Mixed martial arts (MMA) matchmaking can be a fun gig or a dreary chore, depending on what you've got to work with. Sometimes I like to imagine Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) matchmaker Joe Silva in his office and envision what he's working with, and what's going through his head given the variables of a division and the assorted pieces he's moving around.
With a dominant champion, the matchmaker faces the paradoxical task of building of contenders to where they are viable, while not knocking them off and/or putting them in compromising bouts where their shine is dimmed. It's not enough to win; you've got to look the part in earning a title shot. Fans want a contender with that elemental thing, an aura of sorts.
Otherwise, they're going to be hard-pressed to pay money to see him fight the champ. It's also easy as heck to be a good matchmaker in a weight class like lightweight, where talent abounds, and it's practically impossible to make a bad match; you can be choosy enough to the point where you tailor fights to produce high-energy action while avoiding dreary stalemates (Nate Diaz' opponents of late have been a perfect example -- they always produce exciting results, if not necessarily for them as opposed to Diaz).
That's where Johny Hendricks did himself, the welterweight division, and champ Georges St. Pierre a huge favor Saturday night (Nov. 17, 2012) at UFC 154 with his massive knockout of Martin Kampmann. Going into the bout, the worst-case scenario was Hendricks riding Kampmann to a ho-hum decision, something certainly not outside the bounds of possibility given their styles.
But, instead, Hendricks closed the show with a booming knockout that dispatched one of the most resilient guys in the welterweight division.
It was the kind of performance Hendricks needed. Because despite his top-notch wrestling credentials -- he was a four-time All-American at Oklahoma State University (OSU), and two-time national champ -- nobody is going to expect him to outwrestle St-Pierre. Hendricks is going to need that extra variable, and his numbing punching power is it.
Over a five-round distance, it's a safe bet to say virtually nobody is going to outpoint St. Pierre. He's too good a wrestler, too technical a striker, and has too many options against everyone else at 170 pounds. You are going to have to catch lightning in a bottle to beat him, as Carlos Condit nearly did in the third round with that devastating head kick that put the champ in serious trouble. Given the ongoing buzz about who St. Pierre should fight next, Hendricks' statement went a long way toward keeping "Rush" where he belongs -- at 170, taking on the next badass in line.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst.