MMA: Johny Hendricks
To be clear, Askren, 30, doesn't focus his commentary solely on the UFC. He'll talk about anything related to mixed martial arts on social media. But the posts that grab the most attention are UFC-related and often mention, in some form or another, the company's president, Dana White.
In many ways, 2014 has played out exactly how many thought it would for Askren (14-0). When the UFC snubbed the former Bellator welterweight champion last year, he signed a two-year deal with ONE FC -- which asked the immediate question: Whom would he fight?
ONE FC has emerged as a major presence in Asia and will finish the year having staged 11 total events in eight different countries, but its welterweight roster does not offer many clear challengers to the high-caliber Askren.
Thus far, the Milwaukee-based pro has ran through two ONE FC opponents inside the first round, captured the promotion's belt -- and barely broken a sweat doing it. He could make a third appearance before the end of the year.
As far as headlines in the U.S., the most clicked Askren story of 2014 might not be tied to one of his fights -- maybe it's related to heckling Johny Hendricks at a UFC event in July or getting cut off a television program for criticizing the UFC on-air.
Still, ONE FC vice president of operations Matt Hume, who negotiated Askren's contract, says the UFC-related headlines have not affected Askren's impact on the promotion's goals this year.
My job is to continue to find him challenges. I will do that and I believe I'm well-suited to do that. I can find someone bad for his style, but it's up to that person to make it up the ranks and get to him.” -- ONE FC matchmaker Matt Hume, on finding stiff competition for titlist Ben Askren
"That's what people see in North America," Hume told ESPN.com. "In Asia, it's about him fighting and entertaining the fans. I'm in North America and my ear's on the ground, so I see it. It's entertaining. It's funny when he goes back and forth with Dana.
"I don't see it detrimental to us, though. What he does with Dana doesn't affect how he fights. He's drawing attention on both sides of the ocean. The reality is that it's what he does in the cage that matters."
As has been the case throughout his career, what Askren has done in the ONE FC cage has been nothing short of dominant.
He gave up a surprising takedown to Bakhtiyar Abbasov in his debut in May, but quickly reversed position and submitted Abbasov via arm-triangle. In August, he took Nobutatsu Suzuki down in five seconds and finished him with punches in 84 seconds.
Hume, who acts as ONE FC's matchmaker, feels like Abbasov and Suzuki were quality opponents for Askren and is confident the former U.S. Olympic wrestler will be significantly challenged under the ONE FC banner.
"I don't think about Ben every day, but I certainly do when it's time to make the matchups," said Hume, who is also head trainer to UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. "The question goes back to every one of his fights, in that he's walked through everybody. My job is to continue to find him challenges. I will do that, and I believe I'm well-suited to do that. I can find someone bad for his style, but it's up to that person to make it up the ranks and get to him.
"Abbasov was a good test. Suzuki was a champion. It's going to get tougher from there. His next challenge will be his most difficult to date."
As to who Askren's next challenge will be, Hume said that last month ONE FC signed a welterweight to a contract who could potentially fight him next, but declined to reveal a name.
Hume did make it clear that Askren is locked into ONE FC, and under no circumstances would the promotion release him in the event the UFC did express interest. The promotion passed on signing Askren last year after a face-to-face in Las Vegas.
"That would be a ridiculous business decision," Hume said. "To say we're going to build up a fighter and then, if you want to leave us at any time, go ahead? We'll invest in you so you can leave for another company? There is definitely no clause in his contract that says he can leave for the UFC whenever he wants."
In Hume's opinion, Askren belongs in the discussion of the best welterweights in the world. Two dominant wins into his contract, ONE FC is confident it has and will continue to provide the right matchups to prove it.
UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks is "about 85 percent" recovered from surgery on his right biceps last March, according to his wrestling coach Kenny Monday.
Hendricks, 31, is training on a daily basis without limitations and could even be ready to fight later this year, although it's likely he'll have to wait until at least February due to the UFC's currently booked pay-per-view schedule.
"I know everyone would have loved January, but it doesn't look like that's going to work out," Monday told ESPN.com. "I'm thinking he fights in February or March."
Ted Ehrhardt, Hendricks' manager, told ESPN.com that even though Hendricks is healthy and ready to accept a fight, he expects his first title defense to headline a UFC PPV. The UFC has announced its next six PPV main events, through Jan. 31.
According to Ehrhardt, Hendricks was willing to accept a fight prior to now, but the UFC wanted to make sure he was completely healthy before promoting his defense, in which he will face No. 1 contender Robbie Lawler.
"The last thing the UFC wanted was to start promoting a fight and have to postpone it if Johny had a setback," Ehrhardt said. "He's well past that point now but the schedule is full. He's a main event fighter and all the main events are taken. It looks like he'll fight sometime in February."
A source close to Lawler told ESPN.com that they have also been told January is "not looking good" for the welterweight title bout, but added Lawler would be ready to fight in February.
Hendricks (16-2) won the belt in a unanimous decision win over Lawler (24-10) at UFC 171 in March. After the bout, Hendricks revealed he had suffered a torn right biceps during training camp and would require surgery.
Lawler went on to defeat Jake Ellenberger via TKO two months later at UFC 173 and then added a unanimous decision win over Matt Brown in July to reclaim the No. 1 contender spot.
Less than six months after undergoing surgery on a torn ACL in his left knee, former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre has resumed “gymnastic training.”
Firas Zahabi, head coach at Tristar Gym in Montreal, told ESPN.com that St-Pierre is working out his upper body regularly and expects medical clearance for martial arts training around October. St-Pierre suffered the injury in March.
According to Zahabi, St-Pierre’s recovery is ahead of where it was at this point in his first comeback from a torn ACL -- which occurred in his right knee in 2011 and kept sidelined from martial arts activity for eight months.
“It’s looking way better than the first time,” Zahabi said. “We just finished training and were talking about how his quadriceps got back to size so much faster this time around. No two ACL injuries are the same. We’re learning that.
“In October, he’s going to try really light martial arts training. Maybe hit pads. A little movement. Nothing crazy. “
Following his ninth consecutive UFC title defense against Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 in November, St-Pierre, 33, announced he was going to take a hiatus from the sport. The Canadian superstar vacated his title as part of the announcement.
Zahabi swears the two do not discuss St-Pierre’s potential UFC return, even during rehabilitation sessions on his left knee. He does, however, admit his personal belief is that St-Pierre will return next year.
“Right now, every time I talk to him, we never talk about his comeback,” Zahabi said. “I’m being 100 percent honest with you. I tell him people ask me about it every day. I think we both just know that there is no answer until he gets back in the gym, in his routine and sees if he wants to continue.
“My personal opinion is he still has plenty of competitive juice in him. I don’t think he’ll be anywhere near fight shape until he’s late-34 -- mid-34. I think he’s got a few fights in him but I don’t want to speak for the guy. He might retire and no one could blame him.”
In an interview with BloodyElbow.com in August, St-Pierre insisted he would not even consider a UFC return unless both he and his opponent were advanced blood tested by an independent anti-doping organization.
UFC vice president of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner has since told ESPN.com the promotion is currently accepting proposals from independent sample collectors and hopes to introduce a year-round drug-testing program by the end of the year.
