Two of the best welterweights on the planet battled last night (May 5, 2012) with a potential title shot on the line on the UFC on FOX 3 main card and the fight between Johny Hendricks and Josh Koscheck was just as close as you would have expected.
Both men were evenly matched in the wrestling, striking, footwork and aggression department, so it was no surprise at all that the judges disagreed when it was all said and done.
Both men had their moments, but in the end, it was Hendricks who barely squeaked by with a split decision victory to continue his path towards a title shot.
So how did Hendricks eek out a victory over the crafty Koscheck? And what happens next to both talented welterweights?
Follow me after the jump for our Johny Hendricks vs. Josh Koscheck UFC on FOX 3 post-fight review and analysis
Early on, Hendricks was really loading up on his left hand, but Koscheck played it smart and mixed up his attack. Less than one minute into the start of the fight, Koscheck landed an (intentional/inadvertent) eyepoke with his open left hand as Hendricks was on the way in and it completely changed the first round.
Hendricks was given no time to recover and repeatedly showed his discomfort by blinking and touching his eye. Koscheck picked up on that and went on the offensive, landing a little bit more on offense than "Big Rig" both in the pocket and in the clinch.
Speaking of the clinch, the referee was waaaaay too swayed by the awful New Jersey crowd, who booed throughout the night and he was quick to separate both men in the clinch. This hurt Hendricks' offense against the fence where he was landing some nice short knees to the legs and body which were unanswered.
In the second round, Hendricks started to get more comfortable in the stand-up, landing better strikes while fending off a Koscheck takedown attempt. Hendricks' biggest weapon wasn't his lethal left hook, it was his uppercuts, which he was able to slip through Koscheck's defenses whenever the ex-AKA fighter leaned forward.
The heavy strikes from "Big Rig" damaged Koscheck's right eye, the same eye which had been fractured badly by Georges St. Pierre at UFC 124.
In the third round, Hendricks was even more aggressive on offense, dishing out some big punishment and connecting with some of his best strikes, although he wasn't flawless in the first three minutes as Koscheck made sure to fire back.
Perhaps the most perplexing moment for Hendricks was during a takedown attempt with two minutes remaining in the fight when Hendricks grabbed a body lock and pulled guard. This easily allowed Koscheck to ride out the rest of the round although "Kos" couldn't do much with his position other than get on top in half guard.
It could have gone either way, but two judges sided with Hendricks, much to Koscheck's dismay.
For Josh Koscheck, he actually put forth a very solid fight. His defense was better and he mixed up his attack well, not just loading up on his overhand right like in prior fights (although that was still his biggest weapon). He also proved he could take a shot, eating a few heavy blows from Hendricks and not getting hurt too badly. His takedown in the third round almost won him the fight. His biggest problem was not keeping his hands up after throwing heavy strikes which allowed Hendricks to respond with big power.
It would be awesome if Koscheck faced a returning Nick Diaz in his next fight (depending on timeline with the suspension and eye injury). Other options for "Kos" include B.J. Penn (if he comes out of retirement) or the upcoming loser of the Jake Ellenberger vs. Martin Kampmann fight. He only wants big fights and all of those fights would be huge.
For Johny Hendricks, that performance didn't sell me on his ability to get a title shot, although it's still a possibility. He was headhunting too much with his left hook instead of countering with it like he did against Fitch. By lunging forward with that left hook time and time again, he was not able to land it as often as he normally does. Hendricks also made a very questionable decision in pulling guard with two minutes left, which could have cost him the round. That being said, I thought switching to uppercuts was a terrific adjustment and he had some success with them and he was also very controlling and damaging in the clinch.
Perhaps Hendricks could fight the winner of Carlos Condit vs. Georges St. Pierre later this year, but that's still a long way away. I could also see him having to fight once more against someone like the Martin Kampmann vs. Jake Ellenberger winner or maybe even Rory MacDonald or Brian Ebersole. It all depends if the UFC thought he was deserving of a title shot last night.
So what did you think, Maniacs?
Would you be comfortable handing Hendricks a title shot after his split decision victory last night? Or would you rather he fight one more time? Can Josh Koscheck still be a player in the title picture at welterweight?