UFC 167 ‘GSP vs. Hendricks’ – How did we end up here?
It was all going so well for the UFC and their twentieth anniversary card. The on-line prelims had been exciting, and the FS1 fights ended with an exciting finish from Donald Cerrone. That fight led right into the PPV, and again we were given exciting fights, a couple of finishes and the only judgement that was really questionable was the scoring of the Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald battle. The SD though went to the right fighter despite what Rory might have thought. All that was left was the main event. The fight unfolded and the decision was read. From there all of the good of the night unraveled.
From the time Bruce Buffer read the decision and the press conference concluded the night just got more bizarre. Then a calmer Dana had his usual post-fight scrum. By this point Twitter had exploded and writers were scurrying off to write about the evil Dana. Bloggers were attacking members of the media for not attacking Dana, the media was attacking bloggers for being bloggers. Everyone was attacking Dana and dogs and cats are now living together.
How in the fuck did we end up here? Apparently at a simplistic level it comes down to one round. The first round of the GSP-Hendricks fight was the decisive one on the judge’s scorecards. They all agree rounds two and four go to Hendricks and rounds three and five go to GSP. So it comes down to that first round.
Except the problem goes a little deeper than just whether or not you score that round for GSP or Hendricks. The real problem is that no matter how you score the first round, there is no way the first and second round should count the same, but they do. They both were scored as 10-9 rounds though there is little doubt that Hendricks did much more damage in the second round. As Kenny Florian reminded us there is nothing in the unified rules of judging about damage, and that is a problem as well. It is a fight and damage does matter. If you use the ‘which fighter you would rather be at the end of this fight’ method it would be easy to decide the winner but that is not how it works.
As long as MMA continues to use the ten point must system from boxing they will have these issues and these kinds of decisions. Boxing is a wonderful sport but when compared to MMA and their scoring possibilities it is very simplistic. In boxing all you can legally throw are your fists and technically not while in the clinch. Comparatively MMA has many more elements and scoring possibilities. Just striking alone is more complex once you add in the ground game it becomes infinitely more complicated. It is like asking them to solve calculus problems with one of those old basic solar calculators you got for free with your paid subscription it seconds. The solution to this is simple get a panel of fighters, referees, and judges to come up with a better scoring system that fits MMA. If that system was in place then Hendricks would have easily won the fight on the judge’s scorecards as well as in the octagon.
Let me clear that while I will make a case for why the judges score it the way that they did, I think Hendricks won this fight. He should have been crowned as the new champ. That decision would have avoided the messy aftermath that happened instead. That is just one of the ways the night could have ended differently.
Let’s take a look at that first round. I will explain why the current scoring system is to blame and why my scoring system would have crowned a new champion. Also, we will look how the media and some ill-timed comments contributed to the end of the night, and how a different judges decision would have led to a whole different press conference and aftermath. Before we get to that mess let’s take a look at the fight and a close look at that pesky little first round. After all there was a fight and it was one hell of a fight and it should not get lost in all of the noise. This was a five round classic that was marred by a judgement and a flawed system but it is the fight that matters.
It seemed like the start of something awesome and it ultimately led to a very bizarre end of the night. It was a close round that started out strong for GSP and got better for Hendricks as it concluded. When you look at the numbers they are closer than Dana’s relationship with the word fuck. Hendricks landed 27 of 38 total strikes while it went 26 of 45 for GSP. A couple of things about those numbers that jump out. Hendricks landed with a much better accuracy rate but that can work against him with the judges. They do not have access to these stats and they all too often reward the busier fighter which in this case was GSP. He was also the fighter that was coming forward more in the round. When it came to significant strikes GSP held a nineteen to eighteen edge. On paper the striking is basically even. They also each had one takedown with GSP being credited for one submission attempt. Hendricks was awarded 1:00 of control while GSP was credited with thirty-four seconds of it in the round.
