MMA: Johny Hendricks
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.
“Sixteen,” Kampmann interrupts. “Sixteen fights.”
If Kampmann and Michael Bisping ever go out for beers, it’s easy to picture them hugging it out at least once over one brutal similarity. These two have fought consistently well for years in the Octagon but have yet to fight for the title.
How many times has Kampmann pictured a fight against reigning welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre? He can’t give an exact number. But bring it up and he stares at the ground like a kid describing what he’s wanted for the past five Christmases -- and is still waiting.
“I’d love to fight GSP. I’d ... “ He breaks sentence and shakes his head. “I know it wouldn’t be an easy fight, but I feel I could beat him. I’d love to get the chance to fight him -- very much.”
Despite a first-round knockout loss to Johny Hendricks in his last bout, Kampmann (20-6) feels that fight is within his grasp.
To an extent, the UFC must agree. It booked Kampmann to a main event fight against highly ranked Carlos Condit on Wednesday, at UFC Fight Night 27 in Indianapolis.
“I think a loss always sets you back, but I think I’m still one of the guys at the top,” Kampmann told ESPN.com. “I was calling out [Nick] Diaz and Condit. I want to fight those guys coming off losses who are still ranked real high.”
It’s not as though Kampmann gives off a sense of desperation to get to the title, but the veteran understands he’s not an up-and-coming prospect anymore.
Whereas he used to consistently travel to different gyms for different looks when living in Denmark -- including Sweden, Brazil and Thailand -- these days he remains relatively grounded thanks to his wife and two sons.
While younger fighters typically return to the gym quickly following a tough loss or a rough sparring session, Kampmann has been cognizant of the need to let his body heal in between fights.
Even though he’s still confident in his chin, Kampmann knows he’s now suffered four knockout losses in his career.
“Of course I’m worried [about that],” Kampmann said. “It’s not going to make me any smarter getting punched in the head, but that’s the sport. That’s the risk. I think after the [Jake] Ellenberger fight I took a long break. It’s definitely something I’ve gotten more aware of in my career.
“I feel I have a good chin. I’ve had a good chin my whole career. If you get rocked too many times, though, and don’t respect it, I think that’s the problem.”
This week’s bout against Condit (28-7) is a rematch of a bout that took place in April 2009 that resulted in a split decision victory for Kampmann.
Kampmann doesn’t have a long history of fighting opponents multiple times. It’s happened once, against British welterweight Matt Ewin. It went well for him.
“In the first fight, I got on top, elbowed him, and I think I broke his orbital bone,” Kampmann said. “He didn’t come out in the second round. The second fight, he shot in, I sprawled and started elbowing him again, and he tapped out.”
If Kampmann can be as successful in the second rematch of his career, he’ll be once again in striking distance of that Christmas he’s spent seven years working toward.
LAS VEGAS -- UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre has echoed recent comments made by his teammate Rory MacDonald that the two will never fight.
Speaking to reporters at the MGM Grand Hotel on Monday, St-Pierre shrugged off questions regarding a future fight between them as nothing more than media nonsense.
“You guys want a story,” St-Pierre said. “Make conflict happen with me and Rory. It’s not going to happen. Rory and I are tight. We’re friends.”
St-Pierre (24-2) and MacDonald (15-1) are longtime training partners at Tristar Gym in Montreal.
St-Pierre is scheduled to defend his title for the ninth time against Johny Hendricks (15-1) at UFC 167 in November. MacDonald, meanwhile, is coming off a heavily criticized decision win over Jake Ellenberger at a UFC on Fox event on Saturday.
Last week, MacDonald plainly stated to media he and St-Pierre had no intention to fight each other. MacDonald has climbed to No. 3 in the UFC’s division rankings.
UFC president Dana White responded that he didn’t believe MacDonald’s comments. St-Pierre was there to back him up on Monday.
You guys want a story. Make conflict happen with me and Rory. It's not going to happen. Rory and I are tight. We're friends.” -- Georges St-Pierre, on why he won't fight friend and fellow contender Rory MacDonald
“Rory and I, we’re friends, you know?” St-Pierre said. “I don’t know what to say. I’m friends with Rory. We text, we call each other.
