The UFC, which made its debut on November 12, 1993 in Colorado, has come a long way from the days of Art Jimmerson's singular boxing glove and Kimo Leopoldo's cross. Perhaps no fighter better represents the evolved spirit of the company and the sport better than its welterweight champion, Georges St-Pierre.
Almost exactly twenty years after the UFC's cringe-worthy debut in Denver, St-Pierre will defend his title against Johny Hendricks in the main event of UFC 167 Saturday, November 17 from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
St-Pierre is the embodiment of a mixed martial artist. The Montreal native began his martial arts training in Kyokushin karate and later took up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling and boxing. His athleticism and conditioning are out of this world. His dedication to training and his professionalism are the stuff of legends. He's everything the UFC should want their fighters to be. He's also very smart. He fights his fight and does an excellent job of negating his opponents' strengths.
In the UFC, all those qualities have made St-Pierre nearly unbeatable. In 2006, St-Pierre beat UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes to capture the UFC welterweight crown. However just five months later St-Pierre and fight fans worldwide were stunned when heavy underdog Matt Serra caught the champ with a right hand that put an abrupt end to St-Pierre's title reign. A year later, St-Pierre re-captured his belt, absolutely destroying Serra in the first round of their rematch. It was St-Pierre's third win in a row since his loss to Serra and the third in what has now grown to an 11-fight winning streak.
Despite St-Pierre's dominant run, the welterweight kingpin has sometimes been unfairly labeled, as “boring.” Why? Of the 11 wins in his impressive streak, eight have come via decision. Dominant decisions, but decisions nonetheless.
Even though the UFC has evolved from what many perceived as human cockfighting or a “real life Bloodsport,” human nature remains the same. The average fan wants to see brutal knockouts, not carefully crafted gameplans that lead to takedowns and so-called “lay and pray” (taking an opponent to the ground and holding him down without making much of an effort to win the fight).
St-Pierre, however, is not “laying and praying” when he takes his opponents down and keeps them there. He takes the fights to the ground and punishes his challengers while they're floored. I have little doubt the champion could stand up with every opponent he has decisioned and earn a victory, his boxing is that good. His one stoppage win since re-capturing the welterweight title came against BJ Penn in a bout where St-Pierre out-boxed Penn, who at the time possessed some of the best boxing of anyone in the division. However, when you stand up with someone you run the risk of catching a Matt Serra right hand that abruptly ends your title reign. Why take unnecessary risks?
St-Pierre's opponent on Saturday does not possess a Matt Serra right hand. He does have a Johny Hendricks left hand, which might be more devastating. He also owns the best wrestling resume St-Pierre has encountered in his time in the UFC. Hendricks was a four-time All-American wrestler at Oklahoma State University, and that wrestling acumen has translated into a 63% takedown defense in the UFC. Hendricks has been taken down just twice in his last six fights, all wins. However, none of those fights came against a wrestler the likes of St-Pierre. The champion is the UFC's all-time leader in takedowns with 84 and he has an all-time best 75% takedown success rate.
Asked before the fight about Hendricks' powerful left, St-Pierre said “I know in this fight I'm going to get hit. You don't have a fight without getting hit. Most of the time it's very rare. I'm Ready for it.”
I bet he's indeed ready for it. I bet he's ready to nullify that left by taking the fight to the ground and dominating Hendricks on the mat. And that's fine. That's what he should do. St-Pierre didn't become one of the poster boys for what the UFC has become by taking unnecessary risks for the sake of delighting the Coliseum crowd. He did so by working hard before fights and by working smart during them. Smart is not boring. Smart is smart.
I expect him to do the same against Hendricks. If St-Pierre can't (or chooses not to) take him down, Hendricks will have the opportunity to land that crushing left and score the upset. I'd bank on St-Pierre's 75% takedown success rate though, not Hendricks' 63% takedown defense. I see St-Pierre winning a unanimous decision over Hendricks. It might not be as exciting as a brutal kick to the face, but it will be a smart, dominant and impressive display of mixed martial arts.