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


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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,


target="_blank">it was St-Pierre who escaped with the

split-decision win. For all of the attention that has been


target="_blank">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.)

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‘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


target="_blank">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.