“There are many ways of doing things. Maybe I want to go up [in weight]. Maybe he might go up. There are many other options. I have a plan for my career. I can not tell you everything, guys, but there are other ways of doing things.”
St-Pierre currently sits second all-time in consecutive title defenses with eight. He trails only former middleweight champion Anderson Silva, who defended the 185-pound title 10 times in a row before losing it to Chris Weidman earlier this month.
When asked if St-Pierre would remain in the weight class long enough to take that record from Silva, his response was unclear.
“It’s a good question now that you say it,” St-Pierre said. “I don’t know.
“I’m taking it fight by fight. I don’t think about records because every fight is different and has its own problems.”
The champ also defended MacDonald’s conservative approach against Ellenberger, which led to the unanimous decision victory.
“The truth is, it’s not only because Rory is my friend, the truth is we all knew by watching the fight Rory was winning,” St-Pierre said. “It was up to Jake Ellenberger to take the risk to change the momentum of the fight, not Rory.”
After all, if frenetic back-and-forth action is what we want in a main event, this is the formula -- even if the guys fighting in it, challenger John Moraga and 125-pound champion Demetrious Johnson, are lighter than most sophomores in high school.
But then again, everybody loves a headliner consisting of two loaf-fisted heavyweight monstrosities trying to take each other's heads off. Given these perhaps outdated but still popular appetites, it's risky to trot out the remora instead of the sharks, is it not?
Not that these are the only factors.
By now you know that nobody knows who Moraga is, and that's why so many people are dishing the CliffsNotes. We need to learn of the fly on the fly. The 5-foot-3 Johnson is better known, but not to the dreaded "casual fans," the ones presumably being tempted toward their television sets. So what we're talking about by making two fairly anonymous fighters the main attraction on a big, widely seen card is that technique, athleticism, skill and speed -- colliding like two angry hummingbirds in a jar -- are more than enough.
The truth is, it might be. Particularly if each has his moments putting the other in trouble. The question then becomes: Does any of this change Johnson's approach? Johnson is holding the flyweight belt in part because he fights smart (a euphemism for "boring" in the minds of some people). He hasn't been involved in a fight that didn't go the distance since 2010, when he fought Damacio Page in the WEC. If he fights tactically against Moraga -- which by all rights he should and Moraga expects -- doesn't he make the least of the coveted spot?
That's all left for Saturday night. Drama is sometimes in the smaller details, and those are on display this weekend in Seattle.
The introduction of Moraga
Though the flyweights carry an onus of not being able to finish fights, Moraga crushes onuses like a cold monkey wrench. In two UFC bouts, both at 125 pounds, he has finished the guy in front of him. Should he do to Johnson what he did to Ulysses Gomez (that is, knock him out), here's guessing that everybody knows exactly who Moraga is come Sunday morning.
Aesthetically, the flyweights are fun to watch and almost impossible to truly behold with the naked eye. They require remote controls and liberal use of the slow-motion button. But do we ultimately value that? Should Moraga-Johnson underwhelm, this could be the last flyweight tilt (title or no) we see headlining a big card for a long time.
MacDonald as legit contender
Who has Rory MacDonald fought, cynics want to know. After all, Che Mills isn't in the UFC anymore and Nate Diaz is more of a natural lightweight (as is BJ Penn). As for Mike Pyle? He's awfully long in the tooth. But remember, MacDonald did have Carlos Condit on the ropes until the final seconds. And if he beats Jake Ellenberger, who has won eight of nine, MacDonald puts his name into imminent welterweight contention.
Ellenberger's chance to make statement
Say that Ellenberger goes in and savagely puts MacDonald away in the first round, as he's known to do. What then? The guess is that such an outcome sets up a fight between Ellenberger and Demian Maia as a true No. 1 contender bout while Georges St-Pierre-Johny Hendricks plays out in November.
It's crazy, but the last time Robbie Lawler won consecutive fights was all the way back in 2007. He traded wins and losses for four years in Strikeforce, coughing up a bit of his mystique. But the upset victory over Josh Koscheck in February put a little wind back in his sail, and should he beat Bobby Voelker on Saturday, he'll essentially have a clean slate.
