Whether you think Georges St-Pierre deserved his decision victory, or you believe Johny Hendricks was robbed, it's hard to argue that Hendricks didn't take it to the champion on the feet like no man before him.
A few hours before UFC 167 began, I published a short breakdown entitled "Johny Hendricks: A Real and Unique Threat" in which I talked about the entirely unique matchup which Hendricks brought. In this piece, I discussed the difficulty which a traditional southpaw provides for a jab-centric orthodox fighter.
Both St-Pierre and his teammate Rory MacDonald are excellent at using their jab to hurt opponents but struggled to get much going at UFC 167.
Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler showed that you don't need to be a better or more rounded fighter. You just need to be the right fighter. They were stylistic nightmares for their opponents and put on great showings as a result.
In his last two fights, St-Pierre has met two southpaws after a significant length of time without meeting one. In that time, he had learned to box—and particularly to jab—with great effectiveness and venom.
The first southpaw whom St-Pierre met was Nick Diaz. Diaz is a southpaw but not in the conventional mould. Diaz's focus is on lead-hand punches just as any orthodox boxer is taught. He opened himself up to St-Pierre's jab often and really had nothing for the champion.
The Traditional Southpaw
Hendricks, however, is far more like a traditional southpaw—the kind of southpaw whom great orthodox boxers would avoid in the golden days of boxing. Were he fighting in another time, Hendricks would likely be forced out of the fight game due to a lack of fighters wanting to match up with a dangerous left-hander.
A traditional southpaw barely jabs at all, his lead hand exists entirely to eliminate the orthodox boxer's jab. This makes everything the orthodox fighter usually does nearly worthless. He cannot lead with his jab anymore so he must throw his rear hand, which is further away, slower and unnatural to him.
Meanwhile, the southpaw has likely always been sparring and fighting against orthodox fighters; there are just so many more of them. He is used to using his lead hand to check and throwing his rear hand as a lead.
In both the main event and the MacDonald vs. Lawler bout, we were treated to these southpaw versus orthodox matchups. Both MacDonald and St-Pierre have previously demonstrated brilliant, fight-changing jabs, and at UFC 167, neither could get his jab going with any consistency.
Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald
I used the phrase "traditional southpaw," but Lawler does a lot of weird things. His lead counter-uppercut is one of his favourite punches, and it certainly isn't a conventional one. But what he does excellently, which MacDonald has not encountered before, is control the lead hand.
With his lead (right) hand extended, Lawler keeps his palm in the path of MacDonald's jab. Nobody (certainly not if they're fighting an opponent in their own weight class) can vaporize an opponent's hand with their jab in this sort of position.
This match was billed as a technician, MacDonald, against an instinctive power-puncher, Lawler. In actuality, what it was was a good southpaw versus a fighter who hasn't ever fought a good, experienced southpaw.
Lawler controlled MacDonald's lead hand, grabbed at his wrist, slapped his hand down and generally harassed the jab into impotence. MacDonald's unfamiliarity with the position showed when he dropped his hand to escape from Lawler's hand control but remained in range.
This allowed Lawler to capitalize with lead elbows and jabs of his own.
What Lawler also did well, and has always done, was give MacDonald the opportunity to punch and then throw his lead (right) hook over the top of it. It was this punch which caused MacDonald so much trouble at the start of the third round.
Deny the opponent an opening all fight then show it and you can almost guarantee their response. Lawler is known as a wild man, but he's one of the savviest counterpunchers (particularly southpaw counterpunches) in MMA.
MacDonald's wrestling looked as good as ever, but Lawler used butterfly hooks on the ground to neutralize MacDonald's dangerous ground-and-pound.
Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks
The problems which I suggested could exist for St-Pierre affected him to a greater degree than I could have ever predicted. St-Pierre's jab was completely neutralized for large portions of the bout, leaving him to essentially lead with other, less reliable techniques or to wrestle against a stronger wrestler.
Today the forums are filled with questions about why GSP didn't jab more and what could he have done better. It wasn't that GSP didn't feel like jabbing, it was that he couldn't for the most part. Hendricks' lead hand prevented St-Pierre from firing straight to the target for the most part.
Now St-Pierre did land some nice hooks around Hendricks' extended lead hand, which is a danger if you get into hand fighting too far from your body. St-Pierre also landed his jab very effectively as a response to Hendricks' misses, which in any Hendricks match are many.
