Looking back on Hendricks’ mistake

A corner between rounds is usually a place of organized chaos.
Simultaneously, there can be a head trainer trying to bring calm to
a situation that is anything but, coaches in various disciplines
shouting specific instructions, a cut man trying to address
bleeding or swelling, someone delivering water to the thirsty, and
regulatory officials monitoring it all. Among this maelstrom is the
focus of their efforts, the one attempting to process the previous
five minutes and make adjustments for whatever is to come.

Saturday night had one of those kinds of moments. As Johny
Hendricks took one last breath before entering the final round of
his UFC welterweight championship match with Georges St-Pierre, his
head coach Marc Laimon tried to rally him to the finish line.

“The belt’s yours,” Laimon said. “Go get

Johny Hendricks and his cornermen at UFC

At the time, he had plenty of reason to be positive. Hendricks
had clearly won the fourth round, and was either up 3-1 in rounds
or tied 2-2. Either way, the fight’s momentum was in his
corner. As he paced back and forth before the action restarted,
Hendricks looked fresh. He sang to himself, and as ref Mario
Yamasaki implored them to start, Hendricks clapped his hands
together and moved forward to engage St-Pierre.

As St-Pierre met him, he appeared a beaten champion. He had cuts
below both of his eyes, he had swelling on the left side of his
forehead, his expression was visibly tense. The fight was clearly
trending in Hendricks’ favor.

But minutes later, after the final scores were read,
it was St-Pierre who escaped with the
split-decision win
. For all of the attention that has been
hoisted on the judges’ decision, little
notice has been paid to the fact that Hendricks let the fifth round
escape him, making such a score possible.

How did it happen? In the final five minutes, Hendricks had not
only the most inactive round of the fight, but one of the most
inactive full rounds of his UFC career.

During the fifth round, he threw only 21 punches total and
didn’t try a single takedown. Meanwhile, the battered and
bruised St-Pierre threw 30 punches and tried four takedowns,
successfully completing two.

In Hendricks’ career, he hadn’t had a full round in
which he threw fewer strikes since he had lost his last bout, to
Rick Story back in Dec. 2010. In fact, that was the only round in
his UFC career in which he did less. Against Story, he had only
thrown 13 strikes over the final five minutes, although he
countered that lack of activity with five takedowns.

In nine full rounds with Mike Pierce, Josh Koscheck and Carlos
Condit, and four more with St-Pierre, Hendricks had been more
active. In seven full rounds with Charlie Brenneman, T.J. Grant and
Ricardo Funch, he’d been more active. Hendricks had
effectively had one of his worst-ever rounds at the worst possible

Part of that was because he was mostly in defensive mode.
St-Pierre felt the urgency of what was at stake, and spent most of
the round attacking the challenger. It’s not that Hendricks
was cruising to the finish line, but he wasn’t sprinting to
it, either, slowed down by a roadblock.

In the controversy over the decision, what was lost is that
Hendricks could have sealed the fight then. He certainly appeared
to be the fresher fighter of the two but let himself get outworked.
He was effectively protecting a lead which he couldn’t really
be sure he had.

This isn’t to absolve judges Sal D’Amato and Tony
Weeks of their decisions. The key round in the scoring turned out
to be the first. It was the only one of the five in which there was
any official disagreement from the judges. (Glenn Trowbridge scored
it for Hendricks.)

‘Bigg Rigg’ appeared to celebrate victory after the fifth
round. It was premature.

On paper, the first round was remarkably close. Hendricks landed
27 strikes to St-Pierre’s 26. Significant strikes went 19-18
to St-Pierre. Takedowns were 1-1. Yet afterward, conventional
thinking was that Hendricks won the first. In fact, of the 16 media
scores tallied by
MMADecisions.com, all 16 scored the fight
48-47 Hendricks, and of the 12 who submitted round-by-round scores,
all 12 gave Hendricks the first round.

The difference to most was power striking. While most of
St-Pierre’s landed strikes were jabs or body punches,
Hendricks landed eight power punches to the head to
St-Pierre’s one. By the end of the round, St-Pierre was
already bleeding. In a sport that judges a winner and loser with
eyes rather than any kind of objective scoring tally, all of that
usually matters. And Hendricks certainly appeared to be the more
effective striker. But still, it wasn’t an overwhelming
blowout of a round for Hendricks, not enough to have him 100
percent convinced that he was up 3-1 heading into the fifth.

If the judges deserve blame for their debatable mistake in the
first, Hendricks also deserves some fault for his inability to push
to the final bell. When Laimon implored him to “go get the
belt,” he didn’t do it. And in the end, giving away
that round cost him just as much as the one that two judges took
from him.