In many ways, Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks is a matchup we've seen before. St-Pierre has faced his fair share of wrestler-boxers during the course of his long reign at the top of the UFC's most wrestler-heavy division. In fact, he's easily handled so many of welterweight's prototypical fighters that the UFC has at times seemed determined to test him by feeding him a more varied diet of kickboxers and jiu jitsu practitioners, but none of these have given Georges much trouble. So it is understandable that fans are comparing Johny Hendricks to the Josh Koschecks and Matt Hugheses of the world when talks of his chances against the champion come up, but does Hendricks actually offer something new?
In fact, he does. Hendricks has the kind of power that causes strategic fighters like GSP to completely abandon their gameplans. It's been some time since GSP has been faced with such a prolific knockout threat-the hardest hitters he's faced are probably Josh Koscheck and Matt Serra. Koscheck, despite his power, never relied on his striking to win fights in his prime, and so wasn't polished enough to close the gap against St-Pierre, and Serra went 1-1 with the champ, knocking him out only to have the favor returned in a title unification rematch. Dan Hardy packs a whallop, but offered no resistance to St-Pierre's wrestling, and couldn't put any strikes together as a result. Hendricks may be the first man to stand a real chance of knocking St-Pierre out in years.
It's been proven many times before, however, that power alone is not enough to finish fights at the highest level. Any trainer worth his salt will tell you that a puncher's knockouts come from his set-ups, not his power shots. Combinations, jabs, footwork, and head movement-these will be crucial aspects of Hendricks' gameplan if he truly does hope to steal GSP's belt.
It remains to be seen if he will be able to implement such a gameplan this Saturday, and on that note, I give you Johny Hendricks vs. GSP: Landing the Left.
THE RIGHT HOOK
Let's start by addressing Johny Hendricks' recent claims that he wants to knock GSP out with his right hand, rather than scoring the KO with his vaunted left. Suggestions that Hendricks will suffer from this absurd attempt to prove a point aside, there are some technical questions to be addressed. Is Hendricks even capable of knocking someone out with his right hand? Well, this piece is called "landing the left" for a reason.
Hendricks has proven again and again that he is best moving forward. He cracks chins because he throws his whole bodyweight at them in the form of a thunderbolt left straight. Like GSP, he punches best when he has the mechanics of his wrestler's shot behind his blows.
That's all well and good for straight lefts, but a right hook is something different.
The lead hook derives its power from backward movement, rather than forward. A straight left can be thrown through the target, but a hook is meant to be pulled. Weight moves from the front foot to the back; it's all about leverage. Anthony Njokuani demonstrated this perfectly when he knocked out Roger Bowling with a wicked left hook (GIF) Even a forward-moving lead hook needs the weight to be moving backward to connect with true power. Joe Frazier's famous knockdown of Muhammad Ali demonstrates this concept; Frazier's weight begins on his left foot, and as he uncorks the hook, his weight is moving towards his right foot, even as he steams forward.
Johny Hendricks just doesn't throw his right hooks this way. His body is always moving forward when he attacks, and his bodyweight likewise. As such, his power is derived from forward momentum--and that means no power right hooks. Take a look at the following diagram, and keep an eye on Hendricks' feet for clues to his weight distribution.
1. Hendricks throws himself, literally, into a straight left. Because the punch misses, we can see the where his weight transfer terminates. His left foot bears no weight, as it is nearly off the ground, having thrown all of his weight over his right foot, which is planted.
2. Hendricks tries for a jab, again throwing himself forward into the strike.
3. Now a right hook, which looks quite awkward as Hendricks throws it while leaning forward, taking weight away from his left foot rather than pulling weight onto it.
4. A left knee catches Pierce ducking. This suits Hendricks' style better, as he is able to launch his hips forward with the strike.
This isn't to say that Hendricks' right hook doesn't hurt when it lands, nor that he lacks the basic power to knock someone out with it if it lands unexpectedly. It is merely that he does not throw his right in such a way that an aware opponent need trouble themselves with it. Check out the difference in power between his two hands in this GIF of he and Josh Koscheck trading hooks: GIF.
There is a place for this "soft" left hook, however, and Hendricks makes use of it.
1. Martin Kampmann fights for position with Hendricks, keeping his left foot outside Hendricks' right.
2. Leaping forward, Johny throws a long right hook. Rather than transferring weight from the right foot to the left, this punch keeps the weight back, loading up the left straight.
3. Johny's right hook does two things. It pushes Kampmann to Hendricks' left, toward his power hand. It also catches Kampmann's raised right arm, pulling it away from his face.
