Devastating knockout artist, Johny Hendricks, looks to dethrone long-time Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight strap-hanger, Georges St-Pierre, this Saturday (Nov. 16, 2013) at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Hendricks' regional mixed martialarts (MMA) career did not last very long. After just three fights, World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) organization picked him up, and two bouts later, he made his debut inside the world famous Octagon. In his first four UFC fights, "Bigg Rigg" showed some serious potential, winning all four with two brutal knockout finishes.
After a decision loss to Rick Story, Hendricks quickly went back to his winning ways, finishing T.J. Waldburger and taking a decision over Mike Pierce. Afterward, Hendricks was matched up with the eternally-ranked No. 2 fighter in the 170-pound division, Jon Fitch.
One punch adjusted that ranking.
In just 12 seconds, Hendricks had announced himself as a top contender. Another vicious knockout, this time over Martin Kampmann, sandwiched between close decision victories over Top 10-ranked competition -- Josh Koscheck and Carlos Condit -- clearly earned the powerful puncher a title shot.
Does Hendricks have the necessary skill to capitalize on this opportunity?
Let's find out:
Hendricks, and his monstrous left hand, often draw comparisons to the legendary Dan Henderson. This comparison is not without basis, as both men rely on throwing their entire body into their power punch to separate their opponents from consciousness.
To land his devastating overhand, Hendricks needs space. To land with full power, Hendricks lowers his body and takes a long step with his back leg, slinging his fist through the air. Hendricks is a natural -- he has quickly learned how to put his entire body weight behind his punches. When combined with his speed and accuracy, this kind of power is a threat to anyone in the division.
As seen above, Hendricks will often throw the overhand left as a lead. This is because of the distance from which the punch is thrown. Most fighters will not throw punches from this range, as they would come up short. However, Hendricks covers the distance well, surprising fighters.
In fact, Hendricks overhand has such a long range that he often uses it to counter kicks. Early in their bout, Condit was attempting to circle around Hendricks and land kicks. Hendricks reacted by launching an overhand whenever "The Natural Born Killer" threw a kick. He landed on Condit's chin more than once, forcing him to change his attack. Additionally, Hendricks finished Waldburger after the Texan threw a leg kick without any set up.
Another of Hendricks' favorite ways to land his left hand is to double, or even triple, it up. "Bigg Rigg" is not discouraged if his first punch misses, he'll continue charging forward and throwing heat until he connects.
Hendricks' right hand is considerably less powerful than his left, but he can land with some force. He's not much of a jabber, preferring to lead with either a left hook or uppercut. He often follows either of those shots with a powerful left hand.
When Hendricks is feels like extending his combination, he'll alternate between looping left and right power punches. While all these punches are knockout threats, a skilled counter striker could easily land a straight shot that would interrupt his attack.
Inside of the clinch, Hendricks is the dominant man, both with takedowns and strikes. He'll often work for a single collar tie and then attack with uppercuts or hooks. Recently, Hendricks did a very good job controlling Josh Koscheck from the back clinch and landing hard knees to the thigh, which can seriously slow a fighter down.
Hendricks, for all of his brutal knockouts, is an incredibly flawed striker. His defense leaves a lot to be desired, as his hands stray from his face frequently, and he moves straight back when pressured. When he charges fighters with punches, his non-punching arm is often by his waist, which can be seen in above when he knocks out Charlie Brenneman.
Another serious flaw is Hendricks complete inability to fight moving backwards. When forced on his back foot, Hendricks' punches lose their power, and he backs straight up. This makes him an easy target for pressure fighters. Hendricks was only able to defeat Condit because of his vaunted wrestling ability, which allowed him to blast a double whenever Condit pushed forward. However, when facing another wrestler, Hendricks wasn't able to land takedowns so easily, which lead to his loss against Rick Story, who is the definition of a pressure fighter.
Hendricks is a four-time Divison 1 All-American wrestler, three-time Big 12 Conference champion, and two-time national champ. These are some of the most impressive credentials of any UFC fighter, as Hendricks had Olympic potential after his college career. Despite these accolades, its unclear whether his wrestling has lived up to the hype inside the Octagon.
One thing is clear, and that's just how powerful Hendricks' takedowns are. Both from inside the clinch and when shooting for takedowns, Hendricks often finishes his shots by lifting his opponent into the air and slamming them.
Hendricks is very good at driving through double legs. When he shoots for a double, it's not uncommon for him to push his opponent far across the Octagon. In addition to his takedowns in the center of the Octagon, Hendricks can grind for shots against the fence, which he did repeatedly against Condit.
Hendricks' timing is excellent with takedowns. He either waits until his opponent is off-balance, aggressively pressuring him, or throwing a kick. His lunging style of punching also aids his takedowns, as his opponents are often forced to cover up to avoid such powerful punches, allowing him to get in deep on the hips.
Hendricks' takedown defense is pretty good. He's been taken down by talented wrestlers like Charlie Brenneman and Rick Story, but was able to stand up fairly quickly. The only fighter to have any success in holding him down was Josh Koscheck, who secured the third round with a few minutes of control from top position.
Hendricks' jiu-jitsu ability is rather unknown. With only a single submission victory, very few submission attempts, and the wrestling to keep most of his bouts standing, its difficult to tell how good "Bigg Rigg" is on the ground.
Hendricks sole submission victory was a d'arce choke over Richard Gamble in 2008. From the gif alone, its clear that Hendricks understands the angle needed to finish, which he quickly secures. Then, he choose to lean into the choke with his chest, rather than sit on his hip and hook a leg. This method of finishing is perfectly acceptable and is actually the original way the choke was finished.
More recently, Hendricks has attempted a few guillotine chokes on both Ricardo Funch and Rick Story. While none of them looked particularly tight, it's a good sign that Hendricks was confident enough to drop onto his back when searching for a finish.
Best Chance For Success
Hendricks has a momentous task ahead of him. St. Pierre is considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on Earth for good reason. Hendricks' best chance for victory comes in the first two rounds and he must be very aggressive during the opening 10 minutes and try to capitalize on this opportunity.
St. Pierre is too intelligent to fall to the overhand without a set up. Hendricks needs to herd St. Pierre into his left hand. By pressuring St. Pierre until his back is into the fence, Hendricks can increase his chances of forcing him into either a right hook or left hand. In addition, Hendricks should constantly be blasting doubles as he stalks St. Pierre to throw off the champion's defense.
It is vital for the challenger that he is the aggressor. If he allows "Rush" to lead the fight, he'll soon be on the end of his jab, unable to close the distance. Should that happen, the fight is as good as over. His best chance of success is rushing St. Pierre with punches, which he cannot do on his back foot with a broken orbital.
Will Hendricks be the man who dethrones St. Pierre or will the Canadian continue his title reign?