Tonight (Sat., Nov. 16, 2013) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre will put his belt on the line in a long-awaited showdown with Johny Hendricks in the pay-per-view (PPV) main event of UFC 167 from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
"GSP" is one of the most polarizing stars in all of mixed martial arts (MMA). On one hand, he is arguably the company's biggest draw and most likeable champion. On the other hand, he has a ton of critics who deem his strategic style of fighting boring.
And while those people may only tune in to see him lose, they're still watching.
St. Pierre has held the UFC Welterweight championship since he regained it from Matt Serra in April 2008. Many have criticized him for playing it too safe after Serra knocked out St. Pierre in their original meeting. The champ hasn't finished a fight since B.J. Penn's corner threw in the towel at UFC 94 in early 2009.
But you can't argue with his heart, determination, and overall athletic preparedness.
Last year St. Pierre returned from a debilitating knee injury that kept him on the shelf for over a year-and-a-half to beat Carlos Condit at UFC 154. He followed that up with a thoroughly one-sided beating of Nick Diaz at UFC 158 in March.
He's nearly cleared out a very talented division. That goal won't be accomplished until St. Pierre gets past Hendricks, however, and that's far from an easy task. If St. Pierre does in fact defeat "Bigg Rigg" in Las Vegas, he'll set the UFC record for most wins in the Octagon.
Across the cage Hendricks will await. The general consensus is that "Bigg Rigg's" title shot is long overdue considering the former NCAA Division I national champion wrestler's impressive run.
Implementing a scary blend of takedowns and knockout power, Hendricks has been making big waves ever since he floored longtime contender Jon Fitch in 12 seconds at UFC 141.
Hendricks scored another highlight reel knockout victory when he sent Martin Kampmann crashing to the canvas at UFC 154 last November. His most recent bout was a scintillating decision win over Condit at UFC 158. In that fight, Hendricks took down "Natural Born Killer" an astonishing 12 times, tying the record for fourth most takedowns in a single bout.
But that's not going to be as easy to repeat against St. Pierre, who may be the best MMA wrestler on the face of the planet.
This bout has been a long time coming. Many think Hendricks is the toughest challenge St. Pierre will ever meet.
The tension will be thick in the air at MGM Grand Garden Arena this Saturday night. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Georges St. Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks:
Georges St. Pierre
Record: 24-2 overall, 19-2 UFC
Key Wins: Matt Hughes (UFC 65, UFC 79), B.J. Penn (UFC 58, UFC 94), Matt Serra (UFC 83), Josh Koscheck (UFC 74, UFC 124), Jon Fitch (UFC 87), Carlos Condit (UFC 154), Nick Diaz (UFC 158)
Key Losses: Matt Hughes (UFC 50), Matt Serra (UFC 69)
Keys to Victory: St. Pierre has arguably become the smartest fighter in UFC. He's faced a who's-who of elite Welterweight talent and he's neutralized all of their main strengths in the process.
GSP's karate black belt-level striking can hang with anyone. Most notably, he uses his vaunted jab to set up combinations and level changes to keep his opponent guessing. The current version of "GSP" doesn't exhibit the same kind of flash knockout ability that he did when he was younger. That's the main argument of most of his critics, so St. Pierre will be looking to put a stamp on Hendricks and finish one of the biggest bouts of his illustrious career.
To do that, he's going to go with his main strength of wrestling. Hendricks is an amazing wrestler with a long list of collegiate accolades to his name. However, college and MMA wrestling are two completely different things, and "GSP" showed that he could take down an NCAA champion against Koscheck.
He's going to rush in on Hendricks in a calculated fashion to look for his trademark double leg takedowns.
If and when he slams Hendricks to the mat, St. Pierre will throw a high volume of elbows and punches from inside Hendricks' guard to score points in the eyes of the judges. All of "GSP's" opponents know it's coming; they just can't stop it. St. Pierre also has a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu so he could surprise by going for a fight-ending hold off of a takedown.
