Welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre says he has been obsessed by challenger Johny (Bigg Rigg) Hendricks ahead of their UFC 167 showdown.
Hendricks not so much.
“I don’t go that route, because here’s the thing: I can’t do nothing about it today,” Hendricks told The Canadian Press. “I can’t do nothing about it tomorrow. The only time I have to do something about it is Nov. 16.”
That’s when the No. 1 challenger takes on St. Pierre at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
For Hendricks, there’s nothing personal against the Canadian. It’s business and his stock is on the rise.
“I’m not going to say nothing bad about him,” said Hendricks. “I just think it’s time for my turn to be the new champ.”
St-Pierre (24-2) is listed as slightly more than a 2-1 favourite, more competitive odds than in most of the 32-year-old Montrealer’s title defences.
GSP is currently riding an 11-fight win streak. But Hendricks (15-1) has one-punch knockout power backed up by NCAA championship-calibre wrestling.
Hendricks divides his fight training into three parts: the actual fight camp, weight-cutting and then “the enjoyment, the fight.”
“The fight is the fun part,” he said.
The enjoyment has been short-lived for his opponents.
Jon Fitch lasted 12 seconds. Amir Saollah exited after 29 seconds. Charlie Brenneman survived for 40 seconds. Martin (The Hitman) Kampmann lasted 46. T.J. Waldburger was stopped in 1:35.
While the 30-year-old Hendricks has made his marks in the cage with his fists, he entered the sport as a stud wrestler.
He was a four-time all-American and two-time NCAA champion at Oklahoma State where he went 103-12.
“That’s what my father bred me for,” he said of his wrestling success. “That’s what he prepared me for.”
After his collegiate wrestling career finished in 2006, Hendricks turned to MMA. About three months into his training, he discovered he was good at hitting people.
But the technique wasn’t there.
“My striking was good, my power was good. I just didn’t know the accuracy. Accuracy is everything.”
Hitting with maximum power is just a matter of connecting. But he soon learned that you can knock someone out with less power, providing the accuracy is there. And that effectively extends the threat of his fists.
“If I can knock you out at 80 per cent (power), then all of a sudden the sky’s the limit,” he explained.
“If I can do it at 80 per cent and be very active with it, it just means less power to use and the longer I can maintain my output.”
The success of Hendricks’s striking — and the often short fights that ensue — has meant he has not had to use his wrestling skills much.
But he landed 12-of-15 takedown attempts against Carlos Condit last time out at UFC 158, blunting Condit’s kickboxing arsenal.
Condit connected on just 42-of-145 significant strikes while Hendricks was good on 30 of 71.
Hendricks expects St-Pierre to try to do what he did against Josh Koscheck, another acclaimed collegiate wrestler with power, at UFC 124 — hurt him with a jab and then take him down.
“He’s going to jab. And then he’s going to jab. Then he’s going to do some more jabbing,” said Hendricks, an Oklahoma native who now makes his home in the Dallas area. “And then he’s going to try to get me off balance, for sure. I think that’s his main game plan. And to try to take me down as much as possible. That’s what I’m preparing for.”
St-Pierre leads the UFC in significant strikes landed (1,153), takedowns (84), takedown accuracy (75 per cent) and ranks fourth in significant strike defence (75.1 per cent) and seventh in takedown defence (88.0 per cent), according to FightMetric.
In comparison, Hendricks converts 50 per cent of his takedown attempts, stops 63 per cent of his opponents’ takedowns and has a significant strike defence rate of 58 per cent.
St-Pierre is thought by many to possess the best MMA wrestling in the sport and Hendricks acknowledges the champion has adapted his wrestling skills to the fight world.
“Watch how he hits his jab,” Hendricks said. “He’ll actually lean into it, four to five inches when he throws his jabs. He leans in hard, boom, boom. And whenever he does that, he’ll take half a step back and whenever he takes that half-step back, people miss. And whenever they miss, they start lunging in. When they start lunging in, he’s got the eyes and the timing to take them off of it.
“That’s what GSP has done very well.”
Hendricks has never been taken down more than twice in a UFC fight. St-Pierre has only been taken down twice in his last 10 UFC fights, by Koscheck.