Throughout his career, Georges St-Pierre has enjoyed the kind of dominance few champions can boast about during a title reign. He’s fallen to defeat only twice in his entire career, and the amount of rounds he’s lost during his time as champion could be counted on one hand.
St-Pierre has become the master strategist for his fights, taking opponents and beating them where they are strongest. The first time he faced NCAA champion wrestler Josh Koscheck, he took him down at will and put the Edinboro grad on his back in a position he’s rarely faced in his career. The same could be said for Jon Fitch, who was a notorious wrestler that would grind opponents down to a nub in his fights, but he had no such luck facing St-Pierre.
This time as St-Pierre approaches his next fight at UFC 167, he’s the betting favorite like always, but there’s a quiet buzz under the surface of his matchup against Johny Hendricks that has the world wondering if the eight time defending champion has finally met his match.
Hendricks is a two-time NCAA champion wrestler, but also packs a knockout punch that is akin to Dan Henderson’s famous right hand that has put more people to sleep than Ambien. The Texas native mowed through a contender’s list at welterweight that included Koscheck, Fitch, Martin Kampmann and Carlos Condit, so when he was finally given his shot at the belt no one could say he was unworthy.
Nobody knows just how dangerous this fight is for St-Pierre more than Hendricks himself, and he believes deep down inside when the lights are off and a deafening silence echoes across the room, the UFC’s welterweight champion is a little bit scared.
"I am a bad matchup for GSP," Hendricks told FOX Sports. "For one, he says that I’ve never faced people like him, but I have. 190 pounds, 5’10", reach, I’ve faced a lot of guys like that. He’s never faced a guy that’s going to walk into the Octagon at 200 pounds with the ability to make him forget that night. Those are the things that I’m going to use to my advantage, and to play mind games with. That’s what it’s all about — not only beating your opponent, but getting in his head."
The mental preparation for this fight goes beyond getting in St-Pierre’s head — it also goes back to Hendricks and his own visualization for how this fight will end. He’s seen it play a thousand different ways, and in some of those versions of the fight Hendricks isn’t the one coming out with his hand raised.
The former Oklahoma State wrestler likes to look at how he can both win and lose this fight, although he believes the variety will vary greatly between his method of victory and how St-Pierre can come out on top. Hendricks knows that the Canadian welterweight only has one method with which he can come away victorious, and he’s worked tirelessly to prevent that from happening.
"There’s a lot of ways I feel like I can win this fight and I know there’s one way I can lose this fight. That is to let it be like every other GSP fight — he takes you down, you try to play your guard, you try to do this, you try to do that, and it becomes a grueling fight," Hendricks said.
Even that particular game plan may not benefit St-Pierre, however, because according to Hendricks he’s not the same fighter he used to be a few years ago. Maybe it was the knee injury that took St-Pierre out of the sport for over a year, but Hendricks has been paying close attention to his recent fights and he notices one glaring issue the champion is having these days.
"Guess what? Have you been watching Georges’ last three or four fights? He gets tired after the third (round)," Hendricks said. "How many takedowns did he get on Nick Diaz after the third period? Now he’s starting to get so worried about getting takedowns, takedowns, takedowns, that he’s gassing at the third. If I know the pace that I can pull and do you think GSP can go three rounds with the pace I’ve been pulling?
"Everybody that I’ve fought has been tired after my fights. Don’t get me wrong, so have I, but that’s the kind of pressure that I put. Now I’ve learned where to manage that. Meaning that I can keep the same pace but I’m not wearing myself out. Now I’m learning I can do a five round fight, and I can do it easily."
Hendricks’ confidence forces him to back up his words in the cage and he plans to do just that on Saturday night. He wants the world to know before the fight ever happens that he plans on walking out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena with a shiny gold belt around his waist, and St-Pierre’s name added to his list of victims.
And Hendricks is faithful prescribing to the idea that his victory will be welcomed by fans as a changing of the guard, tossing out the old and bringing in the new. A champion that will fight to be exciting, exhilarating and one that no one will be able to guess what he’s going to do next.
"I think the fans are wanting somebody that they don’t know what’s going to happen. They don’t know if it’s going to go the distance, they don’t know if it’s going to go 30 seconds or two minutes. That’s what I want. That’s the kind of person I want to be. I want to be the kind of person that’s unpredictable," Hendricks said.
St-Pierre may be entering the fight as the UFC welterweight champion, but Hendricks says that all of the gold in the world won’t save him from what’s about to happen once the Octagon door closes.
"The belt, that’s not going to go in there and help him," Hendricks said. "Nothing’s going to go in there and help him."