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LAS VEGAS -- Georges St-Pierre successfully defended the UFC welterweight title a ninth time Saturday, beating Johny Hendricks by split decision before saying he would "go away for a little bit," raising immediate questions on whether the champion is quitting the sport.
But UFC president Dana White insisted in no uncertain terms that he doesn't expect St-Pierre to take any leave of absence and that the promotion will seek to book an immediate rematch with Hendricks.
White also said he was "blown away" by the decision, claiming "Georges knew he lost, his corner knew he lost, Hendricks knew he won, and his corner knew they won."
St-Pierre (25-2), one of the most decorated fighters in UFC history, won via split decision for the first time in front of a sold-out crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
|Georges St-Pierre took a lot of punishment from Johny Hendricks during the five-round title fight.|
Two judges scored the five-round title fight 48-47 in favor of the defending champion, while a third saw it 48-47 for Hendricks. ESPN.com scored the bout for Hendricks, 48-47.
As a large portion of the crowd booed the decision, St-Pierre took the microphone and announced he needed to "hang up his gloves," for a bit -- but when asked definitively if this would be his last fight, the Canadian champion wavered.
"There was a lot of talk about what was going to happen [after this fight]," St-Pierre said. "I have a bunch of stuff in my life happening. I need to hang up my gloves for a little bit.
"I will make a point on that a little later, but for right now, I've got to go away for a little bit."
Hendricks (15-2), who raised his arms in victory when the fight ended, challenged St-Pierre in every facet of the game. He hurt him several times with his signature left hand and scored key takedowns in the third and fourth rounds.
A former NCAA wrestling champion at Oklahoma State University, Hendricks collapsed when the scores were read.
"I thought I clearly won the fight," he said.
Hendricks expressed no interest in whether St-Pierre retires.
"I don't care about Georges," Hendricks said. "That's what I've said from the very get go. I beat him anyway.
"I just want the belt. That UFC belt, right in front of me. That's the only thing pushing me, motivating me. I don't care who has it or who doesn't. I need to get that. That's really my drive. I thought I got it tonight, but I guess I didn't."
White, speaking at his postfight news conference, said he believed St-Pierre would be available to compete again within his typical time frame.
"He wants to fight," said White, following a brief closed-door meeting with St-Pierre. "This isn't about fighting. It really isn't about fighting or retiring. It's a personal problem that has him very, very upset right now and I'm very confident we can work it out."
White, in an interview with Fox Sports, said he thought the governor of Nevada should intervene and clean up the state's athletic commission.
"Nevada is a very scary place," White said. "This is the worst commission on the planet. I'm afraid to bring fights to Las Vegas."
White cited boxing's decline as an example of the state commission's incompetence, calling it "despicably horrible."
"Boxing was so corrupt for many years that the government had to come in and regulate it, but there's some real issues here in Nevada that need to be fixed," White told Fox Sports. "The governor needs to really sit down and make some serious decisions about this athletic commission.
"I'm blown away that Georges St-Pierre won that fight," White added. "I'm the promoter and he's the biggest fighter in the sport. I should be, 'Woo-hoo, these idiots gave it to Georges,' but it's not fair, it's not right. Johny Hendricks won that fight and he deserves to get that fight again."
The first round was one of the closest of the entire fight. Hendricks continually tried to measure up the straight left, but stayed busy with jabs and hooks from the right. He attacked St-Pierre's legs with knees during lengthy clinches away from the fence.
The first left hand Hendricks threw, St-Pierre took him down on. While that was a major statement for the champion, it was ultimately ineffective, as Hendricks popped immediately back up.
Hendricks scored his first major moment in the second frame with a left uppercut on the inside. St-Pierre backed away and tried to reset, but his legs buckled on him and Hendricks smelled blood.
St-Pierre would recover and responded well in the third round. Hendricks scored a big takedown late in the round, but St-Pierre appeared to land the cleaner of the strikes.
Hendricks' punches, however, did more visible damage. St-Pierre started to bleed from the nose in the third round and had swelling around both eyes.