Flip a coin and pick a fighter based on the numbers, but the numbers only tell a part of the story of the fight, not the whole thing. So what does the fight itself tell us?
They met in the center of the ring and GSP quickly landed first with a jab. He then threw a front kick that glanced off of Hendricks’ body as he backed away. Hendricks then stepped forward and launched his famed left hand. GSP ducked under it and got the quick takedown. On the ground he went for a guillotine and Hendricks escaped it. They scrambled back up to their feet into a clinch. Hendricks landed knees to the legs and for GSP he was punching the body and head. In the clinch it was apparent that Hendricks was stronger and he spun GSP up against the cage.
They were separated by the referee and GSP shot for a takedown and Hendricks unleashed a rocket launcher of an uppercut that had Rogan reacting to it, but it missed. If it had landed there would have been a new welterweight king. GSP got a hold of Hendricks’ right leg but he could not get the takedown. Instead he ate a couple of uppercuts and tried to counter but was not as effective. GSP was able to push Hendricks up against the cage and still had a hold of Hendricks’ right leg. He let go and landed a couple of right hands of his own and went for an ankle pick. Hendricks retaliated by reaching his right arm over GSP’s backhand under his right arm. He held him in place and rained down five successive elbows to the side of GSP’s head. GSP broke free, clinched up and landed a knee to the body. Hendricks again spun him back into the cage and then landed a couple of hard knees to the inside thigh. From there Hendricks backs him up against the cage and then he got his own takedown just before the halfway point of the first round.
They moved into the second half of the round with GSP on the ground, his back against the cage and he had a little cut over his right eye. Hendricks landed a nice left elbow/forearm as GSP got back to his feet. They separated and GSP landed a front kick to the body that Hendricks was able to back away and avoid taking any real damage. The most damage he suffered in the round were the successive elbows he received while trying to take down Hendricks down.
There was just under two minutes left in the round and it was a still a close round. GSP came in to go for another takedown and Hendricks put out a knee that GSP ate. It was a glancing shot that was more as the knee was coming back but it allowed Hendricks to stop the takedown. GSP responded with a jab and another inside leg kick. Another Sidekick from GSP and Hendricks backs away. Then Hendricks came forward and GSP avoided his punches. Then another jab from GSP but it comes up short followed by a right head kick that was partially blocked but still glanced off of Hendricks’ head. Left hook from GSP and jab. Hendricks comes forward, GSP steps in and they clinched up. In the clinch they exchanged some knees. GSP was going to the body with a couple to the thigh. While Hendricks was working the legs.
There was a minute left in the round and it was still either fighters round to seize. Neither had been able to gain full control of it yet. The one sequence that came back to mind were those elbows from Hendricks. He stopped the takedown and dealt out those elbows. The problem was that judges are human and there is a tendency to give close rounds to the champ, especially the early ones. Psychologically they are used to seeing GSP win decisions and rounds so it is easy from a subconscious level to give the round to GSP. It is not right but it is a part of the possibilities you face with human judges. They will make human mistakes and a flawed system only makes it harder for them.
They stayed in a clinch and Hendricks mixed some body punches with his knees to the thigh, and GSP kept landing knees to the body. They broke apart and Hendricks landed another glancing blow on the break. They exchanged jabs, a couple of leg kicks by Hendricks and glancing left hook and then right head kick from GSP. The round concluded with neither fighter landing anything solid and Hendricks missed on a couple of fight ending type of punches. These along with the first left he threw were not seventy percent punches, but more on that seventy percent later.
It was a close round but I thought watching it live Hendricks had won the round, and every viewing since then I still draw that conclusion. I see how it can and was awarded on the two judges scorecards because it is that close of a round, and it is a difficult round to score. It was also an adjustment for people who were not used to seeing GSP in that close of a round. Hendricks had outwrestled him in the round. GSP got his takedown when Hendricks threw an overhand left and was off-balance. Hendricks not only stopped his other attempt but he tied GSP up and landed a barrage of elbows that for me won him the round.
