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Johny Hendricks thought he had it in the bank. Two judges had other ideas.
Georges St. Pierre retained his Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight crown with a controversial split decision over Johny Hendricks in the UFC 167 headliner on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Two of the three cageside judges -- Sal D’Amato and Tony Weeks -- cast 48-47 scorecards for St. Pierre (25-2, 19-2 UFC); a third, Glenn Trowbridge, sided with Hendricks by the same score.
St. Pierre has won his last 12 bouts, none more debated than this one. Afterward, the Tristar Gym representative revealed sketchy plans for a sabbatical.
“Listen, there was a lot of talk about what was going to happen,” St. Pierre said. “I have a bunch of stuff in my life happening. I need to hang up my gloves for a little bit and make a point of [focusing] on my life. I have to step away for a little bit. That’s all I can say right now. I just got punched a little bit. Later on, I’ll make a point on that, but right now I have to go away for a little bit.”
Hendricks (15-2, 10-2 UFC) landed the heavier blows and exacted more of a physical toll during the 25-minute encounter, his heavy hands leaving the longtime champion battered, bloodied and bruised. “Bigg Rigg” utilized brutal knee strikes to the thigh from the clinch, mixing in takedowns at various points. Hendricks had St. Pierre in serious trouble in the second round, as he staggered him with a left uppercut and followed up with more powerful strikes to the head.
“I thought I clearly won the fight,” Hendricks said. “Georges was a great guy. Did you guys see the same fight that I just fought? I’m pretty sure I won. Georges was a great competitor, and my hat is off to him. It sucks, but I’m coming back. I’ll get that belt. It’s mine.”
St. Pierre did his best work in rounds three and five, where he pecked away with his trademark jab and took down the two-time NCAA national champion wrestler. Still, in the eyes of many, it did not warrant a victory on the scorecards.
“He was very good at countering my game plan,” St. Pierre said. “My plan was to make him fight going backwards, on his toes, because he’s a very powerful puncher, I can tell you. He closed my eyes with one of his strikes. I couldn’t see out of my right eye. He hit very hard.”
Though St. Pierre hinted at something of a temporary retirement, Hendricks made his desire for a rematch clear.
“I want that belt,” he said. “That’s what I just earned, but it was taken away from me. I swear to God, that won’t happen again.”
Former Champion Evans Annihilates Sonnen
Onetime light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans smashed through Chael Sonnen with first-round ground-and-pound in the co-main event. Evans (19-3-1, 14-3-1 UFC) brought it to a close 4:05 into round one, delivering his first finish since he stopped Tito Ortiz at UFC 133 more than two years ago.
Sonnen (28-14-1, 7-7 UFC) never posed much of a threat. After they engaged one another in the clinch, Evans scored with a takedown midway through round one and went to work on a systematic dismantling. A nasty elbow carved through Sonnen’s guard, leading to his being mounted. Evans ultimately forced him to surrender his back, flattened him out and unleashed a brutal barrage of unanswered blows to the side of the head.
“He put his combinations together pretty well,” Evans said. “I thought he was going to transition to the takedown right away, but he wanted to wall-and-brawl, so I obliged. Me and Chael are close. I like Chael a lot as a person. When you have to land those shots on somebody you really like, it’s kind of hard to do, but it’s part of the sport. We’re going to be working together again in three weeks, so it’s all good.”
Lawler Springs Upset, Decisions MacDonald
Former EliteXC champion Robbie Lawler took a gigantic step forward in the 170-pound division, as he captured a split decision over Tristar Gym ace Rory MacDonald in a welterweight showcase. All three judges scored it 29-28, two of them siding with Lawler (22-9, 7-3 UFC).
Unbeaten in three appearances since returning to the UFC in February, Lawler invested in leg kicks early and kept the talented Canadian from settling into his comfort zone. MacDonald (15-2, 6-2 UFC) answered with a strong second round, where he struck for a takedown and grinded on the American Top Team export with elbows from the top.
As they hit the third round, it was anyone’s fight. Lawler sent “Ares” to the canvas with a wicked left hook, trailed him to the ground and flew in for the finish. MacDonald weathered the onslaught, but the damage had been done. A late takedown and furious ground-and-pound from the former King of the Cage champion went for naught, as Lawler walked away with his hand raised.
“I’ve had a tough road, up and down, but I kept getting up and pushing forward,” Lawler said. “That’s what happened tonight.”
Woodley Waylays Reeling Koscheck
American Top Team’s Tyron Woodley knocked out Josh Koscheck with a pair of first-round right hands in a featured welterweight scrap. Koscheck (17-8, 15-8 UFC) succumbed to the blows 4:38 into round one, as he suffered his third straight loss.
Woodley (12-2, 2-1 UFC) drilled “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 1 alum repeatedly with his howitzer of a right hand. Koscheck withstood the Strikeforce veteran’s initial advances and even backed up the Missouri native with a thudding right of his own. Late in round one, however, Woodley left Koscheck dazed and squatting with a right hook and then polished him off with another.
“There was no other way [it was going to go],” Woodley said. “We’re too similar. We’ve got the same height, reach and background. I knew it was going to be a brawl. Koscheck is a stud, and he’s been around, so I knew we were going to steal the show. This is the top UFC card of the whole year, and it was our opportunity to steal the show, and we did it.”
Decision Pushes Bagautinov Streak to 10
Stinging power punching combinations carried two-time sambo world champion Ali Bagautinov to a unanimous decision over Tim Elliott in a flyweight showcase. All three cageside judges scored it for Bagautinov (12-2, 2-0 UFC): 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27.
Elliott (10-4-1, 2-2 UFC) pushed a merciless pace and kept his Russian counterpart circling with his back to the cage. However, Bagautinov picked his spots, firing away with winging punches, knees and front kicks. Elliott made a significant albeit unsuccessful move late in the third round, where he scored with a violent trip takedown and smashed Bagautinov with a knee to the face as he returned to his feet.
Now a person of interest in the UFC’s fledgling 125-pound division, Bagautinov has rattled off 10 consecutive victories.
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