"I lost my memory a little bit during the fight," St-Pierre said. "I couldn't see. He really messed me up.
"He was very good at countering my game plan. He's a powerful puncher. I can tell you that."
In the fourth and fifth rounds, Hendricks made decisions that may come to haunt him. After executing a beautiful outside trip to get St-Pierre down in the fourth, he stood up and allowed him to get back to his feet.
In the fifth, he started smiling at St-Pierre and making facial expressions. St-Pierre pressured him and caught him with a straight right, which he followed with a critical takedown.
St-Pierre has now won a UFC record 19 fights in the Octagon. He extended his current win streak to 12 with the decision.
Rashad Evans seems to have fully recovered from that two-fight skid.
Evans (19-3-1) dominated Chael Sonnen in a first-round TKO victory. It was his second consecutive win and pushes a two-fight losing streak to Jon Jones and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira further behind him.
Said Evans: "I feel great. It's been a long time since I finished a fight in the first round. I know how tough Chael is and what he is capable of so I expected the fight could go the full rounds. The mindset in our camp at Blackzilians is very strong right now and it's getting stronger every day. We're all coming in with an intensity and trying to finish for here on out."
|Rashad Evans put Chael Sonnen on the mat and never let him get up.|
Sonnen (28-14-1) tried to employ his typical aggressive style. He moved forward behind the jab in the opening round and shot on Evans within the first five seconds.
"Man, he hit me so hard in there. I couldn't believe the amount of power he was able to generate," said Sonnen.
"I think I could've stuck in there more minutes if I was in a more advantageous position. I was convinced I could beat him against the cage and in the boxing but he was able to get top position. There's no excuse for losing in the same position multiple times so I definitely need to work on that. I think I can do better at light heavyweight but it's probably time for me to return to middleweight."
Evans backed up and used the cage to defend the shot. The two then engaged in a long clinch along the fence, battling for position and landing short punches and knees to the body.
It was Evans who eventually scored the takedown, pinning Sonnen on his back up against the cage wall. It was a methodical, dominant route to the finish from there.
Evans improved his position to half guard and then back mount. He flattened Sonnen out with 90 seconds remaining in the round and landed punches to the side of the head until referee Herb Dean called a stop at the 4:05 mark.
At 31, Robbie Lawler is rewriting his career -- and the UFC welterweight rankings.
Lawler (22-9) upset a heavily favored Rory MacDonald via split decision, winning over some of the pro-MacDonald crowd in his favor along the way.
Two judges scored the 170-pound belt 29-28 for Lawler, while a third saw it 29-28 MacDonald. ESPN.com scored the bout 29-28 in favor of Lawler.
|It wasn't much Rory MacDonald, left, could do against a more powerful and active Robbie Lawler.|
It was a fantastic, back-and-forth affair, right up to the final bell. Lawler pressed the issue the full 15 minutes, walking MacDonald backwards and shutting down his phenomenal jab and kickboxing game.
MacDonald (15-2) was never hurt in the first round, but it was obvious coming out of the first intermission he wanted to take Lawler down. Lawler's takedown defense was outstanding early, though, as he kept his balance and smiled at his opponent.
The fight took a major turn midway through the second round, when MacDonald did earn his first takedown. Lawler failed to work back to his feet and eventually ate a few solid right hands on his back to give MacDonald the round.
Lawler came out angry in the final round, which actually worked against him at first as MacDonald took him down during a flying knee attempt. Lawler tied him up well off his back though, and referee Mario Yamasaki stood them up quickly.
Moments after the standup, Lawler went to work. He clipped MacDonald with a straight left, and then reversed into top position when the Canadian shot in for a quick takedown.
An action-packed third round continued when Lawler signaled MacDonald back to his feet and hurt him again with a combination against the fence. MacDonald complained of an eye-poke, which Yamasaki acknowledged. As Lawler waited for the fight to resume, he smiled to the crowd and nodded his head emphatically.
On the restart, Lawler dropped MacDonald, again with the left hand, and followed him to the floor for the finish. MacDonald eventually got back to his feet and took Lawler down in the final minute.