Zahabi, who has spoken to Ratner about the potential program, said St-Pierre was “happy” about the news. No specific details about the program have been formalized yet, but, in St-Pierre’s case, it would have to be implemented prior to his return.
“From now on, he’s in a place where he doesn’t have to fight a guy if that guy doesn’t do the test,” Zahabi said. “He is a big believer in everybody should be natural.
“Georges is happy. He’s a natural athlete.”
LAS VEGAS -- Jake Ellenberger is a genuinely respectful guy, so don’t mistake the following for some form of trash talk. It’s just one man’s opinion.
And in Ellenberger’s opinion, simply put, Johny Hendricks is no Georges St-Pierre.
To dethrone St-Pierre, a UFC welterweight would have had to combine a special effort on a special kind of night. Beating Hendricks? Get Ellenberger a cage, 4-ounce gloves and a referee and he’ll accomplish that one for you before suppertime.
“He’s not like a GSP, where it’s going to take something, you know, some crazy plan to beat him,” Ellenberger told ESPN.com.
“To beat GSP, everything would have to be pinpoint and precise. With Johny, if you can threaten him with your power and dictate the pace, he’s definitely beatable.”
To beat [Georges St-Pierre], everything would have to be pinpoint and precise. With Johny [Hendricks], if you can threaten him with your power and dictate the pace, he's definitely beatable." -- Jake Ellenberger, on what it would make to dethrone welterweight champion Johny Hendricks
Ellenberger (29-7) would love the opportunity to prove those statements accurate. A win over Robbie Lawler at UFC 173 next month would bring him closer to it.
Last month, Hendricks (16-2) became the first welterweight other than St-Pierre to hold the official UFC title since 2006. St-Pierre (25-2) vacated the title late last year for personal reasons, following nine consecutive defenses.
Ellenberger doesn’t see that kind of run at the top in Hendricks’ future, especially if Ellenberger is able to reach him. The two were scheduled to fight at UFC 158 in March 2013, but Hendricks eventually shifted to a fight against Carlos Condit instead.
That switch never sat well with Ellenberger, and he’s said as much publicly. It’s not a personal thing with Hendricks anymore, but it’s obviously still a fight he wants.
“I’ve been training with a guy who is exactly like Johny, but better, for years,” said Ellenberger, referring to training partner and UFC middleweight Mark Munoz.
“I’m excited for the day that Johny and I meet.”
For that day to come, Ellenberger knows he has to improve on his last performance -- a slow, unanimous decision loss to Rory MacDonald in July.
The fight was largely dictated by MacDonald’s jab, which Ellenberger could not get inside. According to FightMetric, he was outstruck in that bout 46-to-19.
Since the loss, Ellenberger says he’s narrowed his training somewhat, with a focus on learning specific skills as opposed to simply showing up to “wrestling day.”
“I’ve grown more in the last year than I have the last six years,” Ellenberger said. “Every day is like we’re going to work this specific skill set with this angle against a southpaw. My life has been a little more structured.”
Originally scheduled to fight Tarec Saffiedine at UFC 172, Ellenberger says he’s not necessarily more “up” to fight Lawler, but in some ways it’s a better fight for him.
Lawler (22-10) was on the other side of last month’s vacant welterweight title fight, as he lost a unanimous decision to Hendricks at UFC 171. A win over Lawler would mean more in the divisional rankings than one against Saffiedine.
Additionally, Ellenberger believes he’s at his best when there is an element of danger in a fight. It doesn’t get more dangerous than the heavy-hitting Lawler.
“Look at my fight with Nate Marquardt, a guy who was dangerous, and then look at my fight with Rory,” Ellenberger said. “Rory isn’t real threatening. I look at a guy like Rory and think, ‘OK, he’s not going to hurt me.’ Maybe I overlooked him.
“Having that sense of urgency is a motivator to me.”
Fresh off signing a new eight-fight deal with the UFC, Ellenberger, 29, is set to enter potentially the brightest stretch of his career.
As good as Hendricks is, Ellenberger just doesn’t see him holding the belt long term. The division is very much there for the taking in his eyes.
“I don’t see Johny being the champion a year from now,” he said. “There are so many good guys. There are big opportunities for anyone in the top 10. I’m not putting a lot of thought into it because I’m focused on this fight, but it’s an exciting time.”
The welterweight contender was at his American Top Team-affiliated gym in St. Louis on Monday morning working. Not working out, but working.
Following the biggest win of his career, a second-round TKO over Carlos Condit last weekend, Woodley (13-2) is not content to sit around and hope for a UFC title shot. He made full media rounds, voluntarily, on Monday to plead his case.
He felt inclined to do so, partially because it seems as though many observers aren’t willing to give him full credit for the win. The fight ended when Condit suffered a knee injury, which appeared to initially occur during a Woodley takedown.
Woodley can’t comprehend why the victory is being tagged with an asterisk.
“I went out there and took the fight to him,” Woodley told ESPN.com. “I beat him up.
“I went back and watched film and was like, ‘What are people talking about?’ He was coming back? Where? Show me where he had me in a bad position. Show me where he had me on the ropes or hurt. He was on his back, remember that?”
Woodley said he was guaranteed a title shot with a win over Condit. If need be, he is willing to sit and wait for it against newly crowned Johny Hendricks.
Asked how he would feel about an official No. 1 contender’s fight, Woodley responded, “That’s the fight I was just in.”
“I want the people to hear why I believe I’m next in line,” Woodley said. “I think once fans and media hear everybody’s story and lay them out across the table, mine should stick out more than the rest.”
Woodley on Robbie Lawler: There was no controversy. One of the judges scored it like an idiot, but everybody, including Robbie, thought it was 2-2 going into the final round. I think he eased up on the gas in the last 90 seconds. I’m bummed for the kid, but it was clear cut. No controversy. Maybe he wins one fight and he’s right back there.
On Hector Lombard: He had a great performance over Jake Shields. Granted, he beat Nate Marquardt, but I think Nate Marquardt was softened up for him by Tarec Saffiedine and Jake Ellenberger. I think he’s on his way out. He got a victory over Shields, but Shields is ranked No. 6. I think Carlos Condit was ranked No. 2. Based on merit and marketability, I’m ahead of Hector.
On Rory MacDonald: He lost to Robbie Lawler. He lost to Carlos Condit, who I just beat. He had the opportunity to fight for the world title against Georges St-Pierre and didn’t take it. I was prepared to fly out and meet with Robbie Lawler [had he won the title], have lunch with him and talk about it. I was prepared to fight not just my training partner, but my friend. I wanted to see him win the title. The willingness to honor my contract as a fighter in the fight business and be willing to fight a teammate under world title circumstances puts me in a better position than him.
On Nick Diaz: He’s never beat a wrestler. If he does get a title shot, I think Johny Hendricks will own him. He hasn’t won a fight since 2011. He had the opportunity to fight Carlos Condit, and thank God he didn’t because I got a chance to go in and do what he couldn’t do, which was beat Carlos Condit. He wants to sit back and watch the drama and then jump back in. This is not like a girl jumping double Dutch rope, step in when you feel like it. This is the fight business. You’re either in it or you’re not, and he’s been out of it.