Can 'Mighty Mouse' finish a fight?
Truth is, Johnson looks better each time we see him in the cage. He looked good against Ian McCall the first time and better against him the second time. Johnson looked great against Joseph Benavidez. Ditto John Dodson. The knock is that Johnson is a points fighter who does just enough. Does that end against Moraga?
Can Ellenberger win a decision over MacDonald?
You ask people how Ellenberger wins his fight against MacDonald and they'll say via knockout. But what happens if MacDonald stays disciplined and is there all night? Can Ellenberger eke out a win on points? He did fade against Martin Kampmann and Diego Sanchez, and neither is as big and strong as MacDonald.
Realistically, there's only one Guillard, and that's the same one who will show up in Seattle. He switched training camps (yet again) to Denver, where he's been training with Trevor Wittman. Thing is, he loves his power and trusts it to trump everything he'll encounter. Against Mac Danzig, who has gone 3-6 in his last nine fights, Guillard will once again sink or swim by his infatuation.
How does Carmouche rebound?
Fate is funny. For a few seconds at UFC 157, it looked like Liz Carmouche was about to defeat not just Ronda Rousey but the very reason for women's MMA in the UFC. It was a tense few moments when she had Rousey's back, but in the end, Carmouche went down gallantly. Facing Jessica Andrade, Carmouche -- the biggest favorite on the card -- has to guard against the spiral.
Will MacDonald come around to GSP?
This question is premature, which makes it the kind of question we love to ask. Yet should MacDonald beat Ellenberger, St-Pierre take care of Hendricks in November and the two be asked to fight each other thereafter, we have arrived at the next Jon Jones-Rashad Evans (and the hunch is MacDonald won't protest for long).
WHO'S ON THE HOT SEAT?
John Albert -- He has lost three fights in a row since beating Dustin Pague in his UFC debut. A loss to Yaotzin Meza is almost a guaranteed pink slip. But if Albert wins? Yahtzee! The "Prince" lives to see another day.
Aaron Riley -- Riley is only 32 years old but has been in 44 fights. He's been around the block a few times. In his last fight against Tony Ferguson, in 2011, he suffered a broken jaw. Should he lose to Justin Salas, if he doesn't hang up the gloves himself, the next pair he wears might not say "UFC" on them.
Trevor Smith -- The Strikeforce immigrant takes on an angry Ed Herman, who, in a fit of optimism, made a cameo appearance in Strikeforce against Ronaldo Souza and lost badly. Tough draw for Smith. Herman's relevance is at stake.
Melvin Guillard -- Yes, there's a Leonard Garcia thing going on here. Guillard always comes to fight, does so on short notice and lets the chips fall where they may. Dana White likes him. But he needs a win badly. Very badly. Then the UFC won't be forced to make any hard decisions on him.
Mac Danzig -- See Guillard.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the flyweights have one speed, which is blue blur ... because Johnson is one of the most underrated fighters to ever carry such mastery to the cage ... because Moraga swings for the fences and is fighting for his late cousin Jay ... because there's not one, but two women's fights, and Julie Kedzie versus Germaine de Randamie will have your grandmother spitting out her tea ... because Danny Castillo does love himself a brawl ... and for that matter so does Michael Chiesa ... and Jorge Masvidal ... because Herman can't afford to lose to Smith, and when a "Short Fuse" meets "Hot Sauce," the thing gets flammable ... because MacDonald is fighting Ellenberger, and it won't cost you a dime.
When Jake Ellenberger and Rory MacDonald step into the Octagon on July 27 in Seattle for the co-main event at UFC on Fox 8, it will be very easy to tell them apart. They’re cut from two very different cloths.
“We’re two different species,” Ellenberger recently told ESPN.com. “He’s a Cro-Magnon; I’m a Neanderthal. We have different bone density, power, pure instinct, savagery.
“He’d be better at painting caves; I’d be better at killing mastodons.”
There is, however, a tie that binds them. Both are highly-ranked contenders in the UFC’s welterweight division.
Ellenberger is ranked fourth by ESPN.com; MacDonald sits at No. 6. UFC.com places Ellenberger fourth, while MacDonald occupies the three-spot.