"I really wanted to go out there and finish Rory tonight but he trains with one of the best camps in the world and he's super tough and durable," said Lawler after the fight.
"I started to tire toward the end of the third round but I've got a lot of heart and I'll always push through no matter what. I spent this camp training in Florida with American Top Team away from my family in Iowa. I always work hard but being away really motivated me to push through all the bumps and bruises in training. It felt great to hear the crowd chanting my name. I think they connect with me because of my tenacity and the way I fight. I always have looked for the finish and I always will. I take chances for the fans."
Lawler has now recorded three consecutive wins since rejoining the UFC earlier this year. MacDonald, who was the No. 4 ranked welterweight in the world according to ESPN.com headed into the bout, saw a five-fight win streak snapped.
Tyron Woodley has been around, but he might have just really arrived.
Woodley (12-2) scored the biggest win of his career, knocking out Josh Koscheck at the 4:38 mark of their welterweight bout. A deadly, counter straight right was what did Koscheck in, planted directly to his chin.
|Tyron Woodley only needed one round to finish Josh Koscheck.|
"I did a ton of cross training for this fight because I knew Josh is an extremely tough and experienced guy with a lot of skills," said Woodley.
"I knew coming in that I'd be very comfortable with him and I was ready to set the pace. When he threw that punch I was prepared to counter. We drilled that counter a thousand times and I was ready to connect on it. If you look at my record my fights are all against top guys like Jake Shields and Jay Hieron. I'm trying to make my mark out there and if Rory MacDonald wins I want him next. I want to fight the top guys and I've got the skills to beat them."
A former No. 1 contender at 170 pounds in Strikeforce, Woodley was outstanding in his second Octagon win. He knocked down Koscheck (17-8) in the opening moments of the fight with a jab, right combination and defended a long takedown attempt against the fence after Koscheck jumped back to his feet.
Once they broke off the fence, another overhand right landed for Woodley off a level change. He nearly swept Koscheck off his feet with a leg kick moments later, then dropped him a second time with another counter right.
Referee Herb Dean allowed Koscheck to continue, despite taking four to five hammering rights by Woodley on the floor. Dean eventually stood the two up, after Koscheck tied up Woodley for a lengthy period from his back.
With less than a minute in the round, Koscheck looked to make up for lost ground. He came forward with his notorious overhand right -- which seemed to be exactly what Woodley expected.
Woodley slipped the punch before coming back with a devastating right of his own. Koscheck's legs gave out visibly and Woodley connected on two more blistering punches as he fell to his back.
Koscheck suffered his third consecutive defeat, the last two of which have come via knockout. Robbie Lawler finished him in less than four minutes at UFC 157 in February. Woodley improved to 2-1 in the UFC.
Ali Bagautinov did not appear nervous in his UFC debut -- at all.
Bagautinov (12-2) scored a unanimous decision win over Tim Elliott in his first UFC performance, showcasing a high level of composure along the way. Judges scored the flyweight bout 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 for the Russian.
|Can Ali Bagautinov, left, defeat Demetrious Johnson on Saturday -- and become the UFC's first titlist from Russia?|
It was a 15-minute cat-and-mouse game between the two, as Bagautinov circled away from Elliott and relied heavily on his counter punching. The strategy frustrated Elliott early. He ran into multiple right hands, especially in the first round.
"I wanted to make the biggest statement possible tonight. I give nothing less than 110 percent whether I'm in training or in the octagon and I think it showed," said Bagautinov. "My cardio wasn't as strong as I expected it to be in this fight. Physically I'm very prepared and able but I think the climate change and the nerves of visiting and fighting in America for the first time affected me."
Elliott (10-4-1) made small adjustments in the second round, mostly behind a steadier diet of the jab. He came forward aggressively with a flying knee at one point, then transitioned to a guillotine attempt as Bagautinov took him down.
The guillotine looked tight but Bagautinov never appeared close to going out. He stood up with Elliott still in the hold and managed to shrug him off.
