Georges St-Pierre has kept the UFC 170-pound title firmly affixed around his waist for the last five years. The blockbuster fighter is welterweight’s all-time consecutive title defense record holder (eight) and it’s difficult to imagine anyone but GSP reigning over the division. Johny Hendricks, however, asserts that, following UFC 167 Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., a new champion is a reality “Rush” and his legion of fight fans will be forced to face. St-Pierre holds the most satisfying trophy Hendricks has ever hunted, so the 30-year-old challenger intends to dethrone the 32-year-old living legend while blocking him from his 11th consecutive victory. For the champion, it’s a matter of thwarting another world-class class foe with the athletic and strategic dominance he’s trademarked during his reign. In short, this fight is going to be epic, and here are ten reasons to prove it.
10. The Power Promos
170-pounds has historically been one of two marquee divisions for the Octagon. That’s largely in part to St-Pierre, who derailed UFC hall of famer Matt Hughes in a changing-of-the-guard trilogy. Johny Hendricks, meanwhile, is a true no. 1 contender - “Bigg Rigg” has enough one-punch knockout power for FOX Sports 1 to have him cameo on Being Mike Tyson so he can throw hooks alongside the former “baddest man on the planet.” The hype leading up to St-Pierre/Hendricks properly demonstrates the serious weaponry the challenger possesses, and the UFC’s promos stylishly convey the massive magnitude of this fight. Oh, and don’t forget the UFC Primetime series looking inside each fighter’s training camp.
9. Hendricks’ Reebok-Sponsored Beard
Johny Hendricks has a Texas wild man’s beard. He stops trimming it when preparing for a fight, resulting in a beard so lush it has its own “fear the beard” motto. After a fight, Hendricks chops it off and instantly becomes unrecognizable, which is a clever disguise tactic, because he’s recognizable enough to fight fans to get mobbed in the streets. His beard-fueled power in the cage and straight-shootin’ outdoorsman persona outside of it landed him a Reebok deal going into his title shot, and you shouldn’t underestimate how important it is to come up on that kind of cash - training camps are expensive, and that deal helps bridge the gap between what he’s spending on preparation, and what the champion is shelling out to earn that top spot on fight night.
8. That 39-3 Combined Record
St-Pierre is 24-2 (19-2 UFC) and Hendricks is 15-1 (10-1 UFC). They’ve been fighting for a combined 17 years; the duo roughly averages one loss every six years. St-Pierre has avenged both defeats on his record; he beat former champ Matt Hughes twice for good measure, and pummeled the Rocky magic out of Matt Serra so decisively the second time they fought that a trilogy wasn’t necessary. St-Pierre-Hendricks is a 10-fight win streak opposite six contests for the challenger, but Hendricks has the fewest losses of anyone to ever fight GSP for the belt. In a sport where there are a million ways to lose, clean records like theirs are far from the norm.
7. Hendricks’ Fist-First Highlight Reel
Bodies fall in Johny Hendricks’ highlight reel. He’s a power hitter - his knockouts are straight from the Home Run Derby. Knocking out perennial welterweights Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann in less than a minute combined is one of the most devastating and impressive ways a title shot has ever been secured in the UFC. Experiencing a Hendricks KO goes something like this: There’s a loud CRACK, a white flash bulb takes over for a second, then the image returns with his opponent prone on the mat, unaware the fight is even over.
6. St-Pierre’s Incredible Ring Generalship
To command the cage as long as “Rush” has is unparalleled - the eight fights in his current title stretch total more than three hours of cage time. Competing against the best fighters in the world for nearly ten years, he’s seized the record for most strikes landed (2,398), most takedowns (84) and highest takedown accuracy (75%). St-Pierre’s mastery exists in avoiding damage for the full 25-minutes of a title clash consistently. Going the distance every time seems more arduous, yet he’s transformed it into a path of least resistance. Sure, Hendricks is a two-time NCAA Division I Wrestling Champion, but his better-on-paper wrestling credentials are nothing new to St-Pierre. Nevertheless, they are intriguing enough to suggest Hendricks may be able to dictate where the fight occurs - something no one else has done to St-Pierre.
