With elite wrestling skills and a sledgehammer for a left hand, Johny (Bigg Rigg) Hendricks represents a real threat to UFC champion Georges St-Pierre.
“I’ve never fought anybody like him. But he’s never fought anybody like me,” St. Pierre told The Canadian Press. “So we’re both unique. We’re going to clash and see who’s the best man.”
For those who have followed the career of the MMA star from Montreal, it’s a familiar refrain. As is St-Pierre’s comment that while the No. 1 contender poses a lot of problems, the champion has the solution.
“I’m ready. I’m very well-prepared. I’m at my best. I’m the best I can be,” said St-Pierre.
The world will find out Nov. 16 in Las Vegas when St-Pierre (24-2) meets Hendricks (15-1) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
It will mark St-Pierre’s 10th title defence. He lost the first, knocked out by Matt (The Terror) Serra at UFC 69 in April 2007, but reclaimed his championship belt by beating Serra two years later at UFC 83.
Since then, he has defeated Jon Fitch, B.J. (The Prodigy) Penn, Thiago (Pitbull) Alves, Dan (The Outlaw) Hardy, Josh Koscheck, Jake Shields, Carlos (Natural Born Killer) Condit and Nick Diaz.
St-Pierre has won 11 straight since that 2009 loss to Serra and currently ranks second in the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings, behind only light-heavyweight champion Jon (Bones) Jones.
That record and reputation has made GSP a 2-1 favourite to beat Hendricks, odds more respectful of the challenger than in many of the Canadian’s previous fights.
A southpaw, the 30-year-old Hendricks has won six straight since dropping a decision to Rick (The Horror) Story in December 2010. And three of those wins (T.J.Waldburger, Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann) were emphatic first-round knockouts.
A former NCAA champion wrestler at Oklahoma State, Hendricks registered just three takedowns in the five fights after Story. With three of those fights being short, he did not need to dig deep into his arsenal.
But last time out, he landed 12 of 15 takedowns in neutralizing the striking game of Condit.
According to FightMetric, St-Pierre’s numbers are much better than Hendricks’. The champion is accurate on a UFC-record 76 per cent of his takedowns (compared to 50 per cent for Hendricks) and is successful defending them 86 per cent of the time (63 per cent for Hendricks).
St-Pierre’s significant striking accuracy rate is 55 per cent (50 for Hendricks) while his striking defence rate is 75 per cent (58 for Hendricks).
Both men have beaten Josh Koscheck, a fighter who has also has good wrestling and power in his hands.
Hendricks won a decision in May 2012 while St-Pierre earned decisions in August 2007 and December 2010.
“They are similar but different,” said St-Pierre. “He (Hendricks) is a leftie, he has a different style and different game. It’s going to be a good fight. I look forward to it.”
Last time out against Koscheck, St-Pierre literally broke his face with a punishing jab and landed four of nine takedown attempts.
St-Pierre landed 110 significant strikes to just 16 for Koscheck.
The champion has prepared for Hendricks in his native Montreal. It has gone smoothly although his camp was forced to deny reports that he might be thinking of retirement after the fight.
Trainer Firas Zahabi said his comments were misconstrued.
Asked about the issue, the 32-year-old St-Pierre said he is planning his next fight rather than his retirement.
“I always take it one fight at a time but I’m happy with my life right now.”
He says there will be no shortage of challenges after Hendricks.
“There are always going to be challenges,” he said. “I’m not above the sport.
“Everybody’s beatable and I always have to keep my head straight and stay humble and train hard.”
St-Pierre knows from experience. After dethroning future Hall of Famer Matt Hughes at UFC 65 in November 2006, his first title defence followed a truncated training camp marked by distractions that included family illness. He was knocked out by Serra in a shocking upset.
St-Pierre has never made the same mistake again. As his training goes, so does his fighting.
It has been a rough year for champions with Anderson Silva, Junior dos Santos and Benson Henderson losing their title within the last 12 months.
“It makes you remember no matter how great you are, no matter how good you’re doing, one mistake and you lose everything,” St-Pierre said.
He is realistic about the target on his back.
“I’ve been the target since I became champion because everyone wants what you have,” St-Pierre said. “And it’s OK.
“It’s hard to become champion, it’s even harder to stay champion. I like the challenge every time. I’m very motivated.”