Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight kingpin, Georges St-Pierre looks to defend his title once more against dangerous power puncher, Johny Hendricks, in UFC 167 main event this Saturday night (Nov. 16 2013) at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
St. Pierre has proven over and over that he is one of the very best mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters in the world. Regardless of his opponents' strengths, "Rush" is just better ... almost always. Indeed, since he won the belt in 2007, St. Pierre has thoroughly controlled every opponent and rarely endured danger.
However, the Canadian is constantly facing criticism for his conservative style. Before he became a champion, St. Pierre finished a majority of his opponents, leaving them beaten and brutalized. Since he won back the belt from Matt Serra, however, St. Pierre has finished just two of his nine title defenses.
Can "Rush" defeat Hendricks, and perhaps more important, finish the undisputed No. 1-ranked title contender?
Let's take a closer look:
With black belts in both Kyokushin kaikan and Shidokan karate, years of training boxing under Freddie Roach, and Muay Thai experience with Phil Nurse, it's safe few martial artists have as wide an array of stand up tools as St. Pierre. Although karate may be his original base, St. Pierre's boxing is the most important part of his stand up.
It's almost unchallenged that St. Pierre has the best jab in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Few fighters choose to spend so much time mastering the jab, choosing instead to chase knockouts.
The reason St. Pierre's jab is so effect is simple: He sets it up beautifully. He will feint relentlessly until he finds his range, at which point he'll begin hammering away at his opponent. He'll also mix in unorthodox techniques like the "Superman" jab to further confound his foe. In addition to his precision, St. Pierre's jab packs a good amount of power, stopping his opponents in their tracks and doing damage.
St. Pierre uses his authoritative jab to disrupt his opponents' movement and control range, which allows him to keep their punches away from him. After a few hard jabs, even the most determined brawlers will hesitate before engaging.
GSP's second match against Josh Koscheck stands as a testament to just how effective the jab can be. Much like his upcoming opponent, "Kos" is an NCAA champion with a penchant for throwing vicious overhands. To counter his forward aggression, which is necessary for both Koscheck's blast double and right hand, St. Pierre marked him up with jabs.
Koscheck repeatedly tried to close the distance but was met with a hard jab each time. Once St. Pierre had Koscheck reacting to his jabs and feints, he'd begin mixing in his left hook or occasional right hand. By the end of the fight, Koscheck was the new owner of a bulging broken orbital bone, largely thanks to St. Pierre's jab.
In some of his recent fights, particularly the dull affair against Jake Shields, St. Pierre's straight right hand lost some of its luster. It was slower, looped and just wasn't very effective. Against Condit, he returned to form and repeatedly clocked the his former team mate, as well as most recent opponent Nick Diaz, with the right cross. St. Pierre commonly follows up his jab with the right hand, or utilizes the double jab right hand combination.
St. Pierre commonly counters his opponents. His distance control is excellent, causing many opponents to attempt lunging punches, which allows St. Pierre to land an especially hard jab, as their forward momentum causes the punch to land harder. Additionally, St. Pierre likes to catch his opponent's punch, regardless of which hand they're punching with, with his right hand and respond with a left hook.
St. Pierre's karate background is very apparent when he kicks. He occasionally throws his kicks without stepping in, which is a karate technique. However, GSP will also utilize Muay Thai style round house kicks.
More often than not, "Rush" will work leg kicks, both inside and out. When he ties them together with his jab, his distance attack is even more impressive. From the kicking range, St. Pierre will get creative and attempt riskier strikes, like spinning or ax kicks.
The sign of an expert mixed martial artist is his ability to blend styles of fighting. St. Pierre transitions between his wrestling and striking extraordinarily well, using one to set up the other and vice versa. For example, his movement on leg kicks, "Superman" punches, and takedowns are all rather similar, meaning his opponent is forced to guess his choice. If his opponent spends to long thinking, he may be able to correctly choose, but it's too late to defend.
St. Pierre's striking defense is excellent. Barring a single head kick from Condit, GSP hasn't been in trouble on the feet since Serra clipped him in 2007. His distance control is a large part of his defense, as St. Pierre is often out of the range of power shots, and his jab maintains this barrier. Additionally, the threat of the takedown forces his opponent to hesitate before engaging him on the feet.
St. Pierre's wrestling ability is outstanding. Despite never wrestling before entering MMA, he has become arguably the best wrestler in the UFC. In the most wrestler heavy division -- one filled with guys like Koscheck, Fitch, and Hughes -- GSP has 84 takedowns, the most of any fighter in UFC history.
Once St. Pierre begins to drive through a takedown, the result is certain. He explodes through double leg takedowns better than anyone else and is so quick that his opponents don't have time to defend it. The pressure St. Pierre puts on his opponent's hips during his shot is incredibly impressive.
St. Pierre is excellent at setting up his takedowns, as mentioned in the striking section. In addition, St. Pierre's reflexes are excellent. He excels at timing a kick or a big punch and countering with a quick shot.
To go along with his blast doubles, St. Pierre can manhandle his opponents from the clinch. Although he doesn't actively seek the clinch very often, he is clearly very skilled in this position. He generally only works from the clinch if his opponent stops the initial takedown attempt or manages to stand up after being taken down.
During his third fight against Hughes, St. Pierre put on a clinch clinic on Matt Hughes. In the first and second rounds, St. Pierre hit the same takedown with relative ease. From the over-under position, St. Pierre would lower one arm down and grab Hughes' knee, while driving forward with his under hook. In the second round, after Hughes stood up from the first takedown, St. Pierre again clinched with him. This time, he stepped across and hip tossed Hughes to the mat, which led to the eventual finish.
