UFC 167 and the Ongoing Search for Georges 'Rush' St-Pierre

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UFC 167 and the Ongoing Search for Georges 'Rush' St-Pierre
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On November 16, 2013, UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre will be stepping into the Octagon at UFC 167. Across the cage from him will be the dangerous Johny Hendricks, who has been chomping at the bit to lay a heavy fist on St-Pierre’s chin.

Hendricks represents the most dangerous threat to St-Pierre’s crown because he has one-punch KO power. Previous opponents like Dan Hardy and Thiago Alves had it too, but not to the degree of Hendricks.

Despite the danger, St-Pierre will be favored to win in typical GSP fashion: by decision.

He is probably the most consistently dominant fighter in the sport today. When he fights, he’s so picture perfect that his adversary rarely wins a round. Jake Shields won a round, as did Carlos Condit, but that’s about it.

That's impressive when you consider just how many rounds he has fought in total. In his second run as champion, St-Pierre has been in the cage for 39 rounds.

He has won at least 35 of them.

Since he recaptured the title at UFC 83, he’s never really been tested, save for a poke in the eye here and a slick boot to the head there. He’s never been overwhelmed or had to rally back as Anderson Silva did against Chael Sonnen at UFC 117.

St-Pierre doesn’t get dominated; he does the dominating. That’s why he’s the longest-reigning champion in UFC welterweight history.

But a different version of St-Pierre took the UFC by storm. That version bounced back from a submission loss to Matt Hughes at UFC 50 and needed only nine rounds to prove he deserved another title shot.

Georges "Rush" St-Pierre, via sherdog.com

That version was known as “Rush,” and the nickname was fitting.

Over four fights, from UFC 52 to 58, Rush dominated Jason “Mayhem” Miller, annihilated Frank Trigg, picked apart Sean Sherk and bounced back from a bad first round against BJ Penn to win the fight and claim the right to challenge Hughes once again.

Sadly, Rush hasn’t been around for a long time.

Of course, die-hard fans of GSP report Rush sightings every time he enters the Octagon: “He’s right there dominating the entire fight,” they say.

Others say we don’t see Rush as often as we used to because the level of competition doesn’t leave room for risk taking. Opponents like Condit, Shields, Hardy, Josh Koscheck and Nick Diaz are just too dangerous to take any chances with.

So, it’s best to just dominate round after round. Besides, they say, a dominant five-round decision is way more impressive than a stoppage.

They say, anyway.                                                                                                       

Every time St-Pierre is scheduled to fight, I get excited. He’s an excellent fighter and a well-spoken and kind individual. He’s easy to root for, dominant and consistent—almost all the things you’d want out of a fighter.

As unbiased as writers are supposed to be, I admit that I root for him to win because he’s so upright and wholesome. Rooting against him just seems un-American, even though he is Canadian.

But come November 16, I think he’s in trouble.

If Rush were to meet Hendricks, I’d confidently pick the champ to win the day because the challenger wouldn’t be guaranteed a full 25 minutes worth of opportunities to land one of those big punches.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Johny Hendricks, moments after starching Jon Fitch
But against GSP, a five-round fight is a given, and 25 minutes is a long time to stand in front of a heavy slugger who knows how to wrestle.

One of the great things about Rush was that he was unpredictable. Opponents knew he was coming after them, but they didn’t know how or when. Would he use his own aggression, or would he catch a transition or capitalize on one mistake and run another fighter into the ground?

That’s level of unpredictability is needed against a fighter like Hendricks. Rush made fighters pay for mistakes, took chances in pursuit of the finish and believed that the best defense is a good offense.

But Hendricks won’t have to worry about that because the fighter he will be facing doesn’t implement a style that keeps the opposition guessing. GSP is very methodical. As a friend of mine said, GSP is starting to stand for “Grounded, Strategic and Predictable.”

None of those are bad qualities, alone or together, but they do not guarantee success against every style, especially for 25 minutes.

If Hendricks makes a mistake, he doesn’t have to worry that St-Pierre is going to take it all away from him by finishing the fight then and there. GSP isn’t going to take any unnecessary risks.

Yes, St-Pierre is dangerous, but only when he feels 100 percent certain he can afford to be. He’s not fighting to conquer; he’s out there conducting a symphony that is as close to flawless as he can create.

And none of that is going to give Hendricks any sleepless nights leading up to the fight.

St-Pierre has become so methodical and tactical that he has all but eliminated the element of surprise in his fights. He is going to maximize the reward and minimize the risk in every opportunity available to him. He’s going to maintain top control for as long as possible every time he gets it.

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
GSP on cruise control
It’s a winning strategy if there ever was one, and given how he has turned it into a species of dominance that is almost risk-free, you can’t begrudge him for it.

But if the biggest threat that he can offer Hendricks is a loss via decision, well, that’s not a daunting result in a title fight. Granted, Hendricks hates to lose just like anyone else, but losing via unanimous or split decision is about as safe a negative outcome as allowed in combat sports.

GSP is a very “safe” fighter these days.

Perhaps his motivation has changed. Before he got the title the first time, he was like a ravenous beast, eating his way to the crown.

But he’s had the belt for a long time now, and while on paper he looks like a king, in the cage he fights more like a guardian. Keeping the title seems much like a matter of policy than passion.

After all, that policy  superseded his passion when he fought Diaz at UFC 158. When Diaz verbally attacked him in the press, he did so from every angle. The only thing he didn’t do was drag St-Pierre’s family into it.

In return, St-Pierre was as mad as Dana White had ever seen him. He promised to give Diaz the worst beating of his life. The threat teased a return of Rush to the Octagon.

But GSP showed up instead, put all his anger and fury (his passion) in his back pocket and ground out a safe and dominant unanimous decision, walking out of the event with his championship intact.

Yet he also left something behind in the cage.

After the third round, the camera found Diaz in his corner. Did that harsh lens of scrutiny find him a beaten, regretful man, worried about having to face two more rounds with the champion?

“He hits like a b*tch,” said Diaz to his corner men. “Win or lose, he hits like a b*tch.”

That’s quite a contrast from earlier days when Rush left his opponents singing a different tune. Trigg was reduced to tears after their fight, telling St. Pierre, “You’re so good, you’re so good.”

And he’s still good—he’s the best in the division, without a doubt. But on a long enough time line, everyone loses.

And 25 minutes with a man like Hendricks is a very long time.

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