but he will be able to neutralize it greatly. For that reason, I'm expecting this to be much more of a stand up battle early on. Hendricks will look to pressure and challenge GSP, and GSP will look to utilize his jab and leg kicks to attempt to keep Hendricks at bay.

Hendricks' dogged approach and seemingly reckless ability to keep moving forward does present a challenge for GSP, but GSP also has a devastating jab to work with a 7 inch reach advantage against the stocky Hendricks. Hendricks may want to come forward and be aggressive, but GSP has the physical capabilities to make it hard for Hendricks to get near GSP without incurring a lot of damage. Not to go back to Koscheck again, but that fight was a mighty struggle for Kos once GSP popped his orbital bone. This is something Hendricks cannot take lightly.

Furthermore, in regards to GSP's offensive attack, I expect him to be able to maintain distance, force Hendricks to be highly active and be able to stay away from sustaining major damage. The main thing GSP has to keep in mind that when he looks to counter Hendricks, that Hendricks will keep moving forward. When GSP was rocked by Carlos Condit, it was the result of Condit throwing a two punch combo he had probably thrown a dozen times by that point in the fight, however the time he caught GSP, he finished off that two punch combo with a head kick. GSP had expected the same combo, dropped his hands, and got caught. Hendricks will throw multiple punch combinations and won't stop at one or two, but use his power to force his way inside by throwing three or four punch combos to close the distance. This is something GSP has to be cautious of and not be too aggressive in his counter striking.

For GSP to win, I expect him to be highly elusive from Hendricks and utilize his great jab and leg kicks to attempt to quickly tire the #1 contender.

Speaking of that jab, I had an idea yesterday while I was reading up on coverage of the fight. GSP seems to be keeping back a "secret" that he is looking to show off tonight. Speculation has been that this is a possible retirement, rekindling a super fight, or movies or whatever. People have also positioned this secret to happen post-fight, but I think GSP's surprise is a strategy he will utilize against Hendricks to catch him off guard. I think he's going to come out fighting southpaw style. Call it the reverse Rocky II strategy.

Think about it. GSP's striking is dynamic, but when he does fight orthodox, he doesn't typically fight in a standard muay thai stance, which is more upright and tall in order to better utilize leg kicks and avoid incoming strikes. His stance is based in his karate background with some wrestling modifications. This leaves his base wide, but also keeps his head right in the pocket - even leaning forward a bit. He's been clipped multiple times in the nose and forehead against BJ Penn and Koscheck and Condit as a result.

Standing in a southpaw stance keeps him in a better defensive stance against Hendricks' left hand and will certainly disorient a fighter that is expecting to fight an orthodox fighter. In boxing particularly, where the jab is so highly utilized, many trainers have suggested moving to a southpaw stance because if you're throwing your jab, why wouldn't you use your stronger limb to deliver those blows? I'm sure GSP's jab with his right hand doesn't lose any mustard when he throws it. Even during the weigh-ins yesterday, did GSP give away his secret? He started orthodox then jump switched to his southpaw stance with a smile on his face. Granted GSP usually lines up this way for face offs, but the jump switch struck me as interesting.

GSP lined up in his southpaw stance last night.
Wouldn't this be such a GSP thing to do? He always unveils a new trick. Something he's practiced thousands of time at Tri Star. Away from cameras rolling or reporters reporting.

I think GSP looks extremely focused or even obsess with this fight. In interviews, he doesn't look stoic or frustrated like he did leading up in his last couple of fights, he looks energized. I think Hendricks will struggle to get a hold of GSP in the ring and will incur a lot of damage trying to get to him. As the fight wears on, Hendricks will move a bit slower. If he tries to shoot in and take down GSP early, then you know he's in trouble.

GSP will take his normal calculated approach, but Hendricks will put up a fight and put himself in harms way more than previous challengers. GSP may not have knock out power, but his strikes are damaging. GSP will never move away from his takedowns because it's an important part of his striking game and keeping his opponents guessing, but I don't think he'll lean heavily on the takedowns until the third round. As Hendricks tires, he will expose that and utilize his MMA wrestling and jiu jitsu.

GSP wants a finish and fans have been waiting for a virtuoso performance, and I think accomplishes both tonight. GSP by rear naked choke in the 4th round.


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