LAS VEGAS—Don't look now, but for the first time I can remember, a majority of fans and media types are picking against Georges St-Pierre.
This is not an unfamiliar thing for me. Dating back to 2006, I have picked the following fighters to beat St-Pierre: Matt Hughes, BJ Penn, Jon Fitch, BJ Penn (again), Thiago Alves, Jake Shields and Carlos Condit.
St-Pierre won all of those fights—most of them without breaking much of a sweat, it seemed—which left me awfully gun-shy when it comes to picking against the greatest welterweight in the history of mixed martial arts.
I just can't do it. I don't care if Johny Hendricks really is St-Pierre's toughest opponent yet (mostly because every opponent St-Pierre faces is his toughest one yet; I can't tell if he's selling a fight or if he must tell himself that the man across the cage has a chance of winning in order to "get up" for a fight) or if he's just the latest underdog darling that everyone secretly wants to win, just for the sake of having something fresh and new.
And make no mistake about it. Hendricks is fresh and new, or at least he would be if he were able to beat St-Pierre. He's a finisher, which is something St-Pierre seemingly forgot about long ago. St-Pierre consistently says that he can't finish fights because he's fighting tough opponents, but Hendricks has finished some of those same opponents that St-Pierre has taken the distance.
For all of these reasons and more (one of which is likely his spectacular, manly beard), the public has fallen in love with Hendricks. The media? I'm picking one of the greatest fighters of all time, a man who has rarely been so much as bruised since his second title reign began, and I am in the minority. Everyone is on board the Hendricks hype train, and it's rolling into that UFC 167 station on Saturday night.
But, here's the thing: everyone picking Hendricks? I know how they're going to feel on Saturday night, when St-Pierre again cruises to a boring, but easy decision. I know what they'll think when St-Pierre says at the post-fight press conference that he is not happy with his performance and that he wanted to finish Hendricks. I know how they will look back and wonder how they were ever swayed by the Hendricks hype train in the first place.
I know because I've been there. I've been that guy who picks the underdog so that, in the 3 in 10 chance he pulls it off, I can point my finger and everyone and say: Hey, look how smart I am. I saw something that none of you did. I picked the little guy to beat the great champion, and I was right.
Only, I never got to say those words, because St-Pierre is a phenom of a fighter who is heavily disrespected simply because fans don't appreciate his style of winning. He always has been, and there's a chance he'll walk away from the sport on Saturday night and we'll never realize what we had until he's gone.
Because what he is is this: one of the very best mixed martial artists of all time. And on Saturday night, he's going to dispose of yet another challenger—the bushy-bearded darling of the mixed martial arts world—and he's going to make it look easy in the process.