With the controversy from the championship bout simmering down, I figured it’s time to do a technique breakdown. If you haven’t read my other piece and still think the match was a robbery, please read it here first (it was well received by many, including Firas Zahabi and Kenny Florian).
In this piece, I discuss some of the techniques that made the match a great war — I’ll begin with some of the most important variables.
I’m not going to spend too much time on this section, as the brilliant Mr. Jack Slack already did for his piece. But it’s nonetheless important and a must-mention as an introduction for this bout. In an open guard (orthodox stance vs. southpaw), you will often see an excessive amount of hand-fighting (e.g. Rory Macdonald vs. Robbie Lawler).
Hand-fighting negates the line-of-attack of the jab, as there is always some type of control and sense of movement throughout the lead hand-fight. This essentially renders the jab ineffective and forces other attacks, e.g. rear hands, hooks, and kicks. The simplicity (from southpaw) and willingness to control the lead-hand makes Hendricks a nightmare matchup for GSP.
Sounds too simple? That’s because it is. GSP has taken a minimalist approach towards fighting after his bout with Matt Serra- a diverse amount of jabs and takedown setups off the jab. By taking out GSP’s elite ability to land jabs, Hendricks also took out much of his elite ability to take him down.
Result? A dogfight.
GSP and his camp knew that he would likely need to resort to other strikes. If you don’t believe it, Tristar inviting John Wayne Parr and Tiger Muay Thai may convince you to believe otherwise.
So, what did the negation of GSP’s jab lead to?
Punching Off a Low-Kick:
Though Hendricks was smiling for other moments throughout the bout, this is a moment where he has every right to smile.
While Georges St-Pierre has a better low-kick than Rich Franklin, he did not have the timing nor the setups to do worthwhile damage.
The lead-leg low-kick is literally the weakest roundhouse kick one can throw. This attack is a rather ill-advised option against a power puncher, and GSP paid for it repeatedly.
The whole point of the low-kick is to off-balance the opponent and to weaken the opponent’s leg (or to set-up other strikes), but it ought to be stopped when you’re constantly taking punishment for it. While GSP did not get punished as badly as he did in round two, he was consistently throwing outside-leg kicks and getting hit by Hendricks throughout the fight. GSP loves his superman jab, and my theory was that he really wanted to set it up with the outside-leg kick.
However, this was one of the biggest, if not the biggest flaw to GSP’s strategy— one that he failed to correct. Had GSP chosen not to throw these kicks, I dare say that he would’ve won round two. A bulk of the clean and powerful shots Hendricks landed (throughout the entire bout) were off these kick, and if there is a rematch we will likely see it as a critical removal.
The Level Change:
This is a signature GSP technique, and Hendricks was reminded of it very early in the fight. To negate it, he must threaten the level change. What did Hendricks do to stop the level change?
Threatening the Level Change- Uppercuts and Knees:
Hendricks used the uppercut and knee repeatedly throughout the bout to threaten GSP’s level change. These two strikes played a really critical role in changing GSP’s game plan as he could not shoot-in freely.
Once again, Hendricks is a nightmarish matchup because he is willing to throw knees in the southpaw stance. Normally, the lead knee of an orthodox fighter would not be a great threat (as one would have to do a switch-knee to create power). However, against a southpaw, the knee can powerfully shoot straight up as GSP shifts to the right as he changes levels. This by effect, closes the distance of the knee to the head, giving GSP many problems normally non-existent.
GSP’s Long Range Responses:
To fight a powerful (rear-hand) puncher, you can either beat him in the clinch or you beat him on the outside. Since GSP doesn’t want to trade rear hands, he controlled the distance with his long range kicks.
The teep, or otherwise known as the push-kick, is a principal technique in Muay Thai. It’s basically the technique to dictate distance and say “I control my bubble, if you come in you will get pushed out.” While it’s not a particularly damaging strike, it’s one that will get a puncher to strongly reconsider his distance. It’s interesting to note that GSP threw mainly rear-leg push-kicks rather than lead-leg push-kicks.
The Lead Leg Side-Kick:
Another long distance strike GSP used was the lead-leg side-kick, which is another technique used by several Thai fighters. For the most part, this had a similar effect to the push-kick.
The High Kick:
The high-kick played a really critical part in GSP’s win, as his high-kick was probably his most significant strikes in terms of damage. In an open guard (southpaw vs. orthodox), rear-leg kicks are much easier to land. For the high-kick in particular, it’s because it’s much more difficult to check (defend) a rear-leg roundhouse kick with either the lead-leg or the rear-leg.
So because it’s rather difficult to defend against a rear-leg roundhouse kick, it’s automatically more difficult to read whether the kick is targeting your midsection or your head. GSP played with this principle repeatedly as he went to the body, shoulders, and head with his rear-leg roundhouse kicks. Hendricks blocking high in anticipation of a high-kick (and getting hit with a mid-section kick) demonstrates this principle well.
The Outside-Angle Inside-Jab
In an open guard, taking an outside step with your lead-leg to your opponent’s lead-leg will give you a dominant position to land strikes. The same principle applies to the jab, and GSP repeatedly lands it by going under Hendricks’ arm.
The Intentional Trip That Won Round 4:
Despite Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg saying that this was a slip, it was most likely an intentional trip. This is again the outside lead-leg dominant angle at play- you can step outside with the lead-leg, off-balance your opponent towards his trapped leg, and watch him tumble over. This is probably what happened in round four, which led to Hendricks being on top of GSP for a significant portion of the round.
Other Important Techniques Throughout the Bout…
The Elbow on the Cage:
These elbows deterred GSP from continuing his takedown attempt.
Trading Knees in the Clinch
The knees matter in that GSP and Hendricks traded it for much of their clinch battle. Though Hendricks’ strikes looked more damaging, it’s important to note that it was for the most part a 1:1 ratio.
The Rear-Leg Low-Kick:
As mentioned earlier, rear kicks in general are easier to land in an open guard for both fighters (orthodox vs. southpaw)- the reason you see Anthony Pettis and Sergio Pettis use southpaw/open guard to deliver awesome rear kicks ; another here.
However, it’s most likely easier for the southpaw to land rear-leg kicks to their opponent’s lead-leg. This is because the orthodox fighter is less accustomed to defending the inside part of their leg, whereas the southpaw is used to receiving rear-kicks from his mostly orthodox opponents/training partners. As a result, it’s apparent that Hendricks had much more success in delivering them when compared to GSP.
GSP did try to land the rear-leg low-kicks with much less success, though he seemed to have trained it quite a bit (via UFC 167 open workouts).
While I can’t give a clear answer to what will happen in their rematch, this breakdown shows some of what was effective and ineffective in their recent bout. GSP showed more diversity than ever, but at the same time, he showed a great strategical flaw in his choice to throw lead-leg kicks— something we can be sure to never see again.
While Hendricks had answers for GSP’s jab and GSP’s takedowns, he lacked answers to many of his other strikes. A more polished rear-leg kick from GSP that goes low, middle, and high could be one of the best answers. Further polishing his distance control strikes (side-kick, push-kick) would also likely be useful in the rematch.
As for Hendricks, I truly believe that he has less answers from a purely “technical” striking perspective. Literally take out GSP’s choice to deliver lead low-kicks and you take away many of the significant blows of the bout. Power though, is a great equalizer, and if Johny shows the willingness to adapt, we will see a great war once again.
As always, thank you for reading.
*The punch that Firas Zahabi referred to as “Freddie’s left hook” was intentionally left out, as it probably deserves another article in itself and it would’ve made this one too long.