UFC 167 Preview: Georges St. Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks
By Jaime C. Feal
The UFC celebrates its 20th anniversary Saturday night, with Georges St. Pierre defending his welterweight title against #1 contender Johny Hendricks in the main event of UFC 167 from Las Vegas, NV. The card is very solid overall, with the co-main event featuring two big names in Chael Sonnen and Rashad Evans. Also on the card is an important welterweight fight between Rory MacDonald, the possible #1 contender, and Robbie Lawler. Much talk has been made of GSP possibly retiring after this fight, win or lose, but his camp has repeatedly denied these rumors. St Pierre is still in tremendous shape, is still the champion, and appears to still be very hungry, so one must believe him at his word he has no intention of retiring at this time.
Welterweight Division (170 lbs.):
Rory MacDonald (15-1, 6-1 UFC) vs. “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler (21-9, 6-3 UFC)
Rory MacDonald looks to continue his ascent up the welterweight rankings and he takes on old school power puncher Robbie Lawler. MacDonald is one of the first new-gen MMA fighters who has been trained in every discipline to be as well rounded as possible from an early age. He is also an enormous welterweight who can impose his will in the cage due to his size advantage. What he has lacked thus far is a killer instinct and ability to win the crowd by going for the finish, something Lawler has had no problem doing in his career.
Vegas favors MacDonald about 3:1 in this fight, and it is because he is younger and more well-rounded. Lawler, however, has shown he can’t be counted out these days, with knockout wins over Bobby Voelker and Josh Koscheck in his second stint in the UFC. Lawler looks to use that momentum and confidence on Saturday night, and will try to find MacDonald’s chin with one of his brutal power punches. If MacDonald gets hurt, Lawler will not let off the gas, and will throw the kitchen sink at him trying to finish. The problem is, MacDonald tends to fight very conservatively and cautiously, simply scoring points most rounds. Hopefully for the fans the more exciting version of MacDonald shows up, the one that put together several finishes early in his career, and then this fight has the potential to be a real barnburner.
Prediction: Rory MacDonald wins by unanimous decision.
Light Heavyweight Division (205 lbs.):
Chael Sonnen (28-13-1, 7-6 UFC) vs. Rashad “Suga” Evans (18-3-1, 13-3-1 UFC)
The man was the best trash talk in the business, Chael Sonnen, takes on another man with the gift of gab, Ultimate Fighter winner Rashad Evans. The two men are both veterans of the sport, and often provide commentary and analysis for the UFC when they’re not fighting. Both men have wrestling-based backgrounds, but Evans is much more well-rounded. Sonnen is always looking to take the fight to the mat and gain top position. From there, he is a true grinder, capable of holding down the best in the world, as he did Anderson Silva for over 4 rounds, with heavy ground and pound.
Evans is capable of winning a wrestling match with Sonnen, but if he were smart he’d use his wrestling in reverse to keep the fight standing. Evans has vicious power in his right hand, as evidenced by his crushing knockout of Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell. That type of power is rare, and Sonnen has never shown to possess it. Furthermore, Evans technique on the feet is crisper, and he is able to throw a variety of strikes, mixing in kicks and elbows frequently. Sonnen, conversely, simply wades in with boxing looking to set up his takedowns.
Evans has a very good style to defeat Sonnen if he fights intelligently. Sonnen is very good at dragging his opponent into a dog fight, but Evans knows his gameplan and has the requisite tools to neutralize his takedowns. Evans needs to bring the intensity, and not fight like he’s asleep as he did against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, and he will have no problems dealing with Sonnen. Expect Evans to use his surperior striking to win points standing up, while shrugging off Sonnen’s clinch and takedown attempts en route to a decision win.
Prediction: Rashad Evans wins by unanimous decision.
UFC Welterweight Championship (170 lbs.):
Georges “Rush” St. Pierre (24-2, 18-2 UFC) vs. Johny “Big Rig” Hendricks (15-1, 10-1 UFC)
GSP defends his title for the second time since returning from major knee surgery, and despite a brief scare in his return fight against Carlos Condit, St. Pierre looked every bit himself, as he was in vintage form. GSP first came up in the UFC fighting very fast-paced, always pressing the action and throwing caution to the wind. St. Pierre was able to earn a lot of fans this way, as he had a memorable split decision win over BJ Penn at UFC 58. St. Pierre then went on the knock out Matt Hughes, the only man to have defeated him, to earn the welterweight title, only to lose it in stunning fashion to Matt Serra in one of, if not the biggest upsets in MMA history.
Fast forward to late 2013 and we have a much more mature and refined GSP. This man is determined to not let himself get caught by a power punch as he did against Matt Serra at UFC 69. GSP now utilizes his jab when standing more than he ever had in his entire career, and throwing high-risk maneuvers, like the head kick that knocked out Matt Hughes, are a thing of the past. GSP can literally jab his way to a decision, as he did against Josh Koscheck, or he can choose to take you down with his world-class wrestling skills.
Johny Hendricks has shown one path to victory, a brutal, devastating left hand power punch. This meal ticket has got him all the way to a title shot, and while he goes have a wrestling background to fall back on, he has never faced someone with the versatility of Georges St. Pierre. Hendricks will have to land his huge left hand early, before GSP starts wearing on him with takedowns and jabs. Hendricks has the proverbial puncher’s chance, and this chance is magnified in that his power is the type where it only takes one good shot to change the entire course of the fight. That said, GSP is too smart and well-rounded to have that happen, and he will control the pace, and have enough dominant positions, to capture a relatively easy decision win.
Prediction: Georges “Rush” St. Pierre wins by unanimous decision.