In the final seconds of the break between the fourth and fifth rounds of his title fight against Georges St-Pierre in November, it looked like Johny Hendricks started singing to himself.
It was impossible to miss. His cornermen had been ushered away, St-Pierre stood across the cage and Hendricks, while pacing, began wiggling his head and mouthing words to himself with an almost sarcastic look on his face.
“Hendricks looks relaxed,” said UFC commentator Joe Rogan on the live broadcast. “Look at him. He’s bobbing his head back and forth. Looks like he’s singing to himself. What is he doing?”
Turns out, Hendricks (15-2), who faces Robbie Lawler for the welterweight title at UFC 171 this weekend in Dallas, was singing to himself -- but that wasn’t all. Imagine 100 little Johny Hendricks in his head telling him 100 different things at once.
"I was telling myself, 'You won it. You won it,'" Hendricks told ESPN.com. "'Do not get knocked out. Do not get submitted.' Those were the things I was telling myself.
"Then a song popped in my head and I said, 'Enjoy this moment. It’s the last round against someone many people say is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.'"
Did that mindset -- enjoy the moment, don’t get finished -- cost him the fight? Some said it did, as Hendricks surrendered two takedowns in the fifth and threw only 21 total punches, which made it by far his least active round.
All three judges awarded the final five minutes to St-Pierre.
Hendricks, however, said he would handle the final round exactly the same way if given a second chance. Things tend to get complicated by the fifth round of a UFC title fight against an all-time great. Hendricks believes he handled it as best he could.
“I still thought the fifth round was tough to score,” Hendricks said. “The reason I told myself not to get finished was when I stood up for the fifth round, my knee sort of buckled. I think he kicked a nerve when I checked one of his kicks earlier in the fight and that nerve spazzed out on me.
“I thought to myself, 'OK, if I throw a hard punch and my knee goes out on me, that won’t look great. How do I do this? How do I do that?' I was telling myself all these things in a short, brief period. 'How do I keep this fight on my side?'"
That doesn’t mean Hendricks took nothing away from his narrow loss to St-Pierre at UFC 167. He goes into that and more below.
“ESPN.com: Immediately after the loss to St-Pierre, you said, "This will never happen again." How much has that fight changed your approach moving forward?
I walk around at 220. I would be at 185 pounds right now if I weren't 5-foot-9.” -- Johny Hendricks, on the possibility of moving to middleweight
Hendricks: You don’t want to change [a lot]. What you want to do is prepare for something like that. I went in there saying, 'There’s no way this guy is beating me.' I sort of got away from what got me there. In this fight, I had to tell myself, 'There are ways Robbie can beat you. What are those ways? How do I beat them?'
ESPN.com: You think because you felt so in control during the fight you might not have realized the moments when it appeared he was scoring on you?
Hendricks: No. The first takedown he got I was like, "Son of a b----. You’ve got to be kidding me. The thing I told everybody wouldn’t happen, happened in the first 10 seconds. You’re an idiot." On the feet, the way that I parry and block stuff, I think it hurts me in that if you rewatch them, they don’t land but it looks like they do in real time. What judges are looking at, it’s hard to tell. Someone throws a punch, bam, did that hit? The way I move my head and parry, it didn’t touch me. But those are things I have to be more cautious of and say, 'OK, that might have looked like it landed, I have to throw something back.'
ESPN.com: That fight was a good example for anyone who wants to make a case for a half-point scoring system. The rounds you won were more decisive. Are you in favor of that system or is that not the answer?
Hendricks: Realistically, I don’t know. I have no clue. I’ve said it from the start that I would hate to be a judge. There are times I will watch a fight and say a guy clearly lost and then go back and rewatch it and still think he lost but say, well, what did they score? I don’t know how to do it. I’m glad I don’t have to do it.
ESPN.com: You mentioned in a recent interview the possibility of moving to 185 pounds. Is this something you’ve actually considered or was it just conversation?
Hendricks: It’s something I have considered. I walk around at 220. I would be at 185 pounds right now if I weren't 5-foot-9. The good Lord didn’t bless me with a lot of height. That’s the only reason I'm at 170. I’m getting older and I know the body and one day it’s going to be hard to get to 170. Everybody I’m facing has a 76-inch reach and is 6-foot anyway. The average at middleweight is 6-foot-1, 6-foot-2. I’m already fighting taller guys.
ESPN.com: You think fighting at 170 keeps you honest, though, in terms of forcing you to get in shape in addition to fighting smaller guys?
Hendricks: If I can make 185 feel like 178 [that’s the goal]. Let’s say two years from now, I’m 32, I’ve defended the belt four or five times and I want to move up? I’d put on six pounds of muscle. The way my body works, I could still walk around at the same weight, but just put on muscle weight.
Considering the three main players involved in the current saga between Georges St-Pierre and the UFC, it’s actually developed rather predictably.
At the middle of the dispute, you have St-Pierre and UFC president Dana White. Somewhere between them is UFC CEO and co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta.
St-Pierre, despite being one of the most dominant men in the history of professional fighting, is surprisingly nonconfrontational. White is the polar opposite. Fertitta, a levelheaded billionaire, is, again, somewhere in between.
In reality, this whole situation was born well before St-Pierre made his disparaging remarks on the UFC’s drug-testing policy on Tuesday. It probably started in 2009, when former St-Pierre opponent BJ Penn publicly accused him of using steroids.
Josh Koscheck lobbed a similar accusation St-Pierre’s way, before retracting it days later. And just last year, prior to fighting (and losing) to St-Pierre at UFC 158, Nick Diaz calmly stated to a Canadian radio station, “I believe he is on plenty of steroids.”
St-Pierre, who has won more title bouts than any fighter in UFC history, has never tested positive for a banned substance. If it is true he has never used a performance-enhancing drug -- and there is no concrete evidence that says he has -- it is perfectly understandable that approaching his 21st UFC appearance against Johny Hendricks in November, the champ was fed up with the false accusations.
This, presumably, is why St-Pierre advocated for additional drug testing, to be performed by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, ahead of the Hendricks fight. This reaction was very characteristic of St-Pierre. Rather than call a news conference and confront accusations with words, he attempted to do it with action.
Representatives for St-Pierre, 32, made it clear he wished to be tested specifically for human growth hormone (HGH), which state athletic commissions do not test for. That made sense, as HGH was the substance previous opponents linked to St-Pierre.
Here’s where things went downhill. Hendricks, who has never failed a test as a professional athlete or Division I collegiate wrestler, agreed to undergo the VADA program as well, but eventually backed out due to what he perceived to be an existing relationship between the Las Vegas-based nonprofit and St-Pierre.
A compromise was discussed in which both fighters would participate in an enhanced out-of-competition program, conducted by the Nevada State Athletic Commission and paid for by Zuffa, parent company of the UFC.
St-Pierre, most likely due to his fixture on the HGH topic, requested a list of what banned substances the NSAC would randomly test for. Naturally, the NSAC wouldn’t reveal those details. His representatives say he did so because he wanted to make sure it would clear his name regarding certain substances, which is believable.
