UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre cruised to a dominant unanimous decision win over Jake Shields -- a man who hadn't lost a fight since 2004 -- and yet, no one is impressed with his performance.
Partly this is because Shields actually managed to do something that Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck and Thiago Alves all failed to do -- he took two rounds on two judges' cards from the champ. GSP entered UFC 129 riding an incredible thirty round winning streak.
Partly this is because GSP was visibly more damaged than Shields. Where the challenger ended the fight with an unmarked face, the champ left the Octagon with a bloody nose and a blinded and swollen left eye.
Shields actually landed more strikes than St. Pierre -- 115-109 per Compustrike and 96-92 per FightMetric -- although GSP handily outlanded him in power strikes/significant strikes -- 71-25 per Compustrike and 85-78 per FightMetric.
But I would argue that it was a failure to implement his game plan that cost GSP as much as anything else.
The champ is known for his elaborate game planning. His coach Greg Jackson is called the "Yoda of MMA" for his knack for devising fight plans that keep the fight where his fighters have the advantage. GSP certainly managed to do that by preventing Shields, perhaps the game's best welterweight BJJ player, from taking the fight to the ground.
Another part of GSP's plan fell flat, however.
He clearly worked on his spinning back kick and the overhand right as his big strikes for the fight. Dana White even commented on his overuse of those strikes after the fight to Ariel Helwani (transcribed by Fight Opinion):
"If you are looking for criticism from me, which sounds like you are, the only criticism I have is he was throwing a weird overhand right, like this... looping overhand right, which I've never seen him do before. Usually he throws that straight Superman punch, his punches are straight down the pike, I was trying to figure out why he kept throwing the same punch all night. He was throwing it hard, like he was trying to knock him out, like he was trying to force a knockout, so..."
I can't recall having seen GSP ever throw a winging overhand right and I've seen all of his fights multiple times. As for the spinning back kick, that's a move GSP relied on early in his career (we've even done a Judo Chop on his use of the spinning back kick against Matt Hughes back in 2004), but it's not a strike he's been employing much recently.
That changed last night as St. Pierre threw spinning back kick after winging overhand right after spinning back kick but never connected cleanly with either strike.
Dave Meltzer commented on GSP's strategy and execution:
The takedown defense was the most impressive part of St. Pierre's game. On a couple occasions, Shields caught St. Pierre's leg when he would throw a kick, and have a high single, but never once was able to complete the takedown, including a couple of escapes that were almost ballet-like in nature.
That made all the difference in the fight, as few gave Shields much of a shot at winning the title unless he was able to take the champion down.
But St. Pierre's striking game, which destroyed Josh Koscheck so badly in his previous fight that Koscheck is still just barely getting over the injuries, and beat master strikers B.J. Penn and Thiago Alves at their own game, wasn't as crisp as usual, and was far too predictable.
St. Pierre came with an attack which would usually finish with an overhand right, and also kept throwing spin kicks, which were something new. Shields was hurt a few times by the rights, particularly in the early rounds. But Shields eventually caught on to the pattern and St. Pierre missed badly on a number of punches.
We've seen GSP struggle with a few recent opponents. Against Thiago Alves at UFC 100, GSP tore his groin and had to fight three rounds while dealing with a very painful injury. Against Dan Hardy he missed several good chances to get the submission due to minor technical mistakes. But we've never seen GSP struggle with both a mid-fight injury -- the blinded left eye -- and an inability to execute on his game plan.
Let's not forget to credit Jake Shields with fighting a great fight either. Despite not ever getting to implement his ground game and not really having the presence of mind to keep forcing the issue, Shields flustered the champ throughout the bout. From the beginning, Shields' stand-up, awkward as it is, frustrated GSP and threw off his timing. It wasn't enough to win, but Shields did more than anyone has done in a long time -- he made GSP look bad and that's saying a helluva lot.
Most impressively, Shields got better as the fight wore on, landing more strikes GSP in both the 4th and 5th rounds.* The last time we saw a champ walk out hurt after losing the final rounds to a challenger it was Lyoto Machida scraping past Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 104. Rua got an immediate rematch and beat Machida by TKO the second time around. Shields won't get that chance it appears, but maybe his teammate Nick Diaz will be the man to beat GSP.
* Rami Genauer of Fight Metric sent this note along:
I wanted to make a correction because it seems like the post equates significant strikes with power strikes. For example, there was a comment that made the claim that Shields landed more power strikes than GSP in the 4th and 5th. In fact, GSP outlanded Shields in power strikes 5-3 in the 4th round and 4-3 in the 5th round. Where Shields held the advantage was in significant strikes. By definition, all strikes thrown at distance are considered significant, but that doesn't mean they were thrown with power. The vast majority of strikes Shields landed were of the jab (or non-power) variety. This is how our Effectiveness Score can clearly give the 4th round to GSP despite getting outstruck in total volume. It's the quality of the strikes that matter, not necessarily the quantity.
The reason why we need a category for significant strikes is because not all "jabs" are the same. There is a huge qualitative difference between jabs at distance versus jabs in tight. Using a straight "power strikes" category would ignore the highly effective jab at distance (the one that busted up Koscheck) by lumping it in with all the tiny shots fighters throw while on their back or being pressed against the fence. To lump those two kinds of strikes together is insanity, but that's what a straight power vs. jab distinction does. So instead, we have a category called significant strikes, which includes are strikes at distance and power strikes in the clinch and on the ground. That way we can track all strikes, but classify things more intelligently.
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