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Retro Robbery Review: Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks at UFC 167

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Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 in Las Vegas on Nov. 16, 2013
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Few things infuriate MMA fans more than a fight being scored incorrectly, though the term “robbery” tends to be thrown around carelessly and is often steeped in bias. With Robbery Review, we’ll take a look back at controversial fights and determine whether the judges were rightly criticized for their decision or if pundits need to examine their own knee-jerk reactions.

Johny Hendricks was the one. If any fighter was going to dethrone Georges St-Pierre in his prime it was the two-time NCAA wrestling champion whose prodigious knockout power had made mincemeat of top contenders like Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann. Fitch went five rounds with St-Pierre; Hendricks KO’d Fitch in 12 seconds.

The clash was to take place at UFC 167 on Nov. 16, 2013, in Las Vegas. St-Pierre’s dominance was as pronounced as ever as he brought a 24-2 record into the fight with recent victories over Nick Diaz, Carlos Condit, and Jake Shields. He’d looked vulnerable at times in the Diaz and Condit fights—perceived vulnerability being one of the hallmarks of St-Pierre’s championship run—and a fresh challenger like Hendricks was someone fans could get behind.

We all remember how it went down. Hendricks hit St-Pierre as hard as anyone, even if he never could land the finishing blow. St-Pierre’s tactical striking was evident too, but this wasn’t the dissection that his defenses usually were. When the final bell rang, there was change in the air.

Two of the three judges disagreed with that notion. St-Pierre retained. Then he stepped away from competition. There would be no rematch.

At the post-fight presser, Dana White was perplexed by the judges’ call, asking the media, “Does anybody here think that Johny Hendricks didn’t win the fight?”

Hendricks believed he won four of the five rounds and the outcome was disputed by a large segment of fighters, fans, and the media. In retrospect, criticisms of the verdict have softened, but this remains one of the most controversial championship fights of all-time.

The fight happened seven years ago today. It’s time for what may be the most important Retro Robbery Review yet.

What was the official result?

Georges St-Pierre def. Johny Hendricks via split decision.

How did the fight go?

First of all, let’s bury one myth deep in the dirt for good: Hendricks did not tap in the first 30 seconds of the fight. Yes, this is a thing people have said. St-Pierre ducked a punch and got a takedown, attempted a guillotine, and Hendricks quickly got his head free. His left arm and hand vaguely shook by St-Pierre’s hip, which could be mistaken for a tap watching live, but with the benefit of hindsight it was obviously an innocuous gesture that occurred as Hendricks was already out of danger.

Moving on to the actual fight, St-Pierre’s focus on wrestling in round one was both surprising and not surprising at the same time. On the one hand, his best path to victory was to neutralize Hendricks’ striking and control him on the ground as he had so many other challengers; on the other hand, wrestling is also one of Hendricks’ strengths and St-Pierre typically attacked his opponents’ weaknesses (the Josh Koscheck fight is a good example of how he might have considered handling Hendricks). Not that it mattered much as this bout primarily took place on the feet after referee Mario Yamasaki broke up an early clinch stalemate.

Hendricks rifled uppercuts at St-Pierre’s dome as the champion ducked down for a single leg, and punished St-Pierre with elbows as well. He scored a takedown of his own and landed a few punches as St-Pierre recovered. A knee by Hendricks again caught a ducking St-Pierre. His timing was so on-point. The poor start seemed to wake St-Pierre up and he started tagging Hendricks with jabs and kicks. Back in the clinch, Hendricks fared well, taking knees to the body but firing back with some pointed knees to St-Pierre’s thigh. In the closing moments of round one, St-Pierre got a few more points on the board with his diverse attack, while Hendricks threatened with that dynamite left hand. Whoever the judges scored it for, round one was far from the cool, calm, control we’d become accustomed to from St-Pierre.

Hendricks was all smiles going into round two. Really, for most of this fight, he was feeling himself. St-Pierre came out firing body and leg kicks, and Hendricks answered with those straight lefts. It’s his left uppercut that really gave St-Pierre problems and unfortunately for Hendricks he lost his mouthpiece during one of the exchanges leading to a break in the action. One major issue for Hendricks appeared to be defense as he was content to take one to give one, which led to St-Pierre looking like the busier fighter at times. Even though Hendricks absorbed strikes well, he took a lot of them.

Round three, St-Pierre was moving well, but Hendricks’ timing was on point. He was still getting picked apart from range, but he also connected with hard shots when St-Pierre got too close. St-Pierre also made Hendricks miss a lot. It’s possible that Hendricks was conserving his energy to prepare himself for two more tough rounds, because he let St-Pierre dictate the pace of the third. With Hendricks not having quite the same explosiveness in this round, the volume of St-Pierre could have been the key.

St-Pierre clearly had the advantage in range striking, but Hendricks had success with his jab in round four. Not as much as St-Pierre though, and that’s a problem when that power left was suddenly catching air. St-Pierre got tripped up and Hendricks ended up on top again (Hendricks also scored a takedown at the end of round two, but not much came of it). This time, Hendricks added to his total strike count with consistent, if not overly damaging, ground-and-pound. Back on the feet, it’s clear that St-Pierre was wearing the fight worse than Hendricks, for what that’s worth. St-Pierre started to push the pace, showing urgency, but Hendricks grabbed onto him resulting in a grappling stalemate to close round four.