Eventually, the NSAC lost patience with St-Pierre’s management asking questions it couldn’t answer and the compromise fell through. White, for his part, called the whole situation “stupid,” pointing out the NSAC runs its own tests anyway.
That comment likely burned St-Pierre. There was White, the most influential figure in the sport, minimalizing a matter that St-Pierre held very personal. Additionally, St-Pierre was dealing with significant personal stress, a fact he revealed afterward.
Then you have the fight. Hendricks gave St-Pierre perhaps the toughest 25 minutes of his career. St-Pierre looked battered and, simply put, like a man who needed a break from cage fighting. He won a split decision and announced he needed to step away.
This was followed by a self-described “meltdown” by White, who publicly blasted the judges’ decision and dismissed St-Pierre’s apparent “retirement.” By the end of the night, White promised a rematch within a normal time frame.
Fertitta, meanwhile, acknowledged he scored the fight for Hendricks but also correctly stated that based on the current scoring system, it was perfectly plausible to award the fight to St-Pierre.
St-Pierre officially vacated the belt the following month. Then Tuesday’s statements came along.
This is how we got here. What's important is what happens next.
If there is a major problem concerning PEDs in the UFC, and there are those who say there is, St-Pierre is an ideal spokesperson to address it.
As it stands now, St-Pierre could venture down that route or he could drop it. Both have consequences. A hard stance could compromise his option of returning to the UFC should he desire to compete again, which I believe is likely.
Dropping it or [even worse] saying his comments were the dreaded, “taken out of context,” would diminish his future credibility on the issue.
If this turns out to be nothing more than St-Pierre wanting an apology from the typically remorseless White on how he was treated in his last fight, it’s a lot of smoke with no fire.
Judging by the face value of his comments, though, it’s potentially more than that. The next chapter in this saga could be an interesting one.
In 2013, the UFC crowned two new champions at 185 and 155 pounds. It also lost its 170-pound champion, Georges St-Pierre, to semiretirement.
In 2014, we’ll see at least two new UFC champions in the record books. Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler will contend for the vacated welterweight title, and a female strawweight champion will emerge from "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series.
Which fighters are destined to be champions come the end of 2014? I’ll tell you.
Heavyweight: Cain Velasquez
Velasquez is shelved for the foreseeable future, following surgery on a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The heavyweight champ is so tough he was actually practicing with the injury before undergoing surgery, according to teammate Daniel Cormier.
It looks as if Velasquez will face the winner of a fight between Fabricio Werdum and Travis Browne -- and if I had to guess, that will be the only time Velasquez fights in 2014. Maybe he mows through one of those guys and gets booked again immediately, which is entirely possible, but I would lean to just one Velasquez fight in the next 12 months.
Prediction: Browne knocks out Werdum in early spring, only to be a hungry Velasquez’s first meal upon his return.
Light heavyweight: Jon Jones
With the heavyweight belt tied up due to injury and no Anderson Silva superfight on the books, there’s nowhere else Jones needs to be than 205 pounds. This works twofold. With no Silva and no St-Pierre, Jones needs to go out and be the UFC’s breadwinner in 2014. Expect him to stay busy.
Relying on predetermined outcomes of fights is never a good idea in this sport, and I feel that’s a huge transgression in this division right now. Jones versus Glover Teixeira. Alexander Gustafsson versus Jimi Manuwa. Daniel Cormier versus Rashad Evans. Those fights aren’t over yet -- and don’t jump to assumptions on matchups before they are.
Prediction: Jones fights three times in 2014. He beats Teixeira and then Gustafsson more convincingly than the first meeting. Then he wins one more fight … but I’m not entirely convinced it’s against Cormier, who could lose before that.
Middleweight: Ronaldo Souza
The middleweight and welterweight divisions are about to have a really fun year. With Silva gone (for the foreseeable future, at least), the middleweight division looks entirely different.
The Spider’s buddies, Ronaldo Souza and Lyoto Machida, have nothing to prevent them from gunning for the title now. An old friend, Chael Sonnen, suddenly has a path back to a title shot. The bull's-eye on Weidman’s back is about as big as there is right now in all of mixed martial arts.
Prediction: Weidman-Belfort in Brazil. Does Weidman win that? Oh man … yes. He does. On the same night, Sonnen outpoints Wanderlei Silva and calls out Machida. But it’s Souza who earns a title bid with big wins in early 2014 and then takes the title late in the year.
Welterweight: Johny Hendricks
On the way to St-Pierre, it seems that Hendricks beat every welterweight in the division, but if he wins the belt he’ll have plenty of challengers. It starts with Robbie Lawler in March, who just might be the most terrifying man in the UFC right now. This guy was born to hurt people.
You think we hear a peep from St-Pierre in 2014? Gut reaction says no, right? He wanted time off, so he’ll take his time off. On the other hand, when you are as competitive as St-Pierre is, one month away from the cage might feel like three or four. Carlos Condit just pulled about the worst opponent he could in Tyron Woodley, a guy ranked outside the Top 10 but extremely dangerous.
Prediction: Hendricks wins the vacated belt in March, and then beats the winner of Condit-Woodley. Then Hendricks defends the title again … in a fight the UFC books in Montreal, sending front-row tickets to St-Pierre’s address every day leading up to it.
Lightweight: Jose Aldo
Anthony Pettis just needs to stay healthy. The 26-year-old Milwaukee product has been so good when healthy -- which, unfortunately, hasn’t been very often. He hopes to return to the cage by July.
In the meantime, I think Aldo’s days as the 145-champion come to an end. He is a potential star for the UFC and “two-division champion” is a title that would help his drawing power. He will get an immediate shot when he moves up. He and the UFC will argue about his vacating the featherweight belt -- and that’s finally a fight Aldo will actually lose.
Prediction: Aldo defends his featherweight title over Ricardo Lamas in February and then hangs out until Pettis is healthy, narrowly beating him in a Fight of the Year candidate in August, before going on to one title defense late in the year.
Featherweight: Chad Mendes
Aldo moving up to 155 pounds just looks like a no-brainer to me. He has wanted to do so for a long time and the UFC likely wants it to happen, too. It will look as if he’s leaving the keys to the car in the hands of Chad Mendes.
A potential wrinkle in that script is Frankie Edgar. Edgar has to feel good heading into a third meeting with BJ Penn, who hasn’t fought since December 2012. Penn is a warrior and a legend, but Edgar is a tough style matchup, especially at 145.
Prediction: Mendes continues his reign of terror and earns a shot at the vacated 145-pound title against Edgar, who defeats Penn for a third time. It’s a good fight, but Mendes takes a decision and the belt.
Bantamweight: Renan Barao
It’s still officially Dominick Cruz’s division heading into 2014, but maybe only in writing. Barao is the UFC bantamweight to beat this year, and there are really only two 135-pounders up to the task -- Cruz and Urijah Faber.
The circumstances surrounding Cruz’s return -- he’s been on the shelf since October 2011 -- make him a near-impossible pick in his first fight back to beat Barao, but this is Cruz we’re talking about. His work ethic borders on obsessive. If Barao gets by Cruz, he goes immediately to a rematch against Faber, who looks like a pound-for-pound candidate again at 34.
