The UFC makes its return to Las Vegas this Saturday night as the MGM Grand Garden Arena plays host to a stacked UFC 167 card.
The main event features the return to the Octagon for arguably the sport’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter and UFC Welterweight Champion Georges “Rush” St. Pierre (24-2). GSP made his UFC debut right here in Las Vegas at UFC 46 back in 2004, and since that time he’s exited the cage with his hand being raised in 18 of his 20 UFC bouts, and captured gold twice.
His opponent for this ninth defense of the coveted 170 lb. UFC strap, Johny (just the one n) “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks (15-1) has reeled off six straight wins under the UFC banner, with his last defeat coming almost three years ago.
Currently bookmakers have set the price with the champion listed as a -250 betting favorite, and the take-back on the challenger at +210. This reflects the obvious fan perception that Hendricks poses as one of GSP’s greatest threats to date, with his one-punch knock-out power that’s ended the night for three of his last six opponents in the very first round.
For GSP, this marks only his fifth fight in more than 3½ years and with waves of new MMA fans, many have not been afforded the chance to see just how dominant a fighter the champion is. This is why I believe the betting line is much lower than the skill levels of both men, coupled with their resumes, ultimately supports.
Bottom line: I made my “true line” on this title fight based on win probability at GSP -375, and even then believe I was being a bit generous to the challenger. Let me explain.
Simply put, the champion is one of the most well rounded MMA practitioners the sport has ever known, and I do mean ever. More importantly, we’ve continued to see the evolution of GSP as he’s improved different aspects of his arsenal with every bout. Statistically GSP has proven to be one of the most elusive fighters, defending 75% of his opponent’s strikes.
That’s correct, less than 3 of every 10 strikes attempted by opponents ever hit their target when it’s GSP on the other end. The challenger Hendricks, in comparison avoids only 58%, which is actually very respectable. But it just goes to show the different level that GSP competes at.
The ability to avoid getting hit is even more significant for this bout since many believe the greatest threat to GSP’s crown is Hendricks’ devastating left hand. Also, the champion connects at a higher percentage as well, and has landed more strikes per 15 minutes than the challenger. Therefore, it is very difficult to see any way Hendricks’ wins by decision if both fighters remain upright and it’s a striking match.
It’s no secret Hendricks’ is an accomplished wrestler who’s been able to use his takedowns to overwhelm opponents and grind out a decision when his fights have gone to the judges. In fact, in his last bout against Carlos Condit, though he was out-landed, Hendricks put Condit on his back 12 times to win unanimously on all 3 judges’ scorecards. The challenger has gone on record saying he would “smash” St. Pierre in a wrestling match.
Not so fast I say.
The champion has become one of the most difficult wrestlers to handle inside the Octagon. GSP has used his wrestling to take opponents down at will, stuff take-down attempts, and completely dominate from top control when he decides to take a fight to the mat. When on his back, GSP has been very comfortable employing high level Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or using his strength advantage to get back on his feet. Once again the stats are very much in favor of the champion as GSP has been able to avoid 86% of opponents’ takedown attempts. On the flip side, when the champion decided to take the fight to the mat, he’s been successful 76% of the time, compared to only 50% for the challenger.
Finally, the most over used cliché in the fight game is “styles make fights,” and yet it is just so true. For this main event, there are very few places the fight can take place where I see Hendricks’ having a “style” advantage, while for GSP, no matter where it goes he’ll have the edge. Ultimately that means Hendricks will need to land that power shot that’s gotten him a title shot, if he is to become the newly crowned welterweight champion of the world.
Many may argue, to say he’s only got a “puncher’s chance” would be a bit of a stretch, and by no means am I attempting to negate the accomplishments of Hendricks thus far in his MMA career, but I am confident he’s yet to defeat, or has ever even faced an opponent with GSP’s Octagon acumen. Few champions have ever been so complete, both mentally and physically when it comes to being well prepared.
St. Pierre has been able to beat his opponents by neutralizing their greatest assets, then overwhelming them with his own and dictating where and how the fight will go. And if he’s able to negate the left hand of Hendricks, rest assured it’s going to be a long night for the challenger, and one that may not last the entire 5 rounds.
PICK: ST. PIERRE
Bonus Co-Main Event Pick: CHAEL SONNEN +155 over Rashad Evans
Vegas-Runner, a pro sports bettor in Las Vegas, has been featured on CNBC/ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @vegasrunner, at Pregame.com and on AM 1100 ESPN (also FM 98.9) on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. when he co-hosts First Preview. Contact Vegas Runner at [email protected].