Making the Unpopular Case for Georges St-Pierre

Ariel Shnerer / November 17, 2013 - 8:02pm


The sentiment on Twitter following Georges St-Pierre‘s highly controversial split decision title defense over Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 on Saturday night was pretty consistent.

“Worst decision EVER,” wrote former interim champion Carlos Condit, echoing the feelings of a plethora of fans and professional fighters alike, all of whom thought Hendricks did enough to warrant the nod.

From a quick glance, it certainly appeared as though Hendricks deserved the victory. St-Pierre’s face was heavily busted up, while Hendricks looked fresh as a daisy.

But there’s more to aesthetics than meets the eye.

Although UFC president Dana White only thought St-Pierre won the third round, most pundits agreed he also won the fifth.

In other words, this championship fight ultimately came down to the scoring of the opening stanza.

Before we go into greater detail about the fight, it’s worth mentioning that half points could have potentially solved the problem. The rounds Hendricks unanimously won were certainly more decisive than the rounds edged to the champion.

Nonetheless, it was a spirited fight with the two gladiators trading rounds back and forth. Under Pride rules, there’s no question Hendricks came out on top. Under the 10-point must scoring system, however, it becomes much more subjective.

In reality, this decision was no more controversial than Benson Henderson’s wins over Frankie Edgar and Gilbert Melendez or Jon Jones’ triumphant decision over Alexander Gustafsson this past September.

Let’s take a closer look at the scoring of that pivotal first round.

St-Pierre came out sharp, quickly blasting through Hendricks with a power double-leg takedown. Hendricks answered back with a takedown of his own later in the round, but the pace was set by the champion, who also attempted a guillotine choke in the opening seconds.

In terms of striking output, St-Pierre landed 19 significant strikes in the round compared to Hendricks’ 18, while Hendricks landed 27 total strikes compared to 26 from the champion.

No matter how you slice it, this was an exceptionally close round. Hendricks may have hurt St-Pierre more with his strikes, but the output and work rate were virtually identical.

It might be tainted logic, but you have to decisively defeat the champion to take his belt. Did Hendricks really do enough to put a stamp on the win?

I won’t go into great detail about the rounds that followed because there seems to be widespread agreement about who won them. But there’s no denying the possibility that the first round could have gone either way. In cases where only a few strikes separate the two fighters, the champion should get the benefit of the doubt. After all, St-Pierre has reigned atop the division since 2007 and controversial title changes run the risk of tainting the championship.

Visibly disappointed about the call, Hendricks was hardly humble in defeat, claiming that he clearly beat St-Pierre up and already considers himself the true champion.

With all due respect to the 30-year-old Oklahoma native, if he really thinks he deserved it that bad, then he would have clearly won more than two rounds. He arguably won three, but that’s where interpretation gets tricky. The heavy-handed southpaw has every right to feel slighted after coming so close to winning the gold, but he should have taken a page of out St-Pierre’s book. Win or lose, the champion is always classy. The right thing to do would have been to pay respects to St-Pierre for his gutsy performance, particularly with the possibility of impending retirement.

Hendricks will get another shot in due time, whether it’s a rematch with St-Pierre or an interim title fight. But he should stop walking around like he positively beat the champion to a bloody pulp because it was a closer fight than he seems to accept. This time around, judges sided with the longtime champion, two of them scoring the bout 48-47 for St-Pierre with the third casting a dissenting 48-47 score for Hendricks.

Not only was the first round close, but St-Pierre actually outlanded Hendricks 101 to 85 in significant strikes over the course of five rounds, while scoring an additional takedown and attempting the fight’s lone submission.

St-Pierre has overcome adversity time and time again. Hendricks presented an admirable challenge on Saturday night, but that’s all it was. At the post-fight press conference, St-Pierre repeatedly stated he left everything in the cage.

A quintessential champion and now the record-holder for most UFC victories at 19, the story coming out of UFC 167 should be the possibility of one of the sport’s true legends retiring for good after a valiant title defense. Rather than appreciating the legacy St-Pierre leaves behind and analyzing the future landscape of the division, all focus seems to have shifted to the judges and their seemingly controversial assimilation of the fight.

Like it or not, St-Pierre was the champion and he got the job done yet again. It was closer than ever, but that doesn’t change the end-result.

Personal biases aside, St-Pierre is a true champion. If this was indeed the last we see of the 32-year-old French-Canadian phenom in the Octagon, we should be thankful for the memories he’s left behind.

Regardless of how you scored Saturday’s headliner, St-Pierre is still the greatest welterweight of all time. Before we get on his case about a decision he didn’t control, it’s about time we appreciate all the blood, sweat and tears he’s left in the Octagon over the years.