The first overhand left that Hendricks threw in the round and led to his getting taken down could be a reason he threw at seventy percent as he called it. He has a tendency to throw that punch with a lot behind it often leaving himself off-balance. The very first one he threw like that in the fight resulted in a takedown. So, it looked like he quickly adjusted and started to land more consistently with the more controlled punches. You have to land the strike for it to be effective. By the end of the first round Hendricks was the more comfortable fighter. GSP had started out strong with the early takedown but Hendricks got that back later in the round with his own. It was the beginning of a special fight between two great fighters.
The second round is one of those where the numbers can be deceiving if you just rely on them. Hendricks landed 37 total strikes with 30 of them being significant. While GSP landed 30 total strikes, 28 of them being deemed significant. Hendricks was credited with 29 seconds of control in the round to zero for GSP. From the numbers it is Hendricks’ round but it does not show how hurt he had GSP in the round.
A quick note on significant strikes and how they are defined. It is essentially any strike that is not a jab but they do not measure the impact of the strike or whether or not it landed cleanly. That means that the kick that GSP landed in the first round after being partially blocked counted as a significant strike. Exactly the same as one of the elbows that Hendricks landed. It is clear that the elbow did more damage but again the rules do not account for that element.
GSP started the second round throwing more kicks and trying to land a lead right hand. Hendricks was using his jab more effectively than GSP and starting to land the left hand counter as well. GSP threw a left leg kick out and Hendricks responded with a left hand that caught GSP and sent him staggering back causing him to do a brief chicken dance. Hendricks came in throwing hooks and uppercuts connecting on a couple but not flush. At one point Hendricks had his right hand around the neck of GSP and pummeled away with the left hand landing several shots. For a moment it looked like he was going to end the fight right there but GSP dug deep and survived. He was also helped by Hendricks losing his mouthpiece and the referee replacing it during a pause in the clinch. It gave GSP an extra few seconds to recover.
It was not much of a break because Hendricks continued with his barrage as soon as the action resumed. Hendricks kept the pressure on and he also continued to work the knees to GSP’s legs during the round. Still, despite all that Hendricks had done in first part of the round GSP responded landing his jab, superman punches and his own left hook. The rest of the round was more back and forth with each fighter landing some nice shots. As the round concluded it seemed like Hendricks was a little tired from the early part of the round.
In the third round GSP had his best round of the fight. The numbers back in up as well. He landed 32 total strikes with 31 of them being considered significant. During the round Hendricks landed 22 total strikes and 15 of them where significant. He also had 1 takedown and 42 seconds of control to GSP’s zero for both categories.
GSP came out in the third and landed a nice hard inside leg kick in the early moments of the round. They spent much of the round in the middle of the octagon. They circled and threw, moving in and out, ebbing and flowing in a strange violent dance punctuated with punches and kicks. This was probably the closest to how many people thought Hendricks would fight this fight as he seemed to be looking for that big punch. He was less active and threw less combinations in this round. He did get the one takedown late in the round but did not do much damage and it was not enough to steal the round for him. GSP had gained the momentum back on his side but it did not last long.
The fourth round was Hendricks’ most dominant on paper. He landed 41 strikes with 18 of them in the significant category. GSP had 24 total strikes and 14 significant ones. Hendricks also had 2:11 of control to GSP’s 23 seconds. Whatever momentum GSP had going into the round Hendricks took back in the fourth.