St. Pierre is more than smart enough not to stand and trade with a slugger like "Bigg Rigg." The champ might win that battle, but there's no point in pushing the envelope.
One huge advantage "GSP" will maintain over Hendricks is in the conditioning area. St. Pierre is no stranger to five round bouts, but this will be Hendricks' first. The challenger appeared to wilt in the third round of his win over Condit after throwing a ton of power shots in the first two rounds.
If Hendricks shows up in the same shape at UFC 167, St. Pierre will take him to deep water and drown him. It's a nigh impossible task to outlast the grinding St. Pierre. He has Olympic-level athleticism coupled with a precise gameplan and sharp mental focus.
Record: 15-1 overall, 10-1 UFC
Key Wins: Jon Fitch (UFC 141), Josh Koscheck (UFC on Fox 3), Martin Kampmann (UFC 154), Carlos Condit (UFC 158)
Key Losses: Rick Story (The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale)
Keys to Victory: At this point in time, Hendricks has become well known as one of the most feared power punchers in UFC. His knockouts of Fitch and Kampmann are the stuff of legends. He's not been shy in proclaiming that he wants "GSP" to suffer a similar fate in Las Vegas.
And there's a shot that he can shock the world with a well-timed left hook. Hendricks has even claimed he'll be looking to use his right hand for the knockout.
After all, Serra pulled off the unthinkable by knocking "GSP" out at UFC 69. But this is a different, more cautious version of the champ. He knows that Hendricks main weapon is his explosive power and he'll be well prepared for it.
When the fight transitions from striking to wrestling, there's a distinct possibility that Hendricks will be the one to take down "GSP." Hendricks is most likely the most talented pure wrestler "GSP" has ever faced. "Bigg Rigg" can turn the tables on St. Pierre by putting him on his back and raining down some ground and pound of his own.
It won't be easy but it's the best way to steal a round or two from the champion. Hendricks needs to stay away from any submission attempts if he decides to do so.
The knock on Hendricks may be his cardio. If he is unable to finish St. Pierre in the opening rounds, his pace may begin to slow as it did against Condit. Gassing will spell almost certain doom against St. Pierre.
To win, Hendricks has to show up to UFC 167 in by far the best shape of his life. His inexperience in title fights could come back to haunt him, but he's a rock-solid competitor who has been faced with high-pressure situations from an early age. Hendricks has also said he wants to be unpredictable rather than having a set gameplan.
We'll see how that works out for him this Saturday night.
There's no doubt that Hendricks is one the best fighters "GSP" has ever faced. He has a golden opportunity to shock the world and claim UFC gold. Will he be able to land a fight-changing power shot on the elusive St. Pierre?
Bottom Line From Las Vegas: The bottom line for this exciting match-up is going to largely come down to two big focus points. The first is "GSP's" striking defense. It's no secret that Hendricks will be looking for a massive haymaker to put St. Pierre's lights out, so "GSP" will need to keep his movement level high.
This includes his level-changing takedown game, which will be instrumental in negating the crushing power of Hendricks. If "Bigg Rigg" is busy dealing defending takedowns, he won't have the space to unleash his lethal left hook.
The other aspect is the oft-mentioned question mark surrounding Hendricks' cardio. No one has really put "Bigg Rigg" to the test outside of Condit, and it can be argued that "Natural Born Killer" was gaining quite a bit of steam towards the end of their fight. Many think Condit would have definitely won the fight had it lasted for five rounds.
And chances are good that this one will go the full distance.
To have any chance of winning a decision, Hendricks needs to show up a different animal. He cuts down from well over 200 pounds and cardio is never listed as one of his strong points. If he can't land a clean shot on "GSP's" chin early, it's going to be a long night for Hendricks.
History is on the verge of being rewritten at UFC 167. Can Hendricks put a stop to that with one big punch?
This may be one of the most anticipated title fights ever to take place in UFC. Does Johny Hendricks have the stamina to outlast the grinding Georges St. Pierre? Let us know your predictions below!