4. Johny lands his left before Kampmann can recover his guard, now with the Dane well to the inside of his right foot.
Johny's right hook has been best used in the past as a suggestive strike, corralling the opponent into his left hand. GSP is a fighter who uses both distance and a high guard very well in defense, but perhaps these right hooks could mislead him and disrupt his guard long enough for a monster left hand to sneak through.
THE COLLAR TIE
This is actually one of Hendricks' most consistent methods of connecting with his left. He will use a collar tie, his grip anchored by the powerful back that he developed through years of wrestling training, to both manipulate his opponent's posture and pull them into his left hand. Think of a hockey fight, only instead of a jersey, Hendricks has a grip on the back of his opponent's neck. This is "dirty boxing" in the truest sense, being one of those practical techniques not allowed in the sweet science, but perfectly acceptable in the Octagon.
1. Hendricks counters an Amir Sadollah knee with a left hand to the jaw.
2. As Sadollah backs off, Hendricks lunges after him, and the two men collide. Notice how much better Hendricks' posture is than Sadollah's.
3. Sensing this weakness, Hendricks switches his right overhook into a collar tie...
4. ...and starts blasting Sadollah with left uppercuts until he collapses to his knees, ending the fight.
Hendricks' collar tie is very strong. I like to focus on technique rather than attributes, but there is no ignoring the strength of a lifelong wrestler. Once he has that single collar tie, Sadollah can't do anything to stop him from pulling his head into repeat uppercuts, even though he fights for a double collar tie himself.
Unfortunately for Hendricks, GSP is not exactly known for his weak posture. In fact, the champion has some of the strongest hips and legs in the division, and changes levels with his lower body rather than his back. Hendricks could use his long right hook to transition into the collar tie, but it's hard to say how well he'll be able to control St-Pierre from that position.
THE DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD
Johny Hendricks is confident in his left hand. Sometimes, it seems, too confident. He often attempts to land his left at all costs, throwing himself badly out of position, chasing after his opponent with his chin in the air, and leaving his feet behind. Georges St-Pierre may not offer the greatest threat of striking counters, but his timing for takedowns is unmatched, and putting oneself out of position is never a good idea against a fighter as composed as GSP. Except when it works.
1. Hendricks uses the same right hook that he did against Kampmann, pushing Carlos Condit back to the fence.
2. And the same left hand, which collides with Condit's granite chin.
3. His left foot trailing forward, Hendricks nonetheless tries for another left hand.
4. Condit covers up and tries to circle out along the fence. Hendricks gives chase, touching him with his right.
5. Then stepping back into southpaw to launch another left.
6. And another.
This is pretty much horrible technique. Defensively, Hendricks is completely open during most of the exchange, and cannot generate maximum power because his feet keep getting out of position. But there is more to fighting than technique.
Tenacity and grit are certainly Hendricks' fortes. Despite being buzzed by shots in plenty of his fights, he still shows no fear in wading forward behind his trusty left hand. Stance is also slightly less important to him: as a wrestler, he can always switch his winging left into a shot, ducking low and slamming into his opponent's hips to put them on their back, as he did again and again to Condit.
The disadvantage, of course, was shown in that very same fight. Despite early success against Condit, Hendricks' early rush failed to earn him the knockout win, and as the fight wore on, Condit had more and more success with upward strikes: kicks, knees, and uppercuts. These strikes worked very well, because Hendricks was rushing in with little regard for his posture, and failing consistently to protect his chin.
It's an interesting matchup, to be sure. Hendricks brings a new threat to GSP, with the combined threats of his southpaw attack and powerful wrestling. He is one of the most dangerous fighters in the division, at least in the first two rounds, and it's quite possible that he could catch GSP early, using a combination of his set-up tricks and his absolute vicious intent.
Then again, this is the best welterweight in the world he's facing. Were I GSP's coach, I would tell him to deny Hendricks the chance to advance at all. Since he is so reliant on coming forward behind his left hand, I would have the champ focus on his own left, utilizing his legendary jab to push Hendricks backward and into the fence. As Chael Sonnen noted in Mike Pierce's corner during his fight with Hendricks, "every time you attack he lets you. He's not defending-he's covered up and letting you." If GSP can bite down and pressure Hendricks, he stands a very good chance of keeping his belt, and perhaps cementing his status as the greatest of all time.
For another in-depth look at this fight focused on the techniques of the champion Georges St-Pierre, check out Connor's podcast Heavy Hands. An hour and fifteen minutes of GSP love awaits!