“The winner of their showdown is likely to land a 170-pound title shot if champion Georges St-Pierre and top contender Johny Hendricks settle their issues in the foreseeable future. But if a St-Pierre-Hendricks fight doesn’t materialize, Ellenberger envisions participating in a welterweight title eliminator.
Everybody in UFC is tough. But I've been building up, especially in my last fight. I have a new boxing coach [Carlos Ruffo] who focuses on my strengths and what I need to do to get better.” -- Jake Ellenberger on his improved boxing skills
“If [St-Pierre] and Hendricks doesn’t happen next, then I think Hendricks and me are going to decide who’s going to be the next No. 1 contender,” Ellenberger said.
In either case, Ellenberger knows his title shot isn’t far away. And when it arrives, he plans to be more than ready to secure the gold.
Since a second-round TKO loss to Martin Kampmann in June 2012 (a bout Ellenberger was in control of before a knee took him down and snapped his six-fight win streak), he has rebounded with two victories in a row. The Kampmann loss still stings, but Ellenberger doesn’t dwell on it.
Instead, that loss serves as motivation. Ellenberger has always worked to improve his fighting techniques. But the man who dons the Octagon these days is a complete fighter.
Because Ellenberger is a physically strong, highly skilled wrestler, no one has controlled him on the ground. But he is now equally dangerous standing.
Ellenberger has settled in as a proficient boxer. His skills in that discipline were on full display during his most recent fight, a first-round knockout of former Strikeforce welterweight champion Nate Marquardt at UFC 158 in March.
“My whole time in UFC has been about working my way up,” Ellenberger said. “It’s the hardest sport to be consistent at. But I’m focused on the big picture.
“Everybody in UFC is tough. But I’ve been building up, especially in my last fight. I have a new boxing coach [Carlos Ruffo] who focuses on my strengths and what I need to do to get better.
“I’m also in Las Vegas from time to time. Actually I’m there quite a bit; I only live about four hours from Vegas. And when I’m there I’m working with [renowned boxing trainer] Jeff Mayweather.”
Not a single stone has gone unturned in Ellenberger’s boxing development -- footwork, head movement, rolling with punches, jabs, you name it. And through it all, Ellenberger has not compromised his wrestling in the least.
Ellenberger has combined wrestling and boxing in a way that has onlookers shaking their heads. By the way, his jiu-jitsu, especially defensively, hasn’t suffered, either. He can accurately be labeled a full-fledged mixed martial artist.
So when Ellenberger speaks of being the Neanderthal to MacDonald’s Cro-Magnon, it’s not a slight at his opponent; it’s the description that best describes the action that will take place on fight night.
“I feel great about the fight,” Ellenberger said. “[MacDonald] is a guy who really motivated me to work harder.”
Ellenberger intends to be the more dominant man inside the cage in Seattle. He intends to put a vicious beating on MacDonald: Whether it’s on the ground or standing doesn’t matter.
When the result is announced, Ellenberger will lift his hands briefly if he wins -- a friendly acknowledgement to the fans -- then turn his attention to claiming the title. Ellenberger is all about becoming UFC welterweight champion. He won’t accept anything less.
The timing is perfect for Ellenberger to realize his goal: His skills are at peak levels, and his confidence couldn’t be stronger. Everything is in place, even his willingness to savagely pummel an opponent inside the cage -- and he possesses the tools to do just that, if need be.
Maybe Ellenberger’s description of himself as a Neanderthal isn’t too far off. But let’s be clear on one thing: Ellenberger remains a highly intelligent fighter. No one is going to catch him by surprise with a knee anymore -- he’s too smart to fall for that again.
“The timing is perfect for me,” Ellenberger said. “I’m in a good place mentally and physically. I couldn't be better.”
St-Pierre (24-2) holds the record for total UFC wins (along with Matt Hughes) at 18 and is second in title defenses with eight. He ranks No. 1 in the UFC in career takedowns, takedown accuracy and total strikes.
From August 2007 to April 2011, St-Pierre won a record 33 consecutive rounds.