Hendricks' habit of diving forward behind his face, then leaving his face out after he is done punching, is appearing less frequently in his fights but still more than it should. If Hendricks missed with one of his bull rushes, or even after he connected, he would eat a stiff jab on the snout while his hands dangled.
St-Pierre is the greatest mixed martial artist fighting today because, obviously enough, he is the greatest in mixing his skills. In terms of pure wrestling, he is not on the level of many of the accomplished wrestlers he fights, but his excellent striking game upsets them so much that he can get easy takedowns on them.
By effectively removing St-Pierre's striking game (which is very one-dimensional at this point), Hendricks forced St-Pierre into an awkward stand-up match or a pure wrestling match against a stronger pure wrestler.
How Can St-Pierre Take the Rematch?
So what are St-Pierre's option in a rematch? How can he stop the next southpaw he fights simply coming along, focusing on checking his lead hand and making him fight with techniques which hold a fraction of the effectiveness?
Well to start he could learn to lead with his right hand. He threw the occasional superman punch, rather than superman jab, against Hendricks in order to lead with his right hand, but aside from that, most of his offence which wasn't jabbing proved as ineffective as jabbing into Hendricks' outstretched palm.
Against southpaws, when hand fighting, it is best to look to get your lead hand outside of theirs, then pull it toward you and across yourself as you step your lead foot outside of theirs and throw a right straight.
Getting the lead foot outside the opponent's and throwing the power hand simply places a fighter in such a dominating position. Rear-hand punches, lead-hand punches, kicks and even trips and sweeps are available from there.
Having your lead leg on the outside makes life hellish for the other man.
Leading with the rear hand is so very important against a traditional southpaw. Jabbing only really becomes more important when opponents begin retracting their lead hand to avoid the hand fight.
Of course if a fighter still wants to jab against a southpaw who is hand fighting with him, he can still make it happen. The skipping stone jab is where a fighter uses his lead hand to slap or pull the opponent's lead hand just below the line of his shoulder, before stepping in and jabbing with the same hand.
It isn't a power technique, but by targeting the opponent's eye on his lead side, it is effective in getting a reaction out of him. He will pull back, square up and avoid the hand fight, allowing the orthodox fighter to open up with jabs again, or the southpaw will simply attempt to react each time his lead hand is slapped down. This means the skipping stone jab leads perfectly into the right straight.
St-Pierre actually used the skipping stone jab numerous times throughout the bout, but being St-Pierre, he never threw a right hand after it and never made use of the openings exposed by Hendricks' flustered defence.
A master of the skipping stone jab was Benny Leonard. Leonard is considered one of the greatest boxers of all time, but curiously enough, the only footage which exists of him is against Lew Tendler, the era's premier southpaw.
An additional avenue to explore is the use of the left hook as Hendricks comes in. He often leaves himself completely exposed and ends up getting dropped to his knees as he did against Carlos Condit at the end of their first round by means of a left hook. St-Pierre found this counter numerous times throughout the bout but put little on it as he was so flustered by the attacks coming at him.
If St-Pierre can start hitting Hendricks, I have little doubt he can open up the opportunities for his legendary double leg and snowball from there. Hendricks' defensive skills on the feet aren't great; it is simply that St-Pierre only has one technique which really needs defending on the feet.
There are lead-handed options, but to be frank, that shouldn't be the attitude which St-Pierre takes. It would be taking pot shots on occasions when Hendricks is open to the left hand, when Josh Koscheck amply proved that Hendricks is almost always open to the right hand.
Johny Hendricks is not as good a fighter all around as Georges St-Pierre; I think that goes without saying. Robbie Lawler might not be as skilled all around as Rory MacDonald. But fights aren't about skills, they're about matchups, and both Tristar representatives met nightmare matchups at UFC 167.
St-Pierre and MacDonald are both skilled in all areas of the game, but they rely so heavily on a minimalist toolkit. If you only need a jab on the feet with some kicks interspersed, as soon as that jab is gone, you have nothing. That is what we saw from both men at UFC 167.
In their next matches, they could meet orthodox fighters or southpaws who don't fight like southpaws (such as Nick Diaz) and look incredible. They could jab their next opponents' faces into corned beef hash. Fight fans have a way of saying fighters are "back" without them proving that they have addressed the issues which cause them to lose in the first place.
Both St-Pierre and MacDonald need to go back to the drawing board and admit that having a completely one-sided offence is not going to cut it against every opponent.
Pick up Jack's eBooks Advanced Striking and Elementary Striking from his blog, Fights Gone By.
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