The final round, like the rest of the fight, was a chess match. Elliott continued to track Bagautinov down, but ended up mostly eating right hands in the process.
The 26-year-old Elliott did finish strong, hip tossing Bagautinov to the ground before nailing him flush with a knee to the face as he scrambled back up. The strong finish wasn't enough to nudge him ahead on the scorecards.
Said Elliott: "I thought I did enough to win tonight. I won the third round for sure. I've left it in the hands of the judges my last two fights and I honestly think that they've beaten me both times. I guess I just have to go back to the gym and work harder to get the finish so this doesn't happen again."
Bagautinov extended his win streak to 10 with the decision. He's been perfect since suffering back-to-back decision losses in 2011. Elliott lost for the second time in the UFC. He came up short in a decision loss to John Dodson in May 2012.
The good Donald Cerrone showed up against Evan Dunham. The real good one.
Cerrone (21-6) cruised through a durable opponent in Dunham, submitting him via triangle at 3:49 of the second round.
|Donald Cerrone is on a tear -- but does that make him title material?|
Since transferring to the UFC as a member of the WEC lightweight roster in 2011, Cerrone has already accumulated eight wins, including five finishes.
"This fight was big for me. I told myself that if I didn't go out there and perform like I know I'm capable of then I would've retired," said Cerrone.
"It's a lot of pressure to put on yourself but it really helped me get back that inner fire and drive that I haven't had in a long time. The money starts to come and people start to recognize you and the drive slips. I always told myself that wouldn't happen to me but it did. Tonight before the fight I felt that nervous energy that I haven't felt in several fights. You can't get that feeling anywhere else in the world. It only happens right before you make that walk to the octagon and I needed to feel that. It reminded me why I love this so much."
Dunham (14-5) wanted the fight on the ground early, but Cerrone easily thwarted a takedown attempt in the opening seconds. A hard knee to the body sent Dunham backing up and Cerrone dropped him shortly after with a right hand.
Referee Mario Yamasaki was all over the action as Cerrone swarmed for the finish. Dunham, who had only been finished once prior to this loss, somehow managed to survive -- and escape an omaplata attempt by Cerrone in the ensuing scramble.
Wearing a cut over his left eye heading into the second round, Dunham once again shot an unsuccessful early takedown. He tried to rally on his feet, landing a hard right hand as Cerrone looked for the Thai clinch, and then a jab.
Cerrone scored his first takedown of the fight midway through the round, however, and locked in the triangle after Dunham escaped out the back end. It marks the first time Dunham has been submitted.
The win improved Cerrone's UFC record to 8-3. He's been in title contention twice in that span, but losses to Nate Diaz and Anthony Pettis cooled the discussion. Dunham fell to 6-5 lifetime in the Octagon and 1-3 in his last four.
Thales Leites' second run within the UFC is off to a nice start.
Leites, 33, recorded his second win since re-signing with the UFC earlier this year, defeating Ed Herman via unanimous decision. It was a one-sided victory for Leites, who once fought for the UFC middleweight title, as all three scores read 30-27.
|Thales Leites, right, couldn't get the KO, but did pretty much everything else to Ed Herman.|
"I'm really happy but I didn't submit him when I had control so I'm disappointed in that part of my performance," said Leites. "He's very tough and he knew just how to defend against each submission when I tried to pass his guard and improve position. I want to fix some mistakes with my coaches and come back better."
Herman (21-10) had no answer for the grappling pedigree of Leites. An early exchange in the center of the ring had him off-balance, which Leites (22-4) turned into a quick takedown.
"Felt flat out there. It just wasn't my night. What can I say," said Herman.
Within two minutes, Leites had passed guard into side control. Herman managed to walk to his feet, but was quickly dragged onto his back again. Leites eventually took his back and threatened with a choke before settling for punches.
A determined Herman came out swinging in the second round. He connected with a right to the body, but Leites calmly ducked under a haymaker and scored another easy takedown. He would take Herman's back again momentarily, but mostly seemed content controlling him on the ground.