Prior to his recent title defense over Nick Diaz at UFC 158, St-Pierre's former manager Stephane Patry penned a column for a Canadian website that outlined St-Pierre's plan of two more fights -- a title defense against Johny Hendricks and a "super fight" against Anderson Silva -- and then retirement.
Whether or not that comes to fruition, ESPN.com decided to speak with some of the brightest minds in the sport on what has fueled St-Pierre's historic career, what it will take to disrupt his success and whether or not he's still at his peak.
"We kind of always knew he would eventually become a champion ... "
Pat Miletich, former UFC champion, longtime trainer, analyst: I used to go up to Tristar Gym years and years ago because my wife is from Montreal. I would teach a bit here and there when those guys were younger. Georges was always very respectful. He actually came into one of my seminars and sat in and watched when I was teaching up there at different spots in Montreal. We kind of always knew he would eventually become a champion. It was just something you could tell. Before Matt [Hughes] even fought him the first time, Matt and I both publicly said in interviews, "Georges is going to be the world champ. Just not yet."
Matt Hume, trainer, matchmaker, ambassador: The moment I recognized he was a very special martial artist was when he did Abu Dhabi (Submission Wrestling championships). He went against a guy named Otto Olsen. Otto Olsen, the first time he did Abu Dhabi, he went all the way to the finals against Marcelo Garcia with only six months training. Otto was great. He got really good at head control and started destroying people. The next Abu Dhabi, his first match was against Georges St-Pierre, who wasn't known as a great grappler, and he beat Otto that day. He shot a double on him, which is something he's very well known for now and escaped what a lot of people call the D'Arce now. Georges' posture on his shots was perfect and his explosiveness and awareness of where his head was when he got to the ground. That was the moment that told me this guy really gets out of his element. He really learns.
Matt Hughes, former UFC champion, went 1-2 in three fights against St-Pierre: Usually when I tie up with somebody, I feel I'm stronger than the other person and with Georges, I can't say I was stronger than him. I'm a big welterweight. I probably cut more weight than Georges does, which you think would give me a strength advantage but I didn't feel I had that advantage against Georges.
Miletich: After the first time Matt fought him and beat him, I asked Matt, "He's pretty strong isn't he?" We were walking through the tunnel back to the locker room and he looked at me and said, "You're damn right he's strong."
Hughes: I don't think he's a great wrestler. I think if you put him on a wrestling mat against Josh Koscheck, Josh would beat him up. What Georges does so well is mixes everything up and camouflages his takedowns with his striking. When you're out there against Georges, you don't know if he's going to kick, punch, close the distance and gets his hands on you or take a shot. He's pretty one-dimensional on the ground. You don't see him going for many submissions. He is really there to keep people down. But he's effective at his striking. He likes to stand up in people's guard and that gives him power in his punches. But his No. 1 thing is to keep people down.
Marc Laimon, grappling coach, trains Hendricks: One of my black belts and I were talking about this and he was saying St-Pierre kind of reminds him of a guy who pushes to half-guard, does enough to get the advantage to win and stalls the rest of the match. Against Nick Diaz, for somebody to talk so much trash, I didn't see that killer instinct. I saw a guy win and stay busy and active and do enough to win, but not a scary, killer, bloodthirsty guy wanting to kill you. I see a pro athlete doing his job very well.
Mark Munoz, UFC middleweight, NCAA wrestling champion: Pure wrestling is a totally different sport than MMA wrestling. In MMA wrestling, you can't shoot to your knees anymore. If you shoot to your knees, you're being stopped because there's too much distance to cover when you change levels. You've just got to explode and run through them in a power double and that's what Georges St-Pierre does. He is such a gifted athlete at first-step explosion and he's got long arms.
Hughes: He does everything pretty well. His lead strike, I believe, is his left leg. Usually, it's people's rear leg but I figured out real quick his left leg in the front of his stance is what he has all his power with.
Hume (on St-Pierre's intimidation factor): It's not the same extent as [an Anderson Silva.] Anderson put Rich Franklin's nose on the other side of his face and what he did to Forrest Griffin, making him miss the punches and dropping him with the jab -- it's the striking aspects, getting the bones broke in your face from an unprotected knee bone, those things scare people. I think with Georges, people don't look at him the same way as Anderson. They see it more as, "I don't know how to beat this guy." Not so much, "This guy is really going to hurt me bad."