Prediction: Unless Demetrious Johnson gets a little crazy and moves up in weight, this division is a three-horse race. Any one of them could finish 2014 as champion and it wouldn’t be a surprise.
Flyweight: Demetrious Johnson
Unlike Aldo, there isn’t much sense in Johnson moving up in weight in 2014. He can if he wants to, and I don’t think the UFC would forbid it, but he is a natural flyweight. He fought at bantamweight prior to the UFC's adding the 125-pound division and that was only two years ago. Why rush back to 135 pounds?
It makes more sense for him to chase title-defense records than the bantamweight champion. At 27, Johnson is improving between each performance -- noticeably. He may run into a couple opponents multiple times, but there are enough flyweights to keep him busy at least through 2014.
Prediction: Nobody in this division is beating Johnson right now. Nobody. You might read stories about a potential move to 135 pounds, but come December, Johnson will still be a flyweight and he’ll be up to at least six title defenses.
Female bantamweight: Ronda Rousey
Forget defending the arm bar, how about a Rousey opponent defending a takedown first? Occasionally lost in the shuffle of Rousey’s eight consecutive arm bars is her setup -- her takedowns. There might not be anyone in that division who can match her on the floor, so the conversation turns to: Can any of them stop her takedown?
Sara McMann is an interesting opponent, but how comfortable will she be on her back? McMann might be able to neutralize some of what Rousey does, but not all of it. Same with Cat Zingano, although Zingano has the finishing ability to catch Rousey with something, which might be the only way to beat her.
Prediction: Rousey dives headfirst into defending her title -- and makes it look pretty easy. She defends the belt at least three times, finishing at least two more opponents in the first round.
Female strawweight: Carla Esparza
You might think that in an atmosphere as unique as TUF, the best fighter on the show wouldn’t always emerge the winner. There are too many variables, right? The mental strain from being away from one’s family, not having normal cornermen, fighting several times within a short time span, etc.
Surprisingly, though, the best fighter of the group typically does go all the way. You look at previous seasons and, for the most part, the TUF champion has outperformed the vast majority of the average TUF contestants. Keeping that in mind, Esparza has been the best of this group heading into the show.
Prediction: Esparza enters the TUF season a favorite to win and does just that.
Maynard (11-2-1), who fights Nate Diaz this weekend at The Ultimate Fighter Finale inside Mandalay Bay Events Center, came as close as one can get to winning a UFC title when he fought then-champion Frankie Edgar to a draw in January 2011.
Judges selected by the Nevada State Athletic Commission that night scored the bout 48-46 for Edgar, 48-46 for Maynard and a 47-47 draw. Edgar retained the belt and went on to defeat Maynard in a rematch nine months later.
Even before the draw with Edgar, Maynard said he has believed mixed martial arts needs to alter the way it scores fights -- and a half-point system would do that.
"If they did half-points, it would be better for the sport," Maynard told ESPN.com. "It's always 10-9, 10-9, 10-9. There's no way to add in that 'this guy did more in that last round.' The half-points would help choose who won the fight."
In the first round of that 2011 title bout, Maynard appeared to be on the verge of a finish when he knocked Edgar down multiple times with punches.
All three judges gave Maynard a 10-8 score in the first round. Some argued that if that dominant of a round was 10-8, then a 10-7 round doesn't really exist.
Edgar went on to recover, somewhat miraculously, between the first and second rounds. On one judge's card he won each of the next four rounds, thus the fight. Those rounds Edgar won were much closer than the one-sided first.
Under a half-point system, it's possible that one or two close rounds scored for Edgar would have rendered 10-9.5 scores, therefore altering the final result.
A similar situation occurred earlier this month in Las Vegas during a welterweight title fight between Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks at UFC 167. St-Pierre retained his title via split decision.
In Maynard's opinion, the scoring of these types of fights isn't ruining the sport (a concern voiced by UFC president Dana White at UFC 167), but it demonstrates athletic commissions' unwillingness to evolve with the sport.
"The scoring system isn't ruining the sport, but it's not helping it grow," Maynard said. "There has been a lot of talk about judging, and you have to take that into account and evolve. The sport changes every year, every month, every day. That change has to happen with the scoring as well."
Several athletic commissions have tested the half-point system through trial runs, although a committee ultimately advised the Association of Boxing Commissions against its use in 2012. The system has its fair share of detractors, including White.
Obviously, Maynard has history to consider when it comes to his stance. The 34-year-old lightweight, whose fight with Diaz on Saturday could very well go to a close decision as it did in 2010, said if commissions don't change the scoring system, they should at least clarify more what they're scoring in a fight.
"It's just kind of hard to tell what they want," Maynard said. "There are a couple that look at the points, that look at damage as points. Some don't look at the ground game at all.
"I don't know. That's the question. What do they want, what do they look at, how will they score it?"
ESPN Stats & Information
At UFC 167, many felt that Johny Hendricks did enough damage against Georges St-Pierre to become the new UFC welterweight champion. On Glenn Trowbridge’s scorecard, Hendricks did just that. The other two judges (Sal D’Amato and Tony Weeks) saw the first round for the champion, giving him the 48-47 decision and the victory for St-Pierre’s UFC record-breaking 19th win inside the Octagon.
While the decision can be argued for both fighters, it marks just another recent example of champions barely leaving the Octagon with their titles.
UFC 165 - Jon Jones defeats Alexander Gustafsson (48-47, 48-47, 49-46)
In September of this year, Jon Jones made the sixth defense of his UFC light heavyweight title against his toughest challenger to date, Alexander Gustafsson. While Jones outstruck the challenger 28-19 in significant strikes in the opening round, Gustafsson scored a takedown while Jones was stuffed on all three of his attempts.
Gustafsson won Round 1 on all three scorecards. Rounds 2 and 3 are where things got tricky with the judging. Neither man gained a takedown (Jones 0-for-3, Gustafsson 0-for-2), but Jones held the striking advantage in Round 2 26-15 and Round 3 29-26.
Jones won four of the six cards in those two rounds. Round 4 was again close in significant strikes (27-26 Jones), but the champion did more damage, winning all three scorecards.
Round 5 was again close, with the significant strikes even at 24 for both fighters and Jones landing a takedown while stuffing all four Gustafsson attempts.
When the final scorecards were read, Jones was ahead on all cards, earning the unanimous decision.
UFC on FOX 7 – Benson Henderson defeats Gilbert Melendez (48-47, 47-48, 48-47)
Benson Henderson made the third defense of his UFC lightweight title in April 2013, defeating former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez.
Round 1 went to the challenger despite landing fewer significant strikes 9-7. Melendez did land his only takedown of the fight and landed the better strikes in the eyes of the judges.
Round 2 was again close, with the champion holding a 15-13 significant strikes advantage. Both fighters landed hard shots in the cage, but Henderson won the round on two of the three judges’ scorecards. Henderson responded with his best round of the fight, landing 15 of 29 significant strikes (52 percent) and landed two leg kicks during the round that knocked Melendez off balance.
Rounds 4 and 5 were virtually even on the cards despite Henderson outlanding Melendez 29-16 in significant strikes. Henderson landed 12 leg kicks to help him win Round 4 on two of the three cards.
