UFC 167 featured yet another drama-filled title fight as Georges St-Pierre narrowly defended his title against Johny Hendricks. The fight scoring has drummed up controversy as the vast majority of fans, fighters, and media saw the fight for Hendricks. The fight featured several very clear rounds, but the hinge round on the scorecards was the first round, which was closely contested. Both fighters had their moments in that first round, and the biggest thing Hendricks should see when looking back to see why he lost is the fact that he fought to protect a lead he assumed he had.
No matter what, fighters cannot assume close rounds went their way in this sport. St-Pierre stayed on the attack even after he was hurt in the second round and made clear impressions on the judges in the third and fifth rounds. And it was that fifth round in which Hendricks seem to let off the gas and be far more defensive and content to wait out the clock to claim his title. No matter how you scored the fight, the result makes it clear that was a poor choice and that Hendricks should have stayed on the offense as he has just won the fourth round on everyone's scorecard.
This fight was very close, I personally scored the first round for St. Pierre and thus had him winning a hotly contested fight, but I cannot fault the popular opinion of a Hendricks win.
Overall it was a fantastic fight were we witnessed two high level fighters adjusting to each other visibly as the fight progressed and forcibly taking rounds from each other in a back-and-forth that made for yet another great title fight in 2013.
On to other thoughts:
- St. Pierre's awkward sort-of retirement, paired with the contested nature of the fight and Dana White's huge, negative reaction made what should have been a great moment very much a sad one. St-Pierre has done a huge amount for the UFC, and in the press conference St. Pierre gave us a peek into the mental toll it the life of a champion took on him, and if he decides it is time for him to leave the game, then it is time. He owes the sport and the fans nothing at this point. He has already give 11 of the prime years of his life. In exchange he was well compensated, and together with the UFC he helped raise the stature of the sport to levels previously unknown to MMA.
- Johny Hendricks clearly made great strides for this fight, becoming a much more complete fighter. His boxing was slightly more refined with combination punching. It still wasn't crisp but his right hand was as much of a factor as his left. He also mixed in knees extremely well and hurt St-Pierre several times. If this fight doesn't erase the notion that St-Pierre can't take a solid hit, then nothing will.
- Rashad Evans put a beating on Chael Sonnen and aggressively finished a fight for the first time since his fight with Tito Ortiz at UFC 133. It was all one way traffic in that fight and a bout that could reinvigorate Rashad at Light Heavyweight and it sends Sonnen back to Middleweight in emphatic fashion.
- Robbie Lawler earned possibly the biggest win of his MMA career with an amazing third round comeback against Rory MacDonald. At this point Lawler makes for an interesting contender for the Welterweight, both because of his skills and experience, and in the story of a journeyman turned contender that could be sold.
- Rory MacDonald arguably won the first two rounds, but they were certainly not clear rounds either way and MacDonald slowly turned up the volume of his offense. This fight is a good lesson in MacDonald for creating more offense early in a fight and putting his stamp on the round.
- Tyron Woodley had an excellent knockout of Josh Koscheck. Woodley threw caution to the wind and really engaged in a fight. It is encouraging to see as Woodley was a top prospect that seemed to regress offensively for part of his career. His willingness to throw hands with Koscheck is encouraging in that it might signal a new commitment to his offense.
- Ali Bagautinov showed himself to be an excellent prospect and a real player in the flyweight division. Bagautinov has very good, tight striking, something not normally seen in Combat Sambo fighters. His clinch and ground grappling looked good and he made Tim Elliott look very bad on the feet for the majority of the fight.
- Donald Cerrone hit a very nice triangle in transition on Evan Dunham, who is no slouch on the ground. Cerrone is officially back on the horse with this win. Cerrone has struggled with the upper-level of Lightweight, but he is solid lower top 10 kind of fighter.
- The undercard featured a good number of veteran fighters looking to get their UFC careers on track. Thales Leites showed off an improved striking to go with his usual awesome grappling. Rick Story showed off a much more measured attack on Brian Ebersole, working strong right hand counters, stopping just about Ebersole's offense and hurting him on several occasions. Jason High also got a win, flexing his grappling, working for his signature guillotine choke finish but unable to find it.
- Also on the undercard were several prospects. Gian Villante started the night off with an entertaining, if sloppy, knockout. Erik Perez showed off some strong striking as he dropped Edwin Figueroa several times with chopping right hands. And Sergio Pettis showed himself to be a very solid prospect with his dynamic striking, but he did show some holes. Will Campuzano landed a fair amount of body shots on Pettis and was able to work some top game against him.