UFC 167 was, overall, an amazing card (omitting the awkward, muddled Thales Leites/Ed Herman bout), filled with (T)KOs (Tyron Woodley), subs (Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone) and amazing performances ("Ruthless" Robbie Lawler). However, the second the scores were announced for the incredible welterweight championship main event betweenJohny Hendricks and Georges St-Pierre, the Internet lost its ever-loving mind (which, to be fair, isn’t exactly a new thing).
In a hotly contested war of attrition that very easily could have gone the way of the bearded wonder (and did in many people’s minds), the king remained the king, with Georges St-Pierre receiving the split decision nod over Hendricks (48-47 across the board, with one judge in favour of Bigg Rigg and two having it for Rush). Hendricks dropped to the ground in utter disbelief as if he’d been shot when the final scorecard was read, while GSP looked like he expected nothing less than the result.
While the completely unofficial Staph Infection scorecard had it 48/47 for the champ, most of the media, commentatorJoe Rogan, the Baldfather Dana White and numerous others had it for the challenger and were not shy about stating their opinions. In fact, no less an MMA authority than Pat Miletich (the legendary fighter, trainer and commentator) Tweeted, "The 20th anniversary of the UFC is tainted by the worst judging decision in the history of the sport. F’ing clowns," as well as, "This is the biggest robbery of all time in MMA history!!!!!!!" While Miletich’s perspective may be slightly clouded by GSP’s two drubbings of protege Matt Hughes, the problem with these hyperbolic statements, with all due respect to the original Croatian Sensation, is it wasn’t a "robbery," not by a long-shot.
To call the epic championship tilt between GSP and Hendricks "close" would be a disservice to close fights. Not only did Hendricks give the champ all that he wanted (or didn’t) and more, landing his big left with regularity, hurting the champ, demonstrating an improved overall striking game, kneeing GSP’s thighs constantly in the clinch, stuffing half the champ’s six takedown attempts, hitting two of his four TDs and busting up the French-Canadian’s face, but his cardio held up through all five rounds and he absorbed a number of hard, hard strikes with nary a mark to show. GSP, on the other hand, never hit his usual championship stride, in terms of employing his stellar jab, mixing in other strikes (although he did employ a nice counter left he had clearly trained for Hendricks) and confusing his foes by flowing seamlessly between striking and wrestling.
Whether this was due to Hendricks’s exceptional performance or the fact that the champ had other things on his mind (i.e., his bizzare post-fight "retirement" announcement) is besides the point. However, in a move that spoke more to the fighter GSP was prior to his upset loss to Matt Serra, as opposed to the tactical, cerebral assassin he’s turned into, GSP refused to be overwhelmed, biting down on his mouthpiece, digging in his heels and firing back, mixing in takedowns and kicks.
To be perfectly honest, if the bout was scored under Pride rules (as Nick Diaz would have every fight ever scored), undoubtedly Hendricks would currently be the new welterweight champ: he did more visible damage, landed more overall strikes, defended half of GSP’s takedowns, while scoring two of his own, and looked impressive throughout.
However, and here is where the issues between scoring individual rounds versus a fight in its entirety rear their ugly heads. With the ten-point-must system and scoring criteria currently in place (which, as Kenny Florian reminded us, does not include damage or how the fighters look after the fight), the decision becomes less "controversial" (never-mind the "robbery" tag everyone is erroneously throwing around) and more a case of a long-time champ doing just enough to retain his belt, with the challenger not dominating or stopping him to decisively take it.
Another issue clouding the scoring is that the rounds Hendricks clearly won, he won big, hurting the champ or having top position for a significant amount of time, while the ones St-Pierre took (with the exception of the third, where he significantly out-struck the challenger) were much, much closer and, depending on your perspective, could have gone the other way. However, this was not the one-sided beat-down some people are making it out to be, especially with the outcry. While Hendricks did land more overall strikes (142-to-125), GSP landed more significant strikes (101-to-85) and landed three of six takedowns, to Hendricks’s two of four.
If one were looking for an actual example of a "robbery" in MMA, one has to look no further than the most egregious example in recent memory: UFC 109 (2009) and the first title fight between Lyoto Machida and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. In this light-heavyweight battle, the Pride Grand-prix champ used his Muay Thai and leg-kicks to counter and batter the seemingly unsolvable puzzle of the champion (at least up until that point), significantly out-landing the Dragon 82-to-42 in total strikes, with a whopping 49 leg kicks (to the champ’s four), damaging Lyoto’s legs and body visibly, yet still somehow lost. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what an actual robbery looks like, not what transpired last night.
In no way, shape or form was Hendricks/GSP as lopsided at the first Lyoto/Rua confrontation. What it was, and should be remembered as, especially if it is GSP’s last fight for the foreseeable future, is an absurdly close contest that could have gone either way. It was an epic clash that actually lived up to its hype and billing, one that deserves an immediate rematch. Sadly, that likely won’t transpire due to Georges’s cryptic retirement/hiatus post-fight announcement and comments.