In the final round, Melendez won two of three cards despite landing only 15 percent of his significant strikes. Melendez won the fight 48-47 according to the first card, but Henderson won 48-47 on the other two cards, retaining his title.
UFC 125 – Frankie Edgar draws with Gray Maynard (48-46, 46-48, 47-47)
Frankie Edgar held onto his UFC lightweight title after a very tough fight with the only man to beat him, Gray Maynard, to start the fight calendar in 2011.
The first round of the 2011 Fight of the Year was its most memorable, with Maynard knocking the champ down three times and furiously landing punches to the head. Maynard would win the round 10-8 on all cards, outstriking Edgar 47-10, with 25 of those deemed significant.
Edgar would rebound in Round 2, outstriking a hesitant Maynard 21-6 to win the round as well as landing the slam that you see in the UFC PPV entrance video today.
Round 3 was the closest round of the fight, with Edgar holding a 21-17 significant strike advantage, but Maynard landed two takedowns.
Round 4 went to Edgar across the board as he landed 52 percent of his significant strikes, the highest in any round. Edgar also landed two takedowns.
With the fight on the line, Round 5 was a 20-16 advantage to Edgar with neither man gaining a takedown (Edgar 0-for-3, Maynard 0-for-7).
Maynard would win on two of three judges’ scorecards to close out the fight. The first announced card of Glenn Trowbridge (only one to pick Hendricks) was 48-46 Maynard, while Edgar won a card 48-46 and the final judge scored the bout 47-47 for a split decision draw.
UFC 104 – Lyoto Machida defeats Mauricio Rua (48-47, 48-47, 48-47)
In October 2009, Lyoto Machida made the first and only defense of his UFC light heavyweight title against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Rua came out the gates with his best statistical round, landing 70 percent of his significant strikes (19 of 27).
Machida landed nine significant strikes and stopped Rua’s lone takedown attempt, winning the round on two of three judges’ scorecards. Machida unanimously won Rounds 2 and 3 on the scorecards, but was outstruck 40-16 in significant strikes. Machida did stop each of Rua’s takedown attempts in the rounds and quality kicks the body and legs to win each of the rounds.
The fourth round was a 10-1 striking advantage to Shogun, and he won on two of the three cards. Round 5 was unanimous to the challenger, who mixed in 11 significant strikes to the head and legs while the champion Machida landed six.
In total, Rua outlanded Machida 80-38, with a 49-4 advantage in strikes to the legs. Machida did his damage with punches and kicks to the body, holding a 24-16 advantage. When the scorecards were read, Lyoto Machida won all three cards with identical 48-47 scores to retain his UFC light heavyweight title.
In the UFC’s 20-year history, only one champion has ever lost his title by way of split decision (Kevin Randleman to Bas Rutten at UFC 20). Whether it’s intended to be or not, the words of the famous wrestler Ric Flair come to mind: “To be the man, you have to beat the man.” In the world of the UFC, most of us are still wondering if there’s an exact definition to what that means.
Hendricks will need confidence, patience, discipline, intelligence, offensive and defensive grappling, stamina, feints, level changes, head movement, footwork and, maybe, some luck for good measure. A little luck never hurt anybody in a UFC title fight.
That left hand, though -- the reason you hear so much about it is because even though Hendricks (15-1) must take every tool he has into the Octagon against St-Pierre, at any moment that one left hand might be all it takes.
What is it about that left hand that makes it so dangerous and gives us reason to believe Hendricks could become just the third man to ever defeat St-Pierre (24-2), and first since 2007?
ESPN.com asked that question of Hendricks, as well as St-Pierre and five previous Hendricks opponents with firsthand knowledge of that stinging left.
Hendricks: "Realistically, [the power] comes from my legs and my butt. I walk around at 225. I have big legs and a big butt. That's where all the power comes from. And, you know, wrestling -- always being in that stance and ready to explode."
Handling Hendricks' power
T.J. Grant (lost to Hendricks via majority decision at UFC 113 in May 2010): "The thing is, he doesn't have to try to throw for power -- he just has it. He has always got his legs involved in every punch, too. That's when you murder guys, when you have your feet and hips involved in every punch. That's why Johny has so much power is all his life in wrestling. When he throws that big Popeye forearm at your head, you're going to go down."
St-Pierre: "His left is his signature move but he works on many things. He's a very complete fighter. He's probably one of the best in the division in knockout power and the reason why is he's so good you don't see it coming. The way he throws it, I believe you don't see it coming."
Martin Kampmann (lost to Hendricks via knockout at UFC 154 in November 2012): "I think the problem was I was preparing too much for the left hook and then he came straight with one. The one he got [Jon] Fitch with, he was throwing it wide, wide. With me, he came straight down the middle."
Rick Story (defeated Hendricks via unanimous decision at TUF 12 Finale in December 2010): "During the fight, when he was punching me, I thought, 'Eh, this is nothing I haven't felt before.' He's placing them. His punching power isn't seriously superior. To be able to place them you have to throw them and some people hesitate. He has got confidence in it now so he's throwing a lot more."
Josh Koscheck (lost to Hendricks via split decision at UFC on Fox in May 2012): "For me, it was no big deal. I like fighting southpaws. I prefer it. They are better for my style. When he throws the left, I throw the right. I think he has definitely got power in his hands because he has knocked out a lot of guys and the ones he hasn't have felt it because they've been knocked down, but for me it was no big deal."
Mike Pierce (lost to Hendricks via split decision at UFC 133 in August 2011): "It wasn't his straight left hand that caught me off guard. His left uppercut is kind of funky and then his coach [Marc Laimon] yelling, 'Cheeseburger, cheeseburger!' code names for combinations. He hits pretty hard but not the hardest. I got thumped pretty hard by Aaron Simpson, that was probably the hardest I've ever been hit."
Koscheck: "The game plan for Johny was to mix it up on the feet. You can hear [trainer] Bob Cook in the corner, it's crazy, he's always saying, 'Get off first! Be first!' That was pretty much our game plan -- get off first, get on him. With Hendricks, it's much easier to get off first and then get away from the big left hand."
Grant: "He has got timing. He puts his whole body behind his punches. He is accurate but a lot of times he also level changes with his head and hips and that kind of brings the guys' hands down. He 100 percent commits. He's a confident fighter. When you're confident, you don't hesitate and those milliseconds of hesitation are the difference between knocking a guy out or taking him down."
Story: "What's important for Georges is to stay out of Johny's range. What's important for Johny is to get into Georges' range. He's going to have to mix it up and get pretty creative. Georges has been doing this a long time."
Hendricks: "Whenever you're wrestling in college, you've got to do all these setups and your reaction from [outside of an opponent to inside] has to penetrate through all these distractions and get to the legs very quickly and explosively. That's what has really helped me out [in fighting]. They try to keep me at bay because I'm so short, but I use that explosiveness to close the distance."
Kampmann: "If Johny catches him on the button he'll hurt him, but St-Pierre is going to fight him smart. He's going to try to jab him from the outside the whole fight. Johny is good at closing the distance but he's going to get jabbed the whole fight. If Johny commits hard, that's how I think St-Pierre will take him down. Even though Johny is the better wrestler, I think St-Pierre can still take him down. That's how I think St-Pierre is going to fight him, but sometimes s--- don't go to plan."
