It’s been six and a half long years since Georges “Rush” St-Pierre last lost a MMA fight, and nearly six since promotional president Dana White first strapped UFC gold around his waist, for the second time in his storied career.

Since his last loss, which came against Matt Serra at UFC 69 on April 7, 2007, GSP has avenged that loss, beaten Matt Hughes and B.J. Penn, both for a second time, and taken out every top-rated welterweight in the world, including guys with last names like Diaz, Condit, Shields, Koscheck, Hardy and Fitch, to name a few. So, why does Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks think he can finally swipe the strap?

Hendricks is an NCAA Division I All-American wrestler out of Oklahoma State whose first pro MMA fight was around the time St-Pierre won the interim belt from Matt Hughes. The Oklahoma native has gone 15-1 in his six-year career with his only loss coming by decision to Rick Story almost three years ago. Since that loss, he has earned knockout wins over Martin Kampmann, T.J. Waldburger and Fitch and has taken the judges’ nods over Mike Pierce, Koscheck, and Condit, which solidified his standing as the second-best welterweight in the world.

Hendricks has the pedigree and has proven his worth with eight knockouts and one submission, so at UFC 167 on Saturday night, live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, he will finally get a chance to take on the greatest welterweight in MMA history for his shot at UFC gold. GSP has no plans to let Hendricks be the man to steal his belt, and he will enter the Octagon safe and ready, just like he has in his previous six title defenses, which have all gone his way by unanimous decision.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: GSP – 10, Hendricks – 9

Hendricks has not earned the nickname “Bigg Rigg” for nothing. At only 5-foot-9, he is on the mid-to-shorter end of the welterweight division, but he is built like a Mack truck and hits like one too. Four of his last five knockouts came in the first round, so when he connects, it’s game over. However, connecting with GSP is easier said than done.

GSP has Lyoto Machida-like elusiveness, and even though he’s only one inch taller than Hendricks, he fights like his arms are eight-feet long. Not to mention, GSP is an extremely accomplished martial artist with multiple black belts, and his Muay Thai trainer is Kru Phil Nurse, so his kicks and knees are much more developed and advanced than anything in Hendricks’ arsenal.

Hendricks may hit hard, but he does not have near the skill or lateral movement that GSP does on the feet, giving the champ the nod in the striking department.

Wrestling: GSP – 10, Hendricks – 10

Even in a pure wrestling setting, it is hard to just flat out give the nod to the All-American. Although St-Pierre was never a wrestler on the level that his opponent was, his wrestling in an MMA setting is hands down some of the best in the game. GSP has handled many outstanding wrestlers, such as Hughes, Koscheck and Fitch, using his amazing takedown defense and nearly unstoppable double- and single-leg takedowns. Once he has an opponent on the ground, top position is imminent, and he has no problem holding anyone down.

Hendricks may be the more accomplished wrestler, but his takedown defense and takedown accuracy have not been as effective as the champ’s, from a purely statistical point-of-view, and he is known more for his striking than his wrestling.

That all being said, Hendricks is still a very dynamic, very accomplished wrestling purist, and is known for his striking game, because that’s what works. It in no way means that his wrestling base isn’t top-tier. In the wrestling department, it’s a toss-up. GSP is more accomplished in the Octagon, whereas Hendricks is more accomplished on the mat.

Submission Grappling: GSP – 10, Hendricks – 9

Being a prototypical wrestler that is powerful, hits hard and has good takedown defense, Hendricks rounds out the profile by being weaker in the submission game. He has no formal training in submission grappling prior to MMA and has won once by submission, a long time ago. St-Pierre has also not submitted anyone in a long time, but his story is much different.

Of his many martial arts accolades, GSP is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Gracie Barra Montreal. He has five submission wins under his belt and only one loss, by armbar to Matt Hughes way back in 2004. He returned the favor with an armbar of his own when he won the interim belt that eventually became his current strap.

St-Pierre is a slickster in every sense of the word. Whether it’s striking, wrestling or submission grappling, he executes with precision every time. It’s one of the reasons he has been the champ for so long. On the ground, Hendricks better hope he’s on top landing big shots, because anywhere else, he is in big danger of his first submission loss.