5. It’s USA Vs. Canada!
St-Pierre is the best fighter Canada has ever produced, one of the most popular athletes north of the border today, and an internationally recognized star, and part of his undeniable rise to the top was in toppling American country boy champion Matt Hughes. Johny Hendricks sports the stars and stripes going into the Octagon - he’s a Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings guy. Each fighter represents their country proudly, and their battle will surely garner a massive reception for the winner once they return home. Will it be St-Pierre grabbing a big plate of poutine back in Canada, or a fistful of Texas BBQ for Hendricks?
4. Hendricks Is A New Breed Of Fighter
GSP has ruled the division for so long, a new era of fighter may be needed to topple him, and that new breed can be seen in Hendricks, a fighter with the top-shelf wrestling credentials and unsettling knockout power to beat any opponent. All of St-Pierre’s challengers, save for an overmatched Dan Hardy, were his contemporaries; fighters who started cutting their teeth in the same pre-UFC boom era. Johny Hendricks – who wields an upgraded style reminiscent of the legendary Dan Henderson - did not have his pro debut until after St-Pierre had already won and lost the UFC welterweight title, but now, with their paths crossing each other, St-Pierre/Hendricks decides if St-Pierre is still ahead of the evolution he accelerated back in 2005.
3. St-Pierre Is An Institution
St-Pierre is the longest-standing champion in the UFC. He’s been fighting for the belt since October 2004, holding it without interruption since December 2007, and undisputed since April 2008. He trails middleweight Anderson Silva’s consecutive wins (16) and title defenses record (ten) in UFC history, but holds them all at welterweight (ten straight wins and eight title defenses). St-Pierre is the biggest pay-per-view draw in the company, and for good reason: He’s the most seen star, having competed on the biggest PPV in their 20-year existence (UFC 100 in July 2009), and setting an all-time UFC attendance record in front of 55,724 Canadians in Toronto in April 2011. St-Pierre is an 11-year veteran within reach of retiring on top - any fight may be his last. He’s hinted at hanging up the gloves for good. Every St-Pierre fight is a must-see, and Hendricks is a challenger worthy of participating in a blockbuster matchup.
2. The Head-On Momentum
It’s been four years since the odds were this close in a St-Pierre title defense - not since B.J. Penn at UFC 94 in January 2009 has a challenger been near a two-to-one underdog. There have been decorated champions that haven’t measured up this well on the bookie sheets. No one has better momentum than GSP in the sport, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s coming off the biggest PPV buy rate he’s ever headlined, a shade shy of the coveted million mark. Hendricks has momentum of his own, though, and that can’t be ignored. He’s defeated three former title challengers: Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, and Carlos Condit, common opponents of St-Pierre, in his current streak toward the belt. His March scrap with Condit is a Fight of the Year candidate, and one of the better 15-minute contests seen in the Octagon. With this being the year Anderson Silva finally fell from the throne, it seems entirely plausible Hendricks could unseat St-Pierre too, especially since he carries a similar self-assurance to that of new middleweight champion Chris Weidman, leading up to knocking out Silva.
1. Both Fighters Are Living Up To History
No matter who emerges victorious at UFC 167, history will remember this bout fondly. St-Pierre has positioned himself so that every time he fights, it’s worthy of the record books. Hendricks is eager to break the cycle and begin writing his own championship legacy. If Hendricks does end St-Pierre’s picture-perfect title run, the French-Canadian will likely exercise the immediate rematch option, setting up the biggest welterweight rematch since UFC 94, four years ago. If St-Pierre retains, Hendricks is young and dangerous enough that he can meet GSP again after a pair of solid victories, or stay ready to jump into a vacant title fight if the champion should leave the belt behind by retiring. All in all, St-Pierre/Hendricks showcases a truly formidable title clash between a future hall of fame champion, and a ready, lethal challenger, both primed for the stage to do justice to 20 years of action in the Octagon. Tune in to UFC 167 on November 16th at 10/7pm ET/PT on Pay-Per-View!
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