Koscheck: "Johny Hendricks is a tough young fighter and I wish him the best but I think St-Pierre will outpoint him. Georges is smart. He's a game planner. He'll jab, use his wrestling at times, keep Johny at a distance and get off first. Georges is a lot faster than Johny. He'll end up winning a decision."
Pierce: "I'm definitely going for Johny Hendricks. I want to see him knock Georges St-Pierre out. In his past several fights Johny has really excelled at catching guys. St-Pierre has shown in the past he doesn't have the best chin in the world. We all saw him fall to Matt Serra and I think Hendricks has all the capabilities to do the same sort of thing and even more so."
Grant: "You can never count Georges out of any fight, but I think this is probably the most dangerous fighter he has fought just because Johny has that great wrestling pedigree. Unlike Koscheck, I feel like he's really good at making the knockout happen, whereas Koscheck wings a lot of right hands and if it doesn't land, he doesn't always have the second and third option -- I think Johny does. I give the advantage to Johny, personally."
Hendricks: "Whenever you get a guy that walks in at 190 to 195 pounds -- that's usually what I walk into the Octagon at -- and you get that moving pretty quick, he can throw a 50 percent punch and lay somebody out. It's about accuracy. You touch that jawline and anybody is going night-night."
If that sounds unpleasant, it's probably because it most likely is. The best thing Story could think of when it comes to staying in a hotel for that long?
"It's kind of nice," he mumbled unconvincingly. "All the accommodations are here as far as toilet paper and shampoo -- and stuff."
Got it. And at the top of the many general reasons one might want to avoid this situation, Story doesn't speak French. Meaning, a large fraction of the French Canadian television channels available in his room are completely worthless to him.
"I've been killing time watching Netflix," Story said. "I've been watching a lot of Netflix."
Pause. "A lot of Netflix."
In addition to streaming online movies, Story spent his time in Montreal developing his craft at Tristar Gym alongside UFC champion Georges St-Pierre. It's the first time Story (15-7), who meets Brian Ebersole at UFC 167 on Saturday in Las Vegas, has held a fight camp outside his home state of Washington.
The idea of Story temporarily joining the Tristar team was first broached in March, in a locker room the two fighters shared at UFC 158 at Bell Centre.
St-Pierre was headlining the card in a welterweight title fight against Nick Diaz. In the co-main event, Johny Hendricks was set to take on Carlos Condit. Everyone in the building knew if St-Pierre and Hendricks won, they'd fight each other next.
And as fate would have it, there was Story -- the only man with a win over Hendricks -- scheduled to fight Quinn Mulhern on the preliminary card, sharing a locker room with the Canadian champ.
"[Tristar coach] Firas Zahabi was very persistent in getting us to come," Story said. "Pat White is my coach and he and Pat talked that night in Montreal.
"Originally, we thought it would be better if Johny beat Georges, because I'm the only one to ever beat him so it would make it easier to get a title shot sooner. Firas was so persistent, though. He kept emailing Pat, calling Pat, calling the gym."
Eventually, the deal Tristar offered was too good to pass up. In addition to the benefit of high-level sparring partners including St-Pierre, Zahabi worked a deal that covered the cost of Story's entire eight-week stay.
"I don't know exactly how the deal was worked out, but we had our hotel paid," Story said. "Pat and I have separate rooms, he's been here with me the whole time. Our food is paid for. It was like, a great deal."
As much as St-Pierre obviously wanted Story in his camp, the timing of this experience probably couldn't be better for Story as well.
That signature win over Hendricks in December 2010 is a fairly distant memory. A six-fight winning streak had him cracking top-10 lists in early 2011, but Story has endured a 2-4 skid in his past six fights. He suffered a split-decision loss to Mike Pyle in his previous performance at UFC 160 in May.
Physically, Story says, he has been fine during this stretch. It's been a mental issue. Every fighter handles a loss differently. In Story's case, for whatever reason, it was difficult to get going again once the winning streak was broken.
"I don't want this to sound the wrong way, but you walk the walk for a long time, you get knocked off course and then it's kind of hard to get back on the horse," Story said.
"I lost to [Charlie] Brenneman and then there were some fights that I wasn't completely focused on. I wasn't doing the things I needed to be doing to go into the fight with confidence. It was really cool being able to come here and do that for this training camp, with no distractions. My confidence is through the roof right now."
Confidence, a few new techniques, and all of the free travel-size shampoo bottles he can handle -- maybe Montreal wasn't so bad to Story after all.
ESPN Stats & Information
St-Pierre will face No. 1 contender Johny Hendricks, who seeks to join Matt Hughes and Matt Serra as the only men to defeat GSP.
Here are the numbers you need to know for the fight:
18: St-Pierre has won 18 of his 20 UFC bouts and if he defeats Hendricks, GSP will break a tie with UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes for most wins in the UFC.
11: St-Pierre is currently riding an 11-fight win streak, suffering his last loss at UFC 69 in April 2007 to Serra. Eight of those victories have come by unanimous decision, including St-Pierre’s past six wins. Hendricks is on a six-fight win streak, suffering his last loss at “The Ultimate Fighter 12” finale in December 2010 to Rick Story.
5: Hendricks has five UFC victories by KO/TKO in 11 fights, tied for fourth most in UFC welterweight history. Before making his UFC debut, Hendricks had three KO/TKO wins in five fights. St-Pierre also has five UFC wins by KO/TKO, but none since UFC 94 in January 2009 against BJ Penn.
75: St-Pierre has landed 75 percent of his takedowns in the UFC, highest all time. Hendricks has been taken down seven times in his UFC career in 23 attempts (70 percent defense).
12: Hendricks landed 12 takedowns in 15 attempts against Carlos Condit in his last fight at UFC 158. "Bigg Rigg" lands an average of 5.5 takedowns per 15 minutes. St-Pierre has an 88 percent takedown defense, ranking first in the welterweight division and seventh all time.
40: If the fight lasts more than 40 seconds, St-Pierre (5 hours, 3 minutes, 12 seconds) will have more total fight time in the UFC than any other fighter, passing Penn (5 hours, 3 minutes, 51 seconds).
3: Since the start of 2011, Hendricks has won three knockouts of the night bonuses, second most in the UFC with Travis Browne. Hendricks also has a fight of the night bonus for his fight with Condit. St-Pierre has just one knockout of the night bonus for his victory over Hughes at UFC 65.
3: Hendricks will be only the third southpaw St-Pierre has faced in 20 UFC fights. At UFC 54 in 2005, St. Pierre faced Frank Trigg and defeated him by rear-naked choke in the first round. In his last fight at UFC 158, St-Pierre dominated Nick Diaz for five rounds en route to a unanimous decision.
10: UFC wins for St-Pierre in Las Vegas (10-0), but he hasn’t fought there since UFC 100 in July 2009. The past five wins for GSP have been outside of Las Vegas (four in Canada, one in New Jersey). Hendricks has a 1-1 UFC record in Las Vegas.
Statistical support from FightMetric
Apparently, wins (Pierce has nine in the UFC) haven’t caught Silva’s attention. Neither have finishes (two in his last three fights). It’s time to try beer.