Stamina: GSP – 10, Hendricks – 10

If this fight goes five rounds, which it most likely will, both men will probably still have the energy for a sixth. GSP and Hendricks are no strangers to going the distance. In their combined 39 fights, they have been to decision 18 times, and GSP has gone five rounds in seven of his last eight, which is one area where Hendricks has not been tested. Having never been in a title fight, the wrestler has never had to go five rounds.

NCAA Division I wrestlers are known for their stamina, though, and Hendricks is no exception. He has proven he can go three without looking gassed and has been in many all-day wrestling tournaments, where stamina and conditioning is everything. Should this fight make it five rounds, both men should still be holding up well come the final bell.

Speed: GSP – 10, Hendricks – 9

Speed is a big factor in this match-up, and one that could ultimately spell Hendricks’ demise. GSP is quick at everything he does. Lightning quick. He shoots fast, he strikes fast, he positions fast. Everybody thinks that they can train stylistically for GSP, and most of them fail, because the one thing they can’t train for is somebody that does everything as well or better than their training partners, and does it quicker, too.

Hendricks can physically do everything he needs to do to put the champ away. He just can’t do it fast enough. St-Pierre moves in and out of the pocket before most opponents knew he was coming in the first place. As he is tossing opponents through the air and completing a double, they all have the same “oh crap” looks on their faces. Some of the best wrestlers in the world don’t see him coming, and Hendricks will be no different.

In any sport, speed kills, and on Saturday night, GSP’s quickness could seal the deal on Hendricks.

X-factor

St-Pierre, much like Cain Velasquez, Anderson Silva or Jon Jones, is, in fact, the x-factor. GSP is everything and then some. He is the quintessential five-tool player, and while he trains many different modalities in many different gyms, it is the man himself that creates the symbiotic relationship between all of these skills. Hendricks is a great prototypical, wrestling-based, American MMA fighter, but GSP is a unique freak of nature. People can train for the many aspects of GSP in and of themselves, but nobody can train for the machine as a whole. That is the biggest game-changer in this battle.

Total: GSP – 50, Hendricks – 47

Verdict: Will Hendricks pull off the upset? It’s a possibility. He hits hard and wrestles very well. One thing’s for sure for him, a submission is out of the question, and winning the clinch game is probably, too. Hendricks has a puncher’s chance in this fight, but the only way GSP drops this one is if he wants to.

The champ indirectly told fans a long time ago that he wants to keep his belt for a long time, and the way to do that is by out-pointing his opponents. Hendricks is a game fighter, and in the sense of traditional MMA, he has done everything he can to prove he’s the No. 1 contender, but GSP is not traditional, not easily trained for, and will not let Hendricks do what Hendricks does best.

Look for this one to go five more rounds with GSP retaining his strap.

Photo: Georges St-Pierre delivers ground and pound (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

  • Johnny boy wasn’t stopped by the likes of koshek,Condit, and if these fools where better why leave it to judges? They both didn’t stop him! Look at the way Condit wins fineshes, he leaves no question hardly,but in his bout with Johnny those glorious moment’s wher no where! Johnny’s face wasn’t all jacked up! Condit usually knocks people out with his striking but it wasn’t there!hence(the nick) fight no tko? Just running! Well koshek he wrestled Johnny but held on running back wards avoiding strikes but he wasn’t able to finish Johnny? Koshek with gsp stood there taking jab after jab right in front of gsp? If he did that in Johnny’s case well there’s the lawlor bout! Gorge doesn’t do great in power punchers,nick isn’t as strong as Johnny but Johnny is strength,striker,wrestler,and can stuff take downs better than nick,and isn’t afraid like koshek sucking up punches from gsp instead of trying to tie and wrestle? Sure Johnny is small but dangerous wee shall see.

  • Franky

    Not sure I agree about giving Hendricks a 10 in stamina.

    All of his fights have been three round fights and when the fight does make it to the third, Hendricks appears tired and tends to lose the final round. This is the reason for many of his split decisions.

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  • Johnny got robbed,never seen gsp having trouble with wrestling,and fight of the fence not to mention the look on his face was horrible,he got beat up all his efferts where common reactions making it look like he was doing something! He got rocked and stuffed johnny is the stonger man.