Jab, jab, jab, jab. With one round to go St-Pierre stuck with the game plan. If he was way down on the scorecards, it didn’t seem like he was aware of it. A 1-2 landed clean for St-Pierre, then he took the decorated wrestler down. Hendricks defended well, only eating a few knees to the body on the ground. Outside of the occasional high kick, St-Pierre still didn’t take too many chances. Both teams were confident that the fifth round could be the difference, despite how well Hendricks had performed. A late takedown by St-Pierre drew a roar from the crowd, though Hendricks again made sure that St-Pierre scored nothing off of it. St-Pierre attacked with a kimura, but the submission wasn’t coming. Hendricks celebrated as if he’d won and then embraced St-Pierre. Disappointment was soon to follow.

What did the judges say?

Sal D’Amato scored it 48-47 St-Pierre.

Glenn Trowbridge scored it 48-47 Hendricks.

Tony Weeks scored it 48-47 St-Pierre.

Round one was the difference. D’Amato and Weeks gave it to St-Pierre, while all three judges agreed on rounds two and four (Hendricks), and rounds three and five (St-Pierre).

What did the numbers say?

(Statistics per UFC Stats)

Strictly counting the significant stats, St-Pierre won comfortably 101-85 and won all three rounds that D’Amato and Weeks gave him, but round one was all but a statistical wash as St-Pierre edged Hendricks out 19-18. Round three was huge for St-Pierre as he doubled up Hendricks in that frame 31-15 and also did so in round five, though less impressively at 9-4.

The rounds that Hendricks won were not as dominant as one might suspect. He took round two 30-28 and round four 18-14. He also had the advantage in total strikes at 142-125, for what that’s worth. It’s worth noting that according to statistician Michael Carroll, the 85 strikes that Hendricks landed were the most anyone had against St-Pierre in the UFC.

In terms of head strikes, undoubtedly a category that affected how many viewed the fight, Hendricks won convincingly 58-47. St-Pierre won the body strike battle going away, 26-4, and had a slight edge in leg kicks 28-23.

No knockdowns were scored in the fight and St-Pierre had one more takedown with three to Hendricks’ two. The ground exchanges resulted in little significant action as St-Pierre was credited with one significant ground strike and Hendricks four.

What did the media say?

In a rarity for a UFC championship fight, the media was unanimous that the wrong person won. All 16 media member scores tallied on MMA Decisions saw the fight 48-47 for Hendricks.

What did the people say?

It’s close, but if it were up to the fans we’d have seen the end of St-Pierre’s legendary title run at UFC 167.

On MMA Decisions, 44.4 percent of voters scored the fight 48-47 for Hendricks, with 48-47 St-Pierre close behind at 38.2 percent. In third place with 5.3 percent was a draw verdict, while 49-46 Hendricks (5.1 percent) and 49-47 Hendricks (1.7 percent) give a small boost to the challenger’s case.

From rounds two to five, over 90 percent of voters leaned in the same direction as the judges. It’s the fateful first round in which we see an obvious divide, with 54.3 percent going 10-9 Hendricks and 40.4 percent going 10-9 St-Pierre.

Did I mention this fight was controversial?

Here’s what other fighters and MMA personalities had to say at the time:

More reactions, all of the opinion that Hendricks was robbed, can be read here.

How did I score it?

Seven years ago, watching as a “GSP” fan, I was relieved when the judges scored the fight for him. Relieved, not elated. I thought he’d lost. I hadn’t watched the fight since, not until I had to write this feature. Upon further review:

48-47 Hendricks.

He won round one. I know what the stats say, but that one-strike advantage for St-Pierre in the first can’t override what I saw with my own two eyes. Hendricks hit him early, he hit him hard, and he didn’t appear to be significantly affected by St-Pierre’s 19 strikes in that round. Sure, that may have more to do with Hendricks’ durability than any shortcomings on St-Pierre’s part, but that has to count for something if we’re allowing for any sort of critical subjectivity.

The other rounds, there’s not much to discuss, though one could argue that St-Pierre took round two. I wouldn’t. So it all comes down to round one and I can’t in good conscience score it for St-Pierre, regardless of how the numbers added up.

Was it a robbery?

St-Pierre put on a great performance. Hendricks was better. Could Hendricks have done more to seal the deal? Most definitely. He let up on the gas in round three and his output in the championship rounds was less impressive than in rounds one and two. He didn’t finish strong. But it’s not like there was any point in the fight where St-Pierre overwhelmingly outclassed him. The highest highs of the fight were on the Hendricks side.

One might be tempted to call this a slight robbery, but robberies by definition have to be considered grave and inarguable. So slight robbery is an oxymoron. This is a binary call.

It all depends on whether you think scoring round one for St-Pierre is justifiable. It’s a yes or no question.

The final verdict

Robbery.

Poll

Was Georges St-Pierre’s win over Johny Hendricks a robbery?

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    Yes
    (1030 votes)
  • 60%
    No
    (1559 votes)
2589 votes total Vote Now