“Maybe I need to get a big pitcher of beer for Joe and sit down and hash this out,” Pierce told ESPN.com. “No, it’s just one of those things where I have to keep doing what I’m doing until they can’t ignore me anymore.”
Pierce (17-5), who faces Rousimar Palhares at UFC Fight Night 29 next week in Sao Paulo, Brail, wants a fight that matters. The kind of fight that breaks you into the Top 10.
He holds a lifetime UFC record of 9-3. All three losses were by close decision to highly ranked opponents. The split decision loss to Josh Koscheck in February 2012? Pierce says he “clearly” won that.
Following his last victory, a TKO finish over David Mitchell in the second round at UFC 162 in Las Vegas, a photo was taken of Pierce smiling toward Silva, with his hands at his sides turned upward, like -- Hey Joe, can I get a big fight now?
What he got was Palhares (14-5), who is on a 2-fight losing streak and dropping to welterweight for the first time. Pierce, meanwhile, has won four in a row.
How does Pierce, 33, feel about this matchup leading into the fight? ESPN.com asked him, among other things.
ESPN: What was your first reaction to hearing you were fighting Palhares?
Pierce: I thought it was kind of funny because if you look back on my career, there have been a lot of guys the UFC has thrown at me where it was their last chance at doing something. If they didn’t do something, they either got released or would drop a weight class or something. It’s kind of like another one of those situations. He’s lost twice in a row and is dropping to 170. I’ve dealt with guys before who have dropped from 185 and it didn’t go their way.
ESPN: Why do you think the UFC likes to book you against that type of opponent?
Pierce: Man, your guess is as good as mine. I’ve done some things in the sport. I’ve beat some tough guys and I’ve had real close calls with some guys that are fighting for the title real soon. It does blow my mind as to why. I can’t quite answer or fully understand it.
ESPN: That kind of matchmaking starting to bother you?
Pierce: Of course, I’m p---ed off. I want to start getting those main card fights against notable guys. Palhares has fought some tough guys. He’s got a little bit of credence to his name but I want to start working my up. This guy is coming off two losses and I’m on a 4-fight win streak. Typically, they don’t match up guys like that.
ESPN: Have you complained to the UFC about it?
Pierce: I haven’t had too much interaction with Joe Silva. I’ve had brief words with him. He’s not a huge fan of most people who smash guys up against the fence and grind on them, hit them on the side, that sort of stuff -- which, I get. That’s not exciting. He’s like, “I don’t care if it’s a submission, a TKO or a knockout. Look for finishes.” I get that, but it’s hard to do that sometimes when a guy is fresh or you have two skilled fighters. It’s hard to catch them sleeping. And I have had two good finishes in my last three fights.
ESPN: What are your thoughts on Palhares’ style? He has a history of going real deep on submission attempts in the Octagon.
Pierce: Well yeah, there was that one clear, obvious one where he held it when the referee told him to let go and he got fined by a commission (UFC 111). Then recently, he tested positive for elevated testosterone levels (UFC on FX 6), so this guy is definitely a cheat. There’s no surprise. He’ll do anything to win because he’s either desperate or an (a------). I’m not too concerned about that. I come in expecting he’s going to be mean, try to be a bully, try to cheat -- I have to deal with it.
ESPN: The tag “underrated” has started to follow you. You agree with it?
Pierce: Whenever the media does mention me it’s always as, “the most underrated welterweight.” I thoroughly agree with that. I think for whatever reason, people overlook me, but I don’t think the fighters do. I think the fighters in the welterweight division think, ‘That’s not really a guy I want to fight.’
ESPN: You’ve had close losses to Johny Hendricks and Koscheck. You ever think about those? Like, if one judge had seen it different, your entire career changes?
Pierce: I only think about them when guys interview me and bring it up. No, I think about it from time to time. Had things gone my way, of course things would be a little different but that’s how it goes when you have judges who don’t see what everybody else sees. Especially with the Koscheck fight -- I clearly won that fight. I won it on paper. I won it visually to everybody watching except for the judges it seems like. At the end of the day, those three judges get to make that decision and they didn’t do a good job that night I believe -- but you’ve got to look forward.
There are only two welterweights who can claim to be better than Carlos Condit and neither is named Martin Kampmann. Condit not only exacted revenge Wednesday night at Bankers Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, he dominated Kampmann en route to a fourth-round knockout win.
The victory avenged a split-decision setback Condit suffered to Kampmann in April 2009. Their first fight was closely contested; not so the second time around.
Condit punched Kampmann in the face repeatedly throughout the bout, eventually leaving it bloody and puffy; he connected with kicks to the body, which slowed Kampmann’s attack and evaporated his confidence.
The performance was impressive, but more important it strengthened Condit’s case to get the winner of Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks -- those two are set to meet Nov. 16 at UFC 167 in Las Vegas. Normally it would be unthinkable to suggest that a fighter who lost his two previous bouts to the men slated to compete for the belt deserves to be next in line for the title shot.
Both ESPN.com and UFC.com, however, rate Condit the No. 2 welterweight contender behind Hendricks. Even UFC president Dana White can’t take issue with those rankings.
“It was an absolutely great fight. Carlos Condit just proved why he is the No. 2 [welterweight contender] in the world,” White said after Condit improved to 29-7.
Who deserves the St-Pierre-Hendricks winner more? The guy with the strongest counter is Rory MacDonald. But it’s not clear that MacDonald will step in against friend and teammate St-Pierre, if he is still champion after 167.
Besides, MacDonald needs to prove he has surpassed Condit before his case of being next in line to get a title shot is taken seriously. Condit has a victory over MacDonald -- a third-round knockout in June 2010.
MacDonald can claim that he is a vastly improved fighter since the loss to Condit -- there is no doubting that argument. But he should have to prove it, just as Condit did Wednesday night against Kampmann.
The only way MacDonald moves ahead of Condit in the title-shot pecking order is to prove it. Exact revenge on Condit and the debate ends. Until then, it should be all about Condit. Other than coming up short against St-Pierre and Hendricks, Condit did nothing to diminish his reputation as a top-rated welterweight.
“There are a lot of intriguing matches in the division, but of course, I’d like to get that title shot, possibly Johny Hendricks or Georges St-Pierre, whoever wins,” Condit said. “But there are other fights out here that are interesting also. We will see what happens.”
It sounds as though Condit wouldn’t mind further cementing his position as the No. 2 welterweight contender with a win over MacDonald. That fight, however, only makes sense if MacDonald is successful against Robbie Lawler at UFC 176.
As for Kampmann, he has some soul-searching to do. The loss was his second in a row -- to Condit and Hendricks. Losing to those guys doesn’t place Kampmann (20-7) in the steppingstone category. But the manner in which he went down, getting knocked out in each of those setbacks, will make it difficult for Kampmann to get a sniff at a title shot anytime soon.
Kampmann is now forced to play the waiting game. He entered Wednesday’s rematch ranked seventh by ESPN.com among 170-pound fighters, and sixth by UFC.com. Kampmann must now keep a close eye on where he falls when those polls are next released. Expect him to remain in the top 10 -- but barely.