The UFC kicks off their 20th anniversary show on Saturday by bringing out the big guns, namely, one of their top stars in a title defense. Canadian welterweight ace Georges St-Pierre tries to defend his title against against former Oklahoma State University wrestling standout Johny Hendricks, a man some consider to be one of St-Pierre's greater threats in his illustrious career.
Will St-Pierre be able to find a way around the high potency of Hendricks' power left? Is Hendricks ready for the technical expertise and complete game of the welterweight champion? I answer these questions and more with predictions for Saturday's fights.
What: UFC 167: St-Pierre vs. Hendricks
Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada
When: Saturday, the three-fight Facebook card starts at 6:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight Fox Sports 1 card starts at 8 p.m. and the five-fight main card starts on pay-per-view at 10 p.m.
Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks
Whenever I do these predictions, I'm not actually asserting who will win. No one can know such a thing (although we all came close when we said Chad Mendes was going to bludgeon Cody McKenzie). What we are saying is we think X winning is the likeliest outcome.
X, in this case, is GSP.
As an amateur wrestling enthusiast, I've been a long-time fan of Hendricks. I love his aggression and go-for-broke style, which he exhibited to varying degrees in wrestling as well as MMA. That he's developed and been able to leverage his huge power has been a delight to watch. He absolutely deserves this title shot and is a credible threat to GSP. Picking him wouldn't be the craziest idea.
The problem is his aggression is likely to be his undoing. If St-Pierre was sick against Nick Diaz and not actually slowing down due to age, then he should be able to expertly counter Hendricks aggression either with level changes or proactively with jabs from the outside. The other issue Hendricks faces is his guard and gas tank. In the third round of his bout with bout with Josh Koscheck, he was unable to do anything from the bottom except hang on. He was also exhausted because the way he fights is so intense and dynamic.
Anything can happen. Hendricks is more than capable of putting GSP's lights out. But the likeliest outcome is that GSP plays a patient, counter fighting game that holds on early and takes over late.
I've been less than impressed with Evans in his last two showings while Sonnen more recently shined against Shogun. Still, Sonnen has his plate full with duties beyond getting ready for fights. Beyond that, if Evans is able to recalibrate his game, he's not a great match-up for Sonnen. He should either be able to stuff the takedown or get up quickly once being taken down. On the feet, to the extent the fight plays out there, he should be able to do damage on top. I also think he's more than able to take Sonnen down should that be part of his game plan.
Rory MacDonald vs. Robbie Lawler
This fight is eerily similar to GSP vs. Hendricks. I see MacDonald doing something similar to what he did against Ellenberger while Lawler circles on the outside. It's also not out of the realm of possibility MacDonald could work for the takedown and elect to play top position passing/damage scoring. Either way, for as much progress as Lawler has made and as much patience that he's added to his game, it's hard to see a clear, unequivocal path to victory absent an errant punch somehow finding the mark.
Josh Koscheck vs. Tyron Woodley
This fight has an overwhelming potential to be boring as Woodley simply reverts to what he's good at - wrestling by pressing opposition into the fence - whenever there's even a hint of a challenge. He's better than that, of course, but has thus far failed to demonstrate as much. Koscheck's abilities are declining as he ages, no matter how much he laughs off the suggestion. Still, he should have enough defensive wrestling to negate much of that. His winging punches aren't the most effective, but could be enough of a deterrent for Woodley.
Tim Elliot vs. Ali Bagautinov
Stated plainly, Elliot is far more well rounded. Bagautinov packs a punch and is able to persevere through bad moments and tough spots, but Elliot is simply too technical in too many positions for him to lose this.
From the preliminary card:
Donald Cerrone > Evan Dunham
Ed Herman > Thales Leites
Brian Ebersole < Rick Story
Erik Perez > Edwin Figueroa
Jason High > Anthony Lapsley
Will Campuzano < Sergio Pettis
Cody Donovan < Gian Villante
*Note: This article initially incorrectly selected Figueroa over Perez. The article has been corrected to reflect the author's original and intended prediction of Perez over Figueroa.