(This story appeared in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)
MONTREAL – What do you get the UFC titleholder who has everything? In the case of welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, who already has fame, riches and a place in the MMA record books, the answer might be a fresh challenger.
In UFC 158, St-Pierre (24-2 MMA, 18-2 UFC) steamrolled Nick Diaz (26-9 MMA, 7-6 UFC) for another unanimous decision victory, his sixth in as many fights. He did it with the same mix of brilliant strategy and flawless execution MMA fans have come to expect from the Quebecois.
If anything, he took care of business a little too much like usual. After five years as the undisputed champion, St-Pierre really needs an opponent who will force him to do something new.
Former NCAA Division I national wrestling champion Johny Hendricks (15-1 MMA, 10-1 UFC) might be that opponent. Not only does he have the grappling chops to rival St-Pierre, he also has knockout power in his left hand. After a unanimous-decision win and the fight of the night award against Carlos Condit (28-7 MMA, 5-3 UFC) in Montreal, Hendricks has UFC President Dana White’s blessing.
“He’s the No. 1 contender,” White said in the post-fight news conference. “Done.”
In the UFC, it’s not always so simple. With six consecutive wins, Hendricks has earned the shot, though he wouldn’t be the first to be passed over or shuffled to the middle of the pack after being crowned the top contender. This is one situation, however, in which it might be the champion who needs the challenger, rather than the other way around.
In UFC 158, fans were promised a grudge match in which the champion would be motivated to put a memorable beating on longtime tormentor Diaz. What they got instead was standard St-Pierre fare. As dominant as the champion looked, you wonder if fans won’t soon tire of seeing him do the same thing over and over again. After so many successful title defenses, it’s getting harder to find a fighter or a style over which St-Pierre hasn’t already proved his mastery. Wrestlers can’t strike with him, and strikers can’t out-wrestle him. That’s where Hendricks comes in.
“I believe I’ve got better wrestling than him,” Hendricks said. “I did it since I was 5. I go back to Oklahoma State and train all the time.
“Also, I hit harder than him.”
White says the match is all but made. St-Pierre says Hendricks deserves the fight.
A champion as dominant as St-Pierre deserves an opponent who can push him to new heights. Maybe more than he realizes.
For complete coverage of UFC 158, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.
(Pictured: Johny Hendricks)