Georges St. Pierre appeared to drop three rounds to Johny Hendricks at UFC 167. | Donald Miralle/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s welterweight division was thrown into a state of utter upheaval at UFC 167 on Saturday, as longtime champion Georges St. Pierre retained his title with a contentious split decision over Johny Hendricks at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
The widespread outrage surrounding the verdict -- all three judges scored it 48-47, with Sal D’Amato and Tony Weeks siding with the champion -- was only enhanced by St. Pierre’s convoluted announcement of a possible retirement in the immediate aftermath. If this was the end for the Tristar Gym export, he exits the stage with more UFC wins (19) than any other fighter in history.
Controversy aside, Hendricks proved himself more than worthy of the No. 1 contender mantle he had shouldered since toppling Carlos Condit at UFC 158 in March. The rugged Oklahoman had St. Pierre reeling with a left uppercut in the second round and provided the sternest challenge yet to the Canadian’s 2,000-day reign over the 170-pound weight class.
The debate over the decision seems to center on the first round, a round both D’Amato and Weeks awarded to St. Pierre. The champion struck for a takedown inside the first 30 seconds, moved on a guillotine choke and appeared to have Hendricks considering a tapout. However, “Bigg Rigg” freed himself from danger and began his assault on St. Pierre in the clinch, first with jarring knees to the thighs and later with a string of savage elbows to the head. The two-time NCAA wrestling champion also secured a takedown of his own in round one.
Hendricks’ power punches exacted a visible toll on St. Pierre as the bout advanced, leaving him battered, bloodied and bruised. With that said, the 30-year-old Team Takedown standout seemed to let down his guard in the fifth round, where he could have sewn up the decision. Instead, he let St. Pierre dictate the action. The champion drove him to the canvas behind a multi-punch combination and was the clear aggressor over the final five minutes. According to preliminary FightMetric figures, Hendricks landed only four significant strikes in round five and did not attempt a takedown.
Calls for an immediate rematch were warranted and widespread afterward, though whether the idea of it becomes a reality hinges on St. Pierre’s plans. If he follows through with his talk of temporary retirement, the UFC may elect to turn to a tournament to crown a new champion, with Hendricks as the deserving centerpiece.
In the wake of UFC 167, here are six matchups that ought to be made:
Rashad Evans vs. Alexander Gustafsson-Jimi Manuwa winner: Evans was in prime form against Chael Sonnen, as he put away the Team Quest veteran with a ground-and-pound blitz in the first round of their co-main event. “Suga” struck for a takedown midway through round one, moved to mount and eventually forced Sonnen to surrender his back. Soon after, Evans had the 36-year-old flattened out and helpless, eating punches to the side of the head until the stoppage was called. Gustafsson will collide with the undefeated Manuwa on March 8 in London.
Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva: Sonnen will coach opposite “The Axe Murderer” on Season 3 of “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil,” bringing their already simmering feud to a boil.
Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit-Matt Brown winner: No one did more to raise their profile at UFC 167 than Lawler, as he upset Rory MacDonald by split decision, slowing the rise of the world-ranked Canadian. Having rebranded himself as a welterweight at American Top Team, Lawler has won all three of his fights since returning to the UFC in February. One of MMA’s most feared finishers, he has secured 18 of his 22 career wins by knockout or technical knockout, making him an easy-to-market fan favorite. Condit and Brown will clash in a high-stakes UFC on Fox 9 showdown in December.
Rory MacDonald vs. Condit-Brown loser: MacDonald took a step back with his split decision loss to the aforementioned Lawler, but he did nothing to shake the belief that he might someday rule the welterweight division. The 24-year-old former King of the Cage champion still owns a 6-2 mark inside the Octagon and figures to be a fixture at 170 pounds for the better part of the next decade. Condit, the man responsible for MacDonald’s only other defeat, will tangle with Brown on Dec. 14 in Sacramento, Calif.
Tyron Woodley vs. Hector Lombard: Woodley’s unique combination of blinding speed and devastating power proved too much for Josh Koscheck to overcome, as “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 1 alum was victimized by a pair of punishing right hands late in the first round of their welterweight showcase. A two-time NCAA All-American wrestler at the University of Missouri, Woodley has long been viewed as a potential star. Perhaps, at age 31, he has turned the corner. Lombard won for the 22nd time in 24 appearances at UFC 166 in October, when he needed less than two minutes to dispatch Nate Marquardt.
Ali Bagautinov vs. John Lineker: A two-time sambo world champion, Bagautinov pushed deeper into the flyweight division with a unanimous verdict over Tim Elliott. The 28-year-old Russian will carry a string of 10 consecutive victories into into his next outing, having scored back-to-back wins over Elliott and Marcos Vinicius Borges Pancini since touching down in the UFC in September. Lineker has had well-documented issues with the scale. However, the former Jungle Fight champion has a compiled a 17-1 mark over his past 18 fights.