Johny Hendricks comes into Saturday night’s 170-pound title fight as more than a 2-to-1 underdog to Georges St-Pierre.
Considering the competition, that’s not too shabby.
Those relatively competitive odds seem to confirm (or at least perpetuate) the overwhelming public sentiment leading up to UFC 167—that Hendricks will be the most difficult test yet for the longtime champion and consensus GOAT welterweight.
Maybe we’re not quite expecting St-Pierre’s near six-year title reign to end this weekend, but at the very least, we have to keep reminding ourselves not to be surprised if it does.
Certainly Hendricks has been assigned more gravitas than we’ve granted nearly any previous GSP opponent. At this point, we’ve heard all about his crushing power, his wrestling pedigree and his aw-shucks refusal to shrink from the moment. We’ve watched three full episodes of Zuffa-produced UFC Primetime hype, the point of which seemed to be that Hendricks was born to be a champion.
Yet, much of the intrigue regarding this fight has nothing to do with him. Rather, it continues to swirl around the current titlist, a man we seldom describe with words like intriguing.
Reports regarding St-Pierre’s future have been all over the map during the past few weeks. At various times, his handlers have hinted at his retirement, backtracked from it and then brought it up again just in time for the UFC 167 media blitz.
St-Pierre mentor Kristof Midoux recently told French-Canadian news outlet La Presse he thinks the fighter should retire in the cage if he defeats Hendricks, as a way of “passing the torch” to teammate Rory MacDonald. St-Pierre and MacDonald have said again and again that they won’t fight each other, so for the 24-year-old up-and-comer to get his shot, St-Pierre would either have to move on or lose the belt.
GSP has tried to laugh off suggestions that the Hendricks bout will be his swan song while simultaneously dropping hints that he has “big plans” he can’t reveal quite yet.
“Right now I feel very happy with what I do,” he told MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani this week. “I feel very happy, very motivated and I’m planning my next fight, not my retirement.”
He claims he's “obsessed” with beating the former Oklahoma State wrestler, though those declarations are fairly common from the champion when he’s in his intense, pre-fight mode. By the same token, during the run-up to this bout, he’s talked openly about a future after fighting—settling down, getting married and having enough children to field a football team, he says.
For his part, UFC president Dana White said he hadn’t heard anything at all about GSP possibly hanging up his gloves until Helwani brought it up this week. During their interview, White noted that “passing the torch” to MacDonald would be an awfully strange thing for GSP to do.
He’s right about that. Regardless of how much confidence their camps may have in both fighters, there are way too many moving parts in this scenario—in any fight-related scenario, really—to justify St-Pierre stepping aside for MacDonald.
Just for starters, the kid has to beat Robbie Lawler this weekend, and St-Pierre has to beat Hendricks. Even then, it wouldn’t hurt for MacDonald to pick up a couple of more wins over Top 10 competition before we go ahead and anoint him the world’s next great 170-pounder.
Right now he’s got exactly one—over Jake Ellenberger a little less than four months ago.
St-Pierre and MacDonald may be best buds, but GSP is likely far too smart to think “stepping aside” makes any kind of sense.
So if not retirement, what then are these grand plans that the typically vanilla St-Pierre has been smirking about this week?
For years, there has been talk that he might chase a superfight at middleweight, though the timing seems off for that move, too. With Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman still more than a month out from settling their business and White saying during Thursday’s news conference that all superfight plans were dead, it’d be weird for St-Pierre to suddenly shove off for 185 pounds.
And again, he’d absolutely have to beat Hendricks to make that plausible.
A more realistic course of action could be cutting to lightweight, which he said on Thursday would be difficult but not impossible. It’s the sort of thing that could work whether he wins, loses or draws against Hendricks. Dropping down might be better for his physical frame than fighting at middleweight, and the move would likewise clear MacDonald’s path.
Then again, it would also be kind of a letdown. St-Pierre has been so dominant at welterweight that dropping to 155 pounds would just be him moving his fish-shooting business to a much smaller barrel. There’s also the curious case of champion Anthony Pettis, who may be out up to eight months after tearing his posterior cruciate ligament in training.
If GSP moves to lightweight, he would either have to fight someone who is not the champ or be in for a long wait.
Whatever the case, St-Pierre won’t let us in on the secret until after he fights Hendricks this weekend. Until then, we’ll all just have to wait to see if the St-Pierre Era comes to a close, or if it enters an unexpected new chapter.