Georges St. Pierre has held the welterweight title for more than five years. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship chose the champion with the longest current title reign to headline its 20th anniversary event, but having recently witnessed the dethroning of Anderson Silva, we are reminded that no champion is unbeatable. Johny Hendricks is the latest challenger to beg for a chance to knock Georges St. Pierre from the welterweight throne. Hendricks pairs an All-American wrestling pedigree with big knockout power: two weapons that St. Pierre’s recent opponents have not been able to combine.
I have sifted through 20,000 data points from the fight histories of these two fighters to see how they really match up at UFC 167 on Saturday in Las Vegas. We will start with an enhanced Tale of the Tape.
The Tale of the Tape reveals some important differentials in this matchup. The most important is that St. Pierre has a significant size advantage. St. Pierre’s reach is huge for a welterweight and would be considered “average” if he were competing as a light heavyweight. Conversely, Hendricks has a short reach for the division and would be about average for a bantamweight. The differential between these two unusual specimens results in a seven-inch reach advantage for the champion.
Hendricks is a southpaw, which generally confers a slight advantage due to the innate rareness of facing left-handed strikers, but GSP is coming off of a fight with Nick Diaz and will have no doubt trained for the stance. While St. Pierre is a natural orthodox striker, he has changed stances often enough to work from either side. It will be interesting to see which stance he utilizes first against Hendricks and whether he switches stances for striking and takedowns.
Though only 32 years old and with some good years left in him, St. Pierre is already one of the most experienced veterans of the game. Hendricks, on the other hand, burst onto the scene via World Extreme Cagefighting and has quickly amassed an impressive record that includes many of the same opponents the champion has faced. Both fighters have had the same layoff since UFC 158.
Both fighters are skilled strikers but in very different ways. They are quite accurate in offensive striking, with both jabs and power strikes. GSP adds better pace and cage control with a jab-heavy attack, while Hendricks gets outworked but makes up for it with effective power strikes; he relies on those much more than jabs. Though GSP has scored more career knockdowns, Hendricks has the higher knockdown rate on a strikes-landed basis. Overall, both wield better power than their welterweight peers, but Hendricks has never been knocked down.
St. Pierre’s reach advantage will surely help the range cushion needed to survive standing and trading with Hendricks, but it does not guarantee that “Bigg Rigg” will not land anything during one of his surging attacks. That is where the real statistical battle lies in the matchup. It comes down to the strength of GSP’s evasiveness and striking defense versus the resiliency of his chin if he does get caught. His head striking defense is among the absolute best in the UFC, but on a strike-for-strike basis, he has suffered knockdowns at a higher-than-average rate. In other words: he rarely gets hit, but when he does get hit, he gets hurt.
These two are also skilled wrestlers, so we had better take a look at the takedown and grappling stats.
Between arguably the best two wrestlers in the division, Hendricks has been more active in attempting takedowns, while St. Pierre has been more effective. Both fighters have excellent takedown defense, but again, GSP earns the nod in terms of being more successful. The champion holds several UFC records, including best takedown success rate and most career takedowns landed; and he is ranked seventh in takedown defense. He has accomplished all this while competing against the best the division has to offer. That combination of factors has led to the champion’s being in control 94 percent of the time he spends on the ground. That same metric for Hendricks is only 73 percent, which is great but not as good as the champion.
While getting GSP on his back seems nearly impossible, expect a huge crowd reaction should Hendricks be able to do so. That could help him win an early round, as it did for Alexander Gustafsson in the first frame of his UFC 165 title bout against Jon Jones. Once on the ground, St. Pierre will have the more versatile submission game and typically advances to half guard or side control while working strikes. Either fighter could be a threat from top position, but St. Pierre has more weapons and has shown better skill here.
The Final Word
St. Pierre is currently a -240 favorite, putting the implied probability of defending his title at just under 71 percent. Generally speaking, champions defend their titles more often than not, but this money line is tighter than many of GSP’s prior opponents, so the market is giving Hendricks a better chance for an upset than it gave Diaz or Carlos Condit. What do you think? Will Hendricks land the big left hand and end the longest active title reign in the UFC, or will St. Pierre once again rise to the challenge and demonstrate his superiority as a complete mixed martial artist?
I will close out the year in December with a deeper look at the UFC 168 rematch between middleweight champion Chris Weidman and former titleholder Silva.
Note: Raw data for the analysis was provided by, and in partnership with FightMetric. All analysis was performed by Reed Kuhn. Reed Kuhn, Fightnomics, FightMetric and Sherdog.com assume no responsibility for bets placed on fights, financial or otherwise.
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