What We Learned – UFC 167 Edition (Georges St. Pierre’s Decline, Sergio Pettis’ Ceiling, Rory McDonald and More)
UFC 167 could’ve been a game-changing card if the state of New York had opted to legalize MMA. This was supposed to be Anderson Silva vs. Jon Jones at the Garden in a super card with the biggest fight the UFC probably could’ve made. Instead it was a GSP card in Vegas, which has more meaning than the average card but this wasn’t UFC 100 by any stretch of the imagination. It was a good card that ended in controversial manner, to say the least. Now, with more than enough to reflect on a logical basis (instead of an emotional one), it’s time to look at the lessons we’ve learned from Saturday night’s PPV.
GSP is in decline … it was just hidden really well – Johny Hendricks has been fighting for six years. Georges has been UFC welterweight champion for longer than that. Think about that for a moment; GSP has been champion of his division longer than many guys in his division have been fighting. That’s a long time, especially considering that he’s been fighting since he was a teenager. In the year plus GSP was out of action, ostensibly to heal up his knee, he came back by fighting two guys with good stylistic matchups for him in Nick Diaz & Carlos Condit. GSP has declined and it took someone like Hendricks to really bring it out.
It’s why I expect a rematch between Hendricks/GSP to look more like Rua/Machida 2 than Maynard/Edgar 2.
Diaz and Condit are two tough outs but they were guys who were good style matchups. Both guys have lackluster takedown defense and GSP could take just enough punishment to get it to the ground. Hendricks was an entirely different beast and the decline of Georges St. Pierre, greatest UFC champion of them all, were exposed for the world to see. Hendricks hit him more than anyone in his career and was the first one to definitively take at least two rounds off him in a championship fight. No one would’ve thought that several years ago and now we’re looking at the inevitability of time: it’s finally caught up to the Canadian legend.
When people talk about GSP being on his way out of MMA sooner than later it’s easy to believe them now than after either the Diaz or Condit fights. The champion isn’t shopworn, and he’s still within a good 10-15% of his peak era ability and athleticism, but it’s all downhill for him from here. This is the same place Miguel Torres was right after he was starched by Brian Bowles; you can see the decline starting to happen. You could argue that the ungodly explosiveness of GSP never returned with the ACL tear but I like to argue that the time off just masked what was bound to happen.
NFL running backs peter out at age 30 and GSP athletically resembles that profession on a team sport more than anything else. Think of it like Rocky 3. Mick was able to extend Rocky’s prime and championship reign by avoiding Clubber Lang, and taking on lesser competition. Tri-Star and GSP’s management have been able to mask some of GSP’s decline by putting him in with two fighters tailor made for him. When he finally got his Clubber Lang the results were almost predictable in retrospect.
Sergio Pettis is in need of some seasoning – Sergio Pettis gets more eyeballs and mentions because of who his brother is than for his fighting skills, sometimes, which is a shame because he’s a legitimately talented prospect. It’s why I was genuinely interested in what was supposed to be his “finishing school” fight with Jeff “Big Frog” Curran on an RFA card in Milwaukee. Curran’s a legit veteran who’s fought in every organization that matters.
Curran would’ve been a great test for Pettis to see how ready he was for the UFC. Curran was arguably the best veteran outside of Zuffa or Bellator and a win, especially a finish, probably makes the argument for him being in the UFC a more compelling one than over Dillard Pegg on short notice. He tapped James Porter shortly thereafter, earning the call up to the UFC most likely with that win, but the Curran fight would’ve been a better test. He did get the win over Will Campuzano but it was also on short notice for Campuzano, as well. Many people will argue Campuzano might’ve taken that fight with some semblance of preparation against Pettis.
Pettis has a ton of talent and he’s not able to legally drink yet, so there’s plenty of time, but my one concern is that he didn’t get quite as good of a seasoning before he came to the UFC. He has a great camp and I imagine Duke Roufus wouldn’t have given the final OK to sign with Zuffa if he didn’t think Sergio was ready, of course, but the UFC isn’t a finishing school for MMA either. Hopefully he gets to be brought along slowly in his career.
Rory McDonald needs to reevaluate himself – There are two Rory’s out there, it seems. The first is a ruthless killer, smashing dudes inside a cage because it’s what he gets paid to do. He’ll eat some punishment, of course, but he finds a way to dissect you quickly and then beats you profoundly shortly thereafter. He savors the win, finishing guys with a serial killer’s glee.
Then there’s risk adverse Rory, the one who does just enough to get the win because that is all required of him. He wins and doesn’t want to look bad for the after-party.
I can see why the former gave way to the latter; winning means the most in MMA. We can talk about being an entertaining fighter, et al, but winning gets you bigger checks, better placement on cards. Rory knows this and the killer that got noticed for playing “slam Nate Diaz on every inch of the Octagon” gave way to a fighter looking for the perfect moment and nothing else. That fighter is also why he lost to Robbie Lawler; both times he had top control he did absolutely nothing with it because of Lawler’s movement. If McDonald unloads and takes a risk he arguably wins the fight.
It leads to an interesting quandary, I imagine. McDonald needs to keep winning but his camp is slowly turning him into a bigger GSP clone. Eventually he’ll need to take some risk to get the win and losing here, as well as a split decision win over Jake Ellenberger, isn’t going to get him a shot at a title anytime soon regardless of who holds it.
Rashad Evans is back? Maybe – The freight train that ran down Phil Davis for five rounds was on display against Chael Sonnen Saturday night. Rashad is in an interesting spot now; he’s far enough removed from the loss to Jon Jones that he could conceivably make one last run at a title shot.
Tags: Georges St. Pierre, Mixed Martial Arts, Sergio Pettis, UFC 167, What We Learned