UFC 167 November 16, 2013 Welterweight Championship: Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks By Reed Kuhn, @Fightnomics Big Picture: For the 20th Anniversary card, the UFC had to go with their current longest reigning champion. But ever since Anderson Silva got KO’d in front of a huge Vegas crowd, we’re reminded that no champion is invincible. Georges St-Pierre has methodically defeated contender after contender, such that it’s hard to keep believing in each challenger’s legitimacy as a threat. But Johny Hendricks brings a few weapons that really do differentiate him from other recent title challengers. He has both excellent wrestling and powerful striking. This is the storyline feeding this championship matchup, and the fans more than ever realize that upsets can and do happen. St-Pierre is currently a mild -240 favorite over Hendricks at +200. To put that into context, Hendricks is getting a better chance for the upset than both Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz did in their recent title shots. That stat alone is telling. Let’s see what the rest of the numbers say. Summary Stats:
Tale of Tape Matchup: There’s several important things to note from the Bio portion of the Tale of the Tape. Most importantly, St-Pierre has a ridiculous reach advantage of 7″. These guys are at opposite extremes of the reach scale for Welterweights. St-Pierre’s 76″ reach is average by Light Heavyweight standards, while Hendricks at 69″ would be average for Bantamweights. For reference, here’s how weight classes size up on average. That’s a monster difference. In a matchup where the best chance for an upset is for Hendricks to get inside the range and land a left, this one factor means a lot. Hendricks is a Southpaw, which normally confers a striking advantage. However, St-Pierre is coming off a fight with another Southpaw, and has been known to switch stance himself. I don’t think the usual benefits of an unorthodox stance will help Hendricks here, and I actually expect GSP to come out and use a Southpaw stance himself depending on the situation in the fight. Both fighters are north of age 30, but Hendricks has the fresher brain of the two, having never suffered a knockdown and having been a professional in this game for several years less. The experience obviously favors the champion, and both guys are coming off identical layoffs. Overall, the risk of a GSP knockdown is still higher than average. Striking Matchup: Both guys are accurate strikers who have power. So this boils down to the tradeoff between St-Pierre’s best-in-class head striking defense with his below average knockdown defense. Basically, GSP rarely ever gets hit hard, but when he does he doesn’t withstand it as well as most. The big reach advantage mitigates some of this threat for GSP, and if he can create range and change levels the big left hand from Hendricks may never find its target. Look for GSP to snap a stiff jab from the outside, and if Hendricks rushes forward the champ should drop for a takedown and make this a grinder. What’s not listed is the Power Ratio of the two fighters. When striking the head from a distance, St-Pierre uses a 70% mix of jabs, using his long and very accuracy lead hand to maintain favorable range. That jab can do real damage, as it did against Josh Koscheck, but more importantly it stuffs the ability of opponents to close the distance. Hendricks on the other hand is a power striker, who when striking the head from a distance only uses 40% jabs. Given that he tends to get outworked by opponents, this makes perfect sense. He explodes forward and doesn’t engage much in the tit-for-tat game – for a guy with his reach, moving backwards is a losing strategy. Grappling Matchup: While Hendricks will be much more likely to attempt a takedown, it’s Georges St-Pierre who has been more effective at landing them. This is another battleground within the fight itself: who will land the first takedown? If Hendricks is truly one of the best wrestlers in the UFC, his statline in these metrics would be higher. St-Pierre is actually a record holder for highest takedown success rate, most landed takedowns, and he’s top ten for takedown defense. Throw in his size advantage, and St-Pierre gets an edge here. He’s been in control for 94% of all time he spent on the mat, while Hendricks has been on his back for 27% of his ground minutes. It’s more likely that GSP will be the one getting top control, but if it’s not, expect a big reaction from the Vegas crowd that may influence judges to win an early round for Hendricks. Once on the ground, St-Pierre has the more versatile attack, and more weapons at his disposal. GSP is very efficient in grinding down opponents with ground and pound. GSP frequently advances to half-guard or side-control and stays very busy. This is something can have a sapping effect on the cardio of the recipient in a five-round fight. St-Pierre also has the more seasoned submission game, something that poses an interesting opportunity against Hendricks that hasn’t really been there against recent opponents like Condit and Diaz. Unless Hendricks can repeatedly be the one to gain and maintain top control (which is unlikely over five rounds), I simply don’t see him winning this on the ground. It’s worth noting that the fights where Hendricks struggled the most (and lost once) was against strong wrestlers. Rick Story defeated Hendricks by unanimous decision, and Mike Pierce and Josh Koscheck both took their fights to a split decision. When we think of Hendricks what we remember is his flash knockouts of Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann, but we forget that strong wrestlers have made for tougher matchups, and in all of those fights that went the distance, Hendricks was losing steam towards the end of the fight. Reed’s Pick: St-Pierre by Unanimous Decision (click for latest MMA odds) Reed’s Recommended Play: Champions who are clear favorites tend to make good in their performances, despite the hype train usually pushing the challenger. St-Pierre has the experience, talent, cardio, and honed skills to win against anyone in this weight class and the +240 moneyline is actually the best value on GSP in years. The wild card is clearly a flash KO from a Hendricks left hand. On a straight up pick, I have to go with the champion given his huge reach advantage and versatility, but the combination of KO power from the challenger and the champ’s fading knockdown resiliency means that scenario is a real threat. The prop on Hendricks by TKO is +219. Paired with St-Pierre straight up, there’s not a lot of margin to profit from, you’d have to pick a side. While I think that the only way GSP will ever lose again is by KO, he proved to be resilient enough against Condit to survive a nasty shot. There’s one more strange scenario to consider: late finish for GSP is unlikely, but not out of the question. GSP inside the distance is currently +450, which is a lot of value for a small play, but priced accordingly to be less likely than Hendricks getting a finish. This fight could easily get sloppy for Hendricks by the third round, and St-Pierre could still have the gas left a head kick or RNC on the mat. Inside the distance is currently +145, which is a favorable number for Welterweights who historically finish slightly more than half of their three-round fights. If you’re big on Hendricks landing the KO, hedge your bet with an inside the distance play that also returns plus money if GSP weathers the early storm and gets a late finish. That’s my best value play here, aside from the macro trend of St-Pierre straight up.