The Las Vegas crowd grew restless in the third, as Leites walked through a right uppercut to clinch Herman along the fence. In maybe his best moment of the fight, Herman turned Leites into the cage and landed a sharp left hook to the chin.
Exhausted from the grappling exchanges, however, Herman failed to follow up the punch and was shortly on his back once again, despite a blatant fence grab to stay up.
Leites has now won five consecutive bouts, dating back to August 2010. He scored a unanimous decision win over Tom Watson in August, his first fight with the UFC since 2009. Herman fell to 8-6 overall in the Octagon.
Rick Story couldn't quite get a finish over Brian Ebersole, but it was clear from start to finish he wouldn't be denied a win.
|Rick Story got a much-needed victory by dominating Brian Ebersole in three rounds.|
"I just want to thank Brian for putting on a great show with me," said Story after the fight. "It was a good tough fight and I think I got the best of him by the end of it. Those kicks to the knee really started to hurt him toward the end. I could see his facial expressions and footing start to change so I just kept throwing them and tried to chop him down. I'm happy I got to perform for the fans and getting the win is a bonus. Also, a big thanks to the UFC and my team for supporting me."
The physical style and pace of Story wore on Ebersole (50-16-1) from the opening bell. Using his jab as a range finder, Story found a frequent home for his straight left in the first round, mixing in heavy, resounding body punches along the way.
Following a one-sided first, Ebersole did all he could in the middle frame to slow the welterweight's pace. He had some success dictating range and keeping Story on the end of his jab, but none of the punches seemed to hurt Story in any way.
A hard right hook to the body by Story with a minute left highlighted the second round, followed by a back-and-forth exchange in the closing seconds. Ebersole nearly went down by a right hook, but opened a cut over Story's left eye.
"It's tough to go out there coming off an injury," said Ebersole. "I had three ripped disks from my fight with Chris Lytle and I've tried to fight through it for the last four camps. It's starting to take its toll. The kicks he landed to the knee at the end were well placed. The first three didn't hurt but the last two definitely did."
Ahead two rounds, Story still came out hungry in the third. His punches grew wider as fatigue set in, but a left hand rocked Ebersole with 90 seconds left in the fight. An outside leg kick had Ebersole limping badly in the final minute.
Story has now alternated wins and losses in his last five bouts. The 29-year-old spent eight weeks training alongside St-Pierre at Tristar Gym in Montreal in anticipation for this bout. Ebersole suffered his second consecutive loss.
Less than three months after suffering his first UFC setback, Mexican bantamweight Erik Perez is back in the win column.
|Erik "Goyito" Perez got the win in a dominating performance against Edwin Figeroa.|
Perez (14-5) outclassed Edwin Figueroa on the floor and emerged from several exchanges on the feet en route to a unanimous decision win. All three judges scored the bout a sweep, 30-27.
"I was very well prepared tonight," Perez said. "My game plan was to go toe to toe and win the fight round by round. I'm very emotional after this win because I feel like I did what I was supposed to and I was rewarded for it.
"I lost my last fight because I was under a lot of pressure and got away from the strategy. I fixed those mistakes tonight and it really paid off."
Takedowns were a crucial part of Perez's success, as it was obvious Figueroa (9-4) preferred a standup fight. Figueroa looked to counter Perez leg kicks early with punching combinations but surrendered his first takedown quickly.
That became the story of the fight, as Figueroa would work slowly back to his feet only to be taken down again. Even when Figueroa did have space on the feet, Perez frequently landed the cleaner shots while setting up his takedowns.
A winging overhand right by Perez scored a knockdown in the second round. Figueroa recovered quickly and actually answered with a strong right uppercut standing against the cage. Perez backed off, then shot and lifted Figueroa into the air before slamming him to the mat.
The final round mirrored the first two. Perez attempted a few flashy strikes, including a spinning back kick that missed, before shooting in for a takedown. He spent the majority of the round landing short punches from top position.
Perez improved to 4-1 in the Octagon. His only loss came at UFC Fight Night 27 in August via split decision to Takeya Mizugaki. Figueroa likely closed out what's been a difficult 2013 calendar year, going winless in three UFC appearances.