Laimon: He still does things very well. The timing on his double leg is impeccable. He's still very fun to watch but when he was going for the title and he murdered [Frank] Trigg and murdered Hughes -- oh man. That guy is a killer and I don't see that guy anymore.
"What's going to beat Georges, is a hit ... "
Munoz: The guy that beats St-Pierre is the guy that is able to counter the jab. Able to circle, have good footwork, and counter while moving his feet. Not countering in front of him, because that's where GSP is able to capitalize -- when he jabs or throws punches, the other guy counter punches and then he drops down and shoots.
Miletich: You have to take him out of his comfort zone. It's not like there are a lot of guys out there who are going to take him down and submit him, but a guy who can actually take Georges down and make him nervous on his back a little bit is certainly going to help. In terms of striking, guys that use feints and fakes very well and they've got to be able to do that better than him. When somebody is throwing feints and fakes at you, they're trying to make you guess on what's real and what's not. When you're not able to do that (as good as St-Pierre), he is sticking you with the jab. Then he's able to progressively chips away at you because he feints the jab and throws the cross. Then feints the cross and throws the hook. It goes a lot deeper than that, but a guy who can do that better than Georges and throw it back in his face and has the power to hurt him standing, plus the technique to take him down, is pretty much what it's going to take.
Hughes: That's a very easy question for me to answer. What's going to beat Georges is a hit. You can tell it in the way he fights. He does not want to get hit. You see what happens when he gets hit. Any big hit is going to hurt Georges. My speculation would be that Georges has been hit in practice and he don't like it. This is all my speculation -- that he's been hit, knows his body doesn't like it and he's not going to get hit anymore.
"Johny is a different breed of cat ..."
Munoz: St-Pierre is not going to want it to be a brawl. He's going to want to execute that jab, circle around him, stop shots, drag behind him and take his back. I don't think he's going to be able to hold Johny down. Everybody who wrestled him [in college] had trouble holding him down. What you're going to see Johny do is knee slide -- which is, shoot his knee forward and stand up to his feet. He's not going to stay turtled up. He's going to hand fight, look for wrist control and get up.
Hughes: Being the best wrestler doesn't mean that Georges can't take him down. He disguises things so well that he can get in on somebody by throwing punches, but Georges is going to have to work for it. He's going to have to spend more energy and that's a good thing in a fight -- to make somebody spend energy and take punishment along the way. I think if you look at who Georges has fought, Johny is a bad matchup compared to everybody else.
Laimon: I really think I've got a guy who matches up very well with him and is going to present problems. Johny is a different breed of cat. He operates on a different frequency. He's hungry and I think Georges is ripe for the picking. I think Johny Hendricks is coming into his prime and I see St-Pierre as an unbelievable LaDainian Tomlinson-type guy who is kind of at the [New York] Jets now. He was so dominant, the premiere guy, but if you look recently ... how many guys defend his takedowns? How many guys have been able to get back to his feet? Every time I see Georges, his face is busted up. These guys are putting their hands on him. Georges is hittable and being hittable against a guy like Johny Hendricks isn't good.
"I actually think the [Silva] fight will be pretty close ..."
Hume: Anybody who stands with Anderson is risking what he does to everybody. Anderson has been taken down. He's been mounted. He has been armbarred, but he has survived those things. He has a great ground game, too. Georges has great takedowns. He knows how to put people at their weakness. If you're going to try and fight Anderson at his weakness, it's going to have to be on his back.
Munoz: I think it's a bad matchup for Georges. Anderson is a big 185-pounder. I wouldn't say St-Pierre is a big welterweight. I've seen Anderson upwards of 215 pounds. At the same time, St-Pierre has double leg takedowns, which Anderson has trouble defending at times. I would give Anderson the nod because of his movement on his feet, elusiveness and precise punching.
Miletich: Georges is not going to win that standup fight at all. Anderson will shut down his feints. The victory is going to lie in Georges' ability to take down Anderson, which I think he certainly can. He could take him down and control him all five rounds because he's strong enough to do it. Anderson's takedown defense has gotten better over the years, but I still think Georges could take him down.