Welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre survived a stiff challenge from No. 1 contender Johny (Bigg Rigg) Hendricks, hanging on to win a razor-thin split decision at UFC 167 on Saturday night.
An irate UFC president Dana White reacted to the decision for St-Pierre in disbelief, even calling for the Nevada governor to launch an investigation into the Nevada State Athletic Commission. He wondered out loud how anyone could score the fight for the champion.
Hendricks fell to his knees as the decision was announced 48-47, 47-48, 48-47 for the Canadian, who took a beating en route to the win before a crowd of 14,856.
“Without a doubt, my toughest fight,” said a battered St-Pierre.
“I couldn’t see out of one of my eyes,” he added. “He really messed me up.”
St-Pierre (25-2) said he needed to take some time to mull over his future and made a point of thanking the UFC before he left the cage.
“I have to step away for a little bit,” said the 32-year-old from Montreal.
That drew fire from White, who said Hendricks deserved an immediate rematch.
Judges Sal D’Amato and Tony Weeks scored rounds one, three and five for St-Pierre. Glenn Trowbridge scored the first, second and fourth for Hendricks.
“I am the champion,” Hendricks told the post-fight news conference.
“The judges ripped my heart out tonight,” he added.
St-Pierre was hurting elsewhere. He went straight from the cage to the hospital.
His face covered with red welts, GSP arrived midway through the news conference after being stitched up.
He said he left his soul in the octagon against Hendricks.
St-Pierre declined to detail the personal issues bothering him other than they were family matters, he couldn’t sleep at night and needed a break.
After speaking to St-Pierre privately after the news conference, a calmer White said the champion was not retiring and would be back in the rotation once his personal problem was sorted. He did not detail the issue in question but said it was not as bad as GSP thinks.
The two fighters collected an extra US$50,000 for fight of the night. St. Pierre made a number with a few more zeros at the end, given his position as the UFC’s biggest pay-per-view draw.
Hendricks (15-2) did what other challengers could not do, take GSP out of his game. He blunted St-Pierre’s wrestling attack for much of the night and hurt him with strikes and knees.
The challenger smiled and held his hands up in the air when the final bell rang. St-Pierre did too, but his face did not look like that of a winner.
“I thought I clearly won the fight,” said Hendricks, who called St-Pierre a great competitor.
Hendricks started strongly but St-Pierre absorbed the onslaught and held strong, biding his time for the championship rounds. The fight was mainly contested on the feet as the two cancelled out their considerable wrestling skills.
St-Pierre’s face showed the toll of the fight while Hendricks, despite absorbing punches, showed few marks.
The card at the MGM Grand Garden Arena celebrated the UFC’s 20-year anniversary. Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Royce Gracie won UFC 1, an eight-man elimination tournament, on Nov. 12, 1993, at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver.
Hendricks, an Oklahoma native who now makes his home in Dallas, walked out to country music. St-Pierre, wearing a gi, came out to French rap. In the stands, giveaway red and blue bracelets flashed during the introductions.
GSP was close to a 2-1 favourite against Hendricks, a former NCAA wrestling champion with one-punch knockout power. The crowd was solidly behind the champion.
Hendricks smiled as the two fighters touched gloves before the first round.
The crowd roared as St-Pierre landed a takedown within 20 seconds. But Hendricks quickly got up.
At the 40-second mark of the first round, St-Pierre surpassed B.J. Penn’s record of five hours three minutes and 51 seconds for career fight time in the UFC.
St-Pierre pushed for another takedown, eating some punches and elbows in the process. The crowd chanted “GSP, GSP.” But Hendricks took the champ down briefly as they clinched at the fence and St-Pierre was cut by the eye.