One of the main components of any MMA fight these days is the game plan or strategy. Long gone are the days in which fighters would just be able to train without much thought of what they would need to do inside the Octagon to get the win.

Head coaches are often given the task of devising a structure to their fighters’ training camps to ensure that by the time the fight comes around it won’t feel like they are implementing a predefined game plan, but it will feel like second nature.

In this feature, we will look to identify the underdog in an upcoming bout and examine what is required of that underdog in order to overcome the odds and predictions and get the all-important “W” in the win column. The point, then, is to step into the shoes of a head coach to break down the fight and provide a game plan for the underdog.

This week’s subject is Johny Hendricks, who squares off with Georges St-Pierre for the UFC welterweight championship at UFC 167 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

This fight serves as the main event on a night of reflection for the UFC and its fans, with its 20th anniversary fight card stacked in much the same way as UFC 100 was back in July 2009. The evening’s lineup includes several other notable fights, such as Chael Sonnen vs. Rashad Evans, Rory McDonald vs. Robbie Lawler and Josh Koscheck vs. Tyron Woodley, as well as the only man to defeat Hendricks, Rick Story, who faces Brian Ebersole.

However, on this night of reflection, it is perhaps appropriate that the man in the main event and the favorite to leave Vegas with the welterweight strap has been the most consistent fighter in UFC history. Time and time again, fighters have been placed before GSP, and time after time, he has found a way through them in dominating fashion, in a way few predicted.

In facing (and defeating) the likes of Nick Diaz, Josh Koscheck and B.J. Penn, and in his historic bout with Jake Shields in front of 55,000 people in Canada, GSP has faced practically every type of fighter that MMA can offer, but GSP always found the answers. This time, St-Pierre will be understandably wary of getting caught by a destructive power puncher in Hendricks who can look to evoke memories of his upset loss to Matt Serra over six years ago in April 2007.

The Breakdown

Hendricks has had a meteoric rise to prominence within the UFC in recent years and finds himself in the unusual position of being the universally accepted No. 1 contender.

Hendricks, in fact, only made his debut approximately six months after St-Pierre’s loss to Matt Serra in April 2007, but that gap in status has been eroded over the following six-year period, thanks to an unthinkable amount of stopping power placed in Hendricks’ hands.

Despite the signature striking power that has been the headline throughout Hendricks’ rise, he has also shown that he has the ability to grind out a victory where necessary in his title eliminator bout with former interim title holder, Carlos Condit.

It is this grinding type of style for which GSP has been often criticized, as he has played it safe inside the Octagon over recent years. But when every fight you are in is against the elite, it is often the smallest differences which dictate the outcome. Unlike many other UFC champions, there is no way of truly knowing what game plan GSP will follow once inside the Octagon, as he can and has needed to showcase all aspects of MMA during his time as champion.

 The Strategy

Hendricks will no doubt have been drawing inspiration from Serra in the build-up to his fight with GSP on Nov. 16. There has been a question mark about St-Pierre’s chin ever since his first title reign was ended by Serra.

Since that fight, we have seen a more measured and calculating GSP who has improved in all aspects of his preparation for a fight and is now perhaps the most meticulous fighter in the game.

One aspect that has been a constant in all of St-Pierre’s fights in recent years is his ability to dictate where the fight takes place by out-wrestling even those with a much better wrestling pedigree than himself. Hendricks will be hoping this isn’t a trend that continues into this fight and has been preparing his wrestling at Oklahoma State University.

If Hendricks’ fine tuning of his wrestling game works out as he planned, then he should be able to fight with a greater sense of freedom and poise than most of St-Pierre’s previous opponents, safe in the knowledge that GSP will not simply have his way with him.

This freedom will be key, as it will allow Hendricks to engage and throw combinations with the assurance that he has enjoyed in his previous fights and which has seen him finish the likes of Jon Fitch in 12 seconds and Martin Kampmann in just 46 seconds.

Hendricks’ interests will be best served by giving St-Pierre a taste of his own medicine in mixing in striking with an early takedown to make GSP conscious of further takedowns as the fight wears on. Hendricks will need to utilize his speed and ability to close the distance to its absolute maximum to ensure that he can effectively get past the formidable jab that GSP has developed over recent years.

The odds would suggest that Hendricks is very much an underdog, but given the combination of St-Pierre’s perceived inability to take a solid punch and Hendricks’ ability to finish the fight with a single blow, if the fight goes to a decision, as has been a trend for GSP, then there will most definitely be no time during the 25 minutes for GSP to rest and relax.

Photo: Johny Hendricks (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Greg Byron
Staff Writer
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Greg Byron started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.