Carlos Condit (28-6) was the last standing WEC welterweight champion before the division was absorbed by the UFC. Wielding a scintillating medley of Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu -- MMA's proven and reliable recipe for offensive fireworks -- "The Natural Born Killer" has always been firmly stationed in the echelon of fighters whom are unafraid to take risks or compromise their position in order to pursue opportunities to finish.
Since he set up shop in the Octagon, the only convincing defeat Condit's suffered was in his last outing; a valiant dog-fight against GSP that was punctuated by dramatic swings in momentum and gritty perseverance on both sides. Condit's UFC tour began with razor-thin split decisions against contemporary contenders Kampmann (loss) and Ellenberger (win), neither of which resulted in one athlete clearly out-performing the other.
Johny Hendricks (14-1) touts some of the best wrestling accolades in the game as a 2-time NCAA D1 champion, a 4-time All-American and a 3-time Big 12 champion at Oklahoma State University. "Bigg Rigg," who's apparently compensating for the missing consonant in his first name by adding some extras to his nickname, also transferred over from the WEC, though he'd only competed twice in the organization and five times overall.
He wasted no time putting himself on the map by crushing then-hyped TUF winner Amir Sadollah by 1st-round TKO in his Octagon debut, following strong with another pair of wins over Ricardo Funch and T.J. Grant (decisions). The bearded marauder would then incur his first and only career defeat, dropping a competitive but forgettable decision to Rick Story. Hendricks went gangbusters from that point onward, carving his way up the ranks with five-straight wins: career-defining 1st-round knockouts of Martin Kampmann, Jon Fitch and T.J. Waldburger coupled with coin-toss decisions over Mike Pierce and Josh Koscheck.
Beyond their gameness, aggression and propensity to end fights violently, Condit and Hendricks are otherwise opposites. Striking wise, Hendricks is a southpaw with one main weapon to watch out for -- his streaking left hand -- while Condit is as versatile, creative and unpredictable as they come. In the realm of movement, Hendricks is basically a straight line, in-and-out guy with a few level changes sprinkled in; Condit relies on myriad and ever-changing angles for his footwork, attack patterns and head movement. Hendricks is an elite wrestler ... Condit is not, but his complex and elaborate Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu might compensate for that imbalance, especially since Hendricks' grappling is typically restricted to top-side control.
Oddly enough, because it seems like such a logical accompaniment, we've yet to witness the union of Hendricks' skull-splitting punching power and his dominant takedown skills, as all of his TKO wins took place on the feet. No one can argue the inevitable effectiveness of Hendricks' striking, but that doesn't mean it's not painfully basic. It is -- which, in turn, doesn't mean it's rudimentary or easy to defend either. If you lined up each of his UFC TKO's -- whether it was the paddle-ball treatment he unleashed on Charlie Brenneman, the unruly barrage he blitzed Waldburger with or, specifically, the scorchers he roasted Fitch and Kampmann with -- you'd find little to no variation in his methodology, with the latter being carbon copies of one another.
They've all consisted of a (perhaps purposefully) wide-sailing right hook to set-up and align his signature overhand left.
So what, Dallas? Well, that just means that 100% of Hendricks' strike stoppages have transpired at the same range, from basically the same angle, with the same set up and with the same hand; most of which with the exact same punch as well. The end result, regardless of significance, is that Hendricks' consistent path to victory has been glaringly predictable. But it's all about context: if you compare that to someone like Dan Henderson, whose legendary career sprang from brutal application of similarly nondescript techniques, it ain't no thang.
However, if you compare that to someone like Condit -- who's keeled opponents over with a mixed bag of tricks like the flying knee (Dong Hyun Kim), the left hook (Dan Hardy), and everything but the kitchen sink (Rory MacDonald) -- and is a threat from both outside and inside the pocket, it leaves Hendricks with noticeably limited options on the feet while being burdened with the concern of defending endless options out of Condit's extensive Muay Thai toolbox.
While that paints a picture favoring Condit, as with everything else in MMA, there's a flip side, as Condit's extreme variety carries some flaws. Hendricks' utilitarian striking allows for unwavering balance and, defensively, keeps his hands close to his chin and in ideal position for deflecting blows or switching to the clinch game. (As an aside, his head movement and footwork are pretty commonplace, and his chin can be slightly exposed when attacking but capitalizing requires stepping directly into his wheelhouse.) Condit's style results in the opposite effect by increasing his defensive liabilities rather than mitigating them.
In addition to his bad habit of backing straight up, by cycling through drastically different strikes like his low kick, his push kick, firing knees and working his hands, Condit's balance requires more work to maintain and inevitably suffers and his hands often stray too far from his chin, altogether leaving him somewhat vulnerable to punches and takedown attempts -- which happen to be the precise tactics Hendricks excels with.
Now, I don't mean to insinuate that taking Condit down is a walk in the park, but he's been grounded by lesser wrestlers in the past and his trigger-happy aggression on the feet makes it more likely that Hendricks can launch a double while Condit's feet are planted amidst a combination.
If that occurs, and since the wrestling comparison is all Hendricks, it'll be Condit's equally serpentine grappling against Hendricks' no-frills top game. Along with Nick Diaz, Condit's guard is among the most effective and layered in the division and, considering Hendricks' lack of experience against top-shelf submissionists, I'm admittedly unsure where the advantage lies. Personally, I prioritize consistent demonstration of skill over the unknown, which is why I'm leaning toward Condit being ultra-feisty to hold down and an ever-present threat with a library of sweeps, submission attempts and escapes.
I'll begrudgingly factor in how MMA judges assess guard play, which is as unfavorable as possible barring a submission or escape. This, along with the inflated value of takedowns, transform what should be a fairly neutral or open category as an advantage for Hendricks. And really, in such an even fight on paper, the judges' distorted perception effectively sways the overall analysis toward Hendricks by a hair.
That's why I can accept his marginal -130 edge on the betting circuit, as I feel Hendricks deserves to be a very narrow favorite. For me, unanswered questions, such as the durability of Hendricks' chin and his top-game demeanor when entangled with a high-level submission grappler, fall second to consistently proven traits. As a part of his experience advantage, Condit has repeatedly demonstrated an iron chin, unbreakable resolve and nearly unparalleled fortitude ... which inevitably secures him my vote.
My Prediction: Carlos Condit by submission.