St. Pierre may face criticism for his lack of aggression, but the viciousness of his ground striking has not decreased. "Rush" is an expert at posturing up and creating space, before entering the guard once more with a vicious combination of punches. St. Pierre accomplishes this by clearing his arms of overhooks, standing up, then raining down heavy punches. Additionally, GSP can land brutal knees to the body when given the opportunity, as Matt Serra and Nick Diaz can attest.
Sometimes, posturing up isn't an option. Carlos Condit, intent on threatening with submissions and elbows, rather than eating hard punches, did his best to keep St. Pierre inside his closed guard. To counter this, GSP utilized the can opener, a fairly old school neck crank, to open up Condit's guard. When that failed, he turned to cleaving elbows, gripping Condit's head with both hands before dropping an elbow.
Both of these techniques are risky in terms of jiu-jitsu, as they open up arm bars, but St. Pierre's defense is good enough to get away with it.
St. Pierre's takedown defense is just as good as his offense. His sprawl is hard and fast, which is enough to stop most attempts, and whizzers extraordinarily well when his opponents try to drive through him.
Besides St. Pierre, Josh Koscheck has my vote for the best wrestler at welterweight. In addition to his impressive credentials, Koscheck is the only man since a prime Matt Hughes to land more than a single takedown on "Rush." Despite that major achievement, St. Pierre repeatedly defended Koscheck's takedowns, often relying on his whizzer.
St. Pierre, a Gracie Barra black belt, has trained with many of the best grapplers in the world such as Roger Gracie, among others. He also has connections to some of the best teachers in the sport like Renzo Gracie and John Danaher.
Regardless, the best aspect of St. Pierre's jiu-jitsu game is his incredible guard passing ability. To begin, St. Pierre will break his opponent's grips, achieve good posture, and attempt to break his opponents full guard. After he does this, he will hop one leg over to half guard. After he gets to half guard, he works for an under hook on the far side.
Next, he will either use his instep to push his way out of the half guard, or he will slice through half guard by raising his knee high and then cutting through the guard. Regardless of which pass he chooses, he throws continuous ground-and-pound to distract his opponent. GSP does a good job putting all of his weight on his opponent's head/neck while passing, making movement very difficult.
Despite the complaints of fighting safe, St. Pierre is willing to sacrifice position for a submission attempt. He generally likes to attack his opponent's arms, with either the kimura or arm bar, often from side control. Since ground striking can be a fight finisher, many fighters focus on defending those strikes, leaving their arms extended in dangerous positions. This opens up arm submissions, which are what precisely what St. Pierre attempted to finish Dan Hardy with and the technique he used to finish Hughes.
St. Pierre does not have many choke submissions on his record, largely because he prefers turtle to back mount. Other than Frank Trigg, who at one point seemed to be a magnet for rear naked chokes, St. Pierre has only finished one fight via rear naked choke.
The welterweight champion rarely winds up on his back, making his guard game a bit of a mystery. Even when he is taken down, St. Pierre generally explodes back to his feet before any jiu-jitsu technique is necessary.
However, against Jon Fitch, who made a career off of controlling his opponent from top position, St. Pierre found himself on the bottom in guard. GSP reacted quickly, using an arm drag to transition to a deep half position. From there, he scooted out the back door and landed on top of Fitch. For a fighter who is so rarely on his back, this was a veteran move.
St. Pierre's submission defense is, like the rest of his game, intelligent. He understands that prevention is much more important than reacting once he's in a dangerous position. With this in mind, St. Pierre has become a master of recognizing his opponent's movements and grips, then exploding out before they can act. One of St. Pierre's keys to submission defense is his posture, which prevents most submission attempts before they materialize.
Additionally, St. Pierre is very good at keeping his hips even with his opponent. The bottom fighter wants an angle, which allows them to work for arm bars or triangles. To prevent this, St. Pierre constantly adjusts when his opponent moves, keeping his hips square.
Best Chance For Success
I'm assuming most people reading saw St. Pierre's title defense against Josh Koscheck. If not, google pictures of his deformed post-fight face, realize that Koscheck and Hendricks are incredibly similar, and fear for "Bigg Rigg's" vision, as GSP's game plan for the Koscheck fight is about to be revived.
The jab will once again be a key for St. Pierre, who has a massive 7 inch reach advantage. Hendricks, who scoffs at the idea of a game plan, will undoubtedly lunge in with his beloved overhand. Of course, GSP must be cautious of Hendricks' power, but he can still counter this with the jab, kicks, or takedowns.
One important difference between Hendricks and Koscheck is that Koscheck can fight moving backwards. Not particularly well, but he can do it. Hendricks cannot, meaning St. Pierre should constantly pressure him. Moving backwards takes away from both his power and takedown ability, the two things he can threaten St. Pierre with
Hendricks' power and output drop significantly as he tires. Once this happens, St. Pierre can really open up with his strikes. If he really desires a finish, I think he should work for takedowns. From the top, GSP can truly unleash with ground and pound, something he hasn't been able to do for a while, considering the submission ability of his recent opponents.
If St. Pierre really works the jab, there's a chance he can close up Hendricks eye, which may bring about a doctor stoppage. Should that fail, his best finishing opportunity comes from his jiu-jitsu. Five rounds is plenty of time for a single submission opportunity to arise.
Will GSP defend his title once more or can Hendricks play spoiler to his title reign?
For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Hendricks be sure to click here.