Hendricks looked much sharper to start this round and seemed re-energized. With a little more than a minute gone in the round Hendricks landed a three punch combo and started to grab the back of GSP’s neck with his right hand again. GSP backed away quickly but was off-balance and went down. Hendricks took advantage of the slip and followed into GSP’s guard. From there he started using short elbows and punches. He then mixed in some body-body-head from the guard and worked GSP over until the 2:45 point of the round, when Hendricks just got up and let GSP back up. Back on their feet Hendricks went back to work. GSP would land one shot and Hendricks would land two or three. To his credit GSP kept coming forward and tried to tie Hendricks up who was able to turn GSP around and into the cage. Hendricks used the clinch to attempt another takedown but GSP stuffed it. From the clinch GSP pushed Hendricks against the cage for a moment before Hendricks spun him around again. The round ended with Hendricks holding him against the cage kneeing GSP’s right thigh.
The fifth round showed the wear and tear of the previous hard-fought four rounds. Again it was a close round on paper. GSP landed 13 total strikes and 9 of them were significant. Hendricks finished with 15 total strikes with 4 of them being significant. GSP had 2 takedowns to zero for Hendricks and GSP led the control time on the round with 2:09 to 1:08.
It was not the most technically beautiful round but it was filled with championship heart from both of these warriors. Whatever you think of the decision you have to give credit to GSP for digging deep within himself to battle in this fight. The same goes for Hendricks who matched GSP with his own will and desire to be the champion. They had fought for four rounds and in the fifth they battled through their weariness trying to find an opening. GSP was also the aggressor in the round coming forward and pushing the action. He did enough to win the round but Hendricks had won the fight. At least that is what he and his corner thought.
When the horn sounded ending the fight Hendricks popped up with his arms spread wide displaying a grin that was trying to equal it. The two fighters embraced and then they waited for the decision. I told my wife that I had it for Hendricks but I have seem crazier decisions before. Sure enough when Bruce Buffer said, “and still” both fighters looked surprised. From there the chaos started with GSP’s vague post-fight comments and the ensuing press conference with a very pissed off Dana White. It did get a little ugly but not nearly to the point some people were taking it.
The post-fight press conference was filled with emotions, many of them coming from Dana who was pissed about the decision. He was also blindsided by the GSP announcement after the fight. Did he say some things that were not the nicest? Yes, but that is Dana and he was also right. You do not get to just take time off as champion. The belt does carry a lot of responsibility with it. It also comes with a lot of nice rewards and GSP knows that side as well as anybody. You do owe the challengers who have fought their way into contention to have an opportunity to win the title. Yes, you can walk away but that does not mean your spot will be waiting for you, especially as champion. The thing of it is that this whole mess could have been avoided some many different ways and yet somehow it was not.
First if GSP’s manager does not start the retirement talk before the fight then maybe nothing is said to Joe Rogan after the fight inside of the octagon. If that had been the case the focus of the press conference would have been all about the fight and the decision. Dana did a good job of clearing up a lot of the bullshit in a brief interview with Jay Mohr on Jay Mohr Sports the following day. One of the points he made is that GSP should have come to the UFC first so they could have helped him. There may be a worse way than how GSP announced it but you would have to work hard to find it. His statement was vague and indicated that he had a personal issue but left everyone bewildered as to what was happening. This led to Dana being even more pissed at the press conference. The difference in his mood from the press conference to the scrum afterwards was remarkable and it was all because he and GSP had a five-minute conversation. That is all it took and it should have happen before not after the fact.
For all of those people who thought Dana was forcing GSP to fight, that was not the case nor will he be in the future. GSP never said retirement, in fact the one thing he was clear about was that he was not retiring and just taking a break. My thought then was wait and see what actually happens and already things have calmed down some. GSP has not been mistreated by the UFC nor are they going to start now. They will help him work through whatever personal issues he is dealing with right now and soon there will be an announcement of a rematch.
This is what is right for everyone, the fighters and the fans. The first fight was an amazing one that because of some unfortunate decisions left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths. That is not right because somehow the noise has taken the focus away from what was a great fight between two champions. Maybe this decision will help lead to changes in the judging format, we can only hope and dream.
Follow Dwayne on Twitter @DwayneWolff1
image via msn.foxsports
cover image – USA Today
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