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Georges St-Pierre: I know I'm going to get hit by Johny Hendricks, and I'm not scared of it

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The specter of Johny Hendricks' herculean left hand is hard to escape these days. Those UFC 167 promos, the ones bombastically splicing shots of Jon Fitch's demise and Martin Kampmann tumbling backward like a redwood, while a ferocious Hendricks trembles with strength, a Spartan playing to the crowd -- those promos run hundreds of times a week. So yes, Georges St-Pierre has seen those promos, and he's gotten the message.

"I know in this fight I'm going to get hit. You don't have a fight without getting hit most of the time," St-Pierre said Monday.

"I'm not scared of it. I believe it's most likely. The chances are that, yes, I'm going to get hit. If you get hit as you're scared, that's when you take all the attack. You have to be ready for it."

In many ways, this is all old hat for St-Pierre. The reigning UFC welterweight champion has defended his title eight times since 2008, the second most consecutive defenses in promotion history. Each of those eight men, in some way or another, had been lauded as "the best (fill-in-the-blank)" St-Pierre had ever seen. The best wrestler, the best grappler, the best striker -- regardless of the boast, they all ultimately fell to St-Pierre's dominance.

Now it's Hendricks' turn to be buoyed by pre-fight hype, although this time there certainly seems to be more conviction to the words. Hendricks is a four-time All American, two-time NCAA Division I champion wrestler, and the legend of his superhuman punching power grows by the day. Even St-Pierre agrees, this challenger feels different.

"I've gone through it so many times, but it's never the same thing," St-Pierre said. "Every fight is different. Every fighter that I fight brings a different set of skills, and I believe as time goes by, the fighters get better all the time. Johny Hendricks, I believe, is the best guy that I've fought in my entire career.

"People talk a lot about his left hand. But I don't only focus on that. Johny is a very well-rounded fighter, and he's got a lot more than this. He's got a great right hook, an uppercut lead, great double leg. He's very well-rounded, and his jiu-jitsu, we haven't seen much of it, (but) I'm sure he's pretty good. He's training with Marc Laimon, who's one of the best. So I'm not focused only on the one thing. I'm focused on a lot of things and I've prepared myself the best I can be."

St-Pierre's preparation has been on display, up front and center throughout the lead-up to UFC 167. As the story goes, he found out Hendricks was going to train inside a regulation-sized Octagon. So he did what any red-blooded, hyper-competitive athlete with the means would do. He purchased his own Octagon for Tristar Gym.

It all falls in line with the mantra St-Pierre has repeated to any microphone that'll listen over the past few months -- that he's consumed with winning, and any pre-fight advantage, no matter how small, will be his, and his alone.

"That's where my confidence comes from, my preparation. It's like an exam," St-Pierre said. "When you're at school and you're studying very well for your exam, you're going to be very confident.

"I'm someone who's very obsessed about what I want. For example, for this fight, as soon as I got my hand raised with Nick Diaz, I started thinking about Johny Hendricks. Two days after that fight, I started preparing for [Hendricks]. I've been preparing for this fight for a very long time."

St-Pierre is still only 32, and though his body has suffered the wear and tear of this sport for over a decade, it's hard to say he's in anything but his athletic prime, particularly after his last title defense. St-Pierre dominated Diaz from pillar to post, yet for the seventh time in eight fights, St-Pierre allowed his opponent to survive until the final bell.

St-Pierre's risk-adverse style has garnering its fair share of detractors, but as the one glaring hole in his game, it's something he says he worked to fix this time around.

"I trained myself a little bit differently for this fight," St-Pierre explained. "To be better as a finisher. Of course if I have a chance to go for the finish in the first round, I'm going to go for it. I don't think about time. I'm thinking about opportunity and what's going to happen.

"The more pressure I have on me, the best I perform, as usual. That's how I work."

It's been six years since St-Pierre admitted to suffering the lack of focus which led, in part, to Matt Serra pulling off one of the greatest upsets in MMA history. In that time St-Pierre has honed his mind into one of unrivaled strength, a veritable assembly line which spits out conquered challenges like clockwork and is perpetually hungry for the lifeblood of new contenders.

The transformation is remarkable, without doubt, but in St-Pierre's eyes, there's still much work left to do.

"The worst thing I can do is underestimate my opponent. I did one time, and it will never, ever happen again," St-Pierre vowed.

"It's hard to be champion. It's harder to stay champion, because you are the target. Everybody looks at you and they want what you have. So that's why every time I finish a fight, bang, I focus on what's the next big thing. And right away, my mind is to get ready for the next big thing. I'm completely obsessed about that, and that's one of the things, that's the reason why I'm champion.

"I want to be known," St-Pierre finished. "I want to leave a legacy. To leave a legacy, I believe it's only by performing in the Octagon, it's by changing things. That's what I'm trying to do."

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