On the 20th anniversary of the UFC, George St Pierre survived the toughest threat to his welterweight title yet, with many believing that the ‘winningiest’ fighter in UFC history was toppled by Johny Hendricks. In his last fight before he ‘hangs up his gloves for a bit’, George St Pierre found himself on the back foot for most of the championship fight, particularly in the early rounds. Hendricks rocked the champion at least twice and displayed impressive counter wrestling to inflict significant damage on the champion, but as the rounds went on Hendricks’ punching power dulled, and GSP was able to regain some momentum and take a razor thin split decision.
In the first round both Hendricks and GSP scored a takedown but it was Hendricks who got the better of the clinch game, landing some nice elbows and opening up a very small cut above the eye. Two minutes into the fight this was already the toughest test St Pierre had faced in years, and Hendricks came forward with strong striking in round two rocking the champion badly. The jab of St Pierre put in its first appearance late in the second round, and while GSP regained some momentum the early damage from Hendricks saw him two rounds up. By the third round Hendricks had slowed, and the inside leg kicks of St Pierre had successfully reduced some of the movement of the challenger. Hendricks did not look as dangerous as he did especially in round two, and the only takedown of the round came late on from the challenger. As we entered the championship rounds the power of Hendricks continued to wain as GSP landed more hard leg kicks, until a slip from GSP took the fight to the ground and landed Hendricks in the top position. Hendricks scored some good damage before letting GSP get back to his feet. St Pierre managed to stave off another Hendricks take down towards the end of the round, but offered little offence in return for the ground strikes. With many believing the champion needed a finish in the final round, Hendricks showed some excellent balance and takedown defence before eventually succumbing to a single leg. Despite having the position however, St Pierre managed just one knee to the body before Hendricks was able to get back to his feet. Though his hard strikes were somewhat dulled from the first two rounds, Hendricks lasted well in his first ever five round fight and kept pace with the experienced champion till the very end. With one more takedown late in the fight, even though Hendricks popped straight back up, St Pierre took the final round. St Pierre took the controversial split decision with many people giving Hendricks the nod, but this was a classic UFC title fight and probably the toughest fight of St Pierre’s career. Once the fight concluded, GSP announced that he will be ‘stepping away’ for a while – no word yet on if this means he will relinquish the title or not.
While most of this card featured one-sided decisions, Rashad Evans dispatched Chael Sonnen in quick fashion. Evans displayed his world class wrestling to get Sonnen down, and unleashed some vicious ground and pound with Sonnen flat on his stomach and nowhere to go. Evans regains some vital momentum here after a lacklustre win over Dan Henderson and a disappointing loss to Little Nog, and managed to dispatch Sonnen quicker than anyone has in the past four years, including current light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Sonnen may well use this loss as the jumping off point to move back down to 185 pounds and make another go of things in the middleweight division as, the win over Shogun aside, Sonnen has looked outsized and outclassed at 205.
In the highly anticipated clash between hot prospect Rory MacDonald and wily veteran Robbie Lawler many fans got their wish in seeing Rory MacDonald tested and drawn out like never before, and the relentlessness of Lawler proved too much for MacDonald to neutralise as Lawler took the split decision victory. In the first round Lawler gave a good account of himself, while the skill and athleticism of MacDonald allowed him to avoid any serious trouble – but Lawler displayed impressive counter wrestling to prevent MacDonald taking the fight to the ground, and it was well into the second round before MacDonald was able to finally execute a takedown successfully. Lawler took the first round based on offence despite not managing to land any significant damage, while spending the last two minutes in top position gave Rory MacDonald round two even if he did avoid any striking or offence from that position. Lawler went in for the kill in the final round and MacDonald’s takedown attempts got more and more desperate, finding himself in the position of stopping Lawler’s offence being the primary objective. The third round elevated this from a great fight to an instant Fight of the Night, with some heartstopping striking exchanges and some dangerous knockdowns from Lawler. With this win against one of the hottest prospects at 170 pounds, Lawler must be considered one of the very best at welterweight in the UFC.
The main card began in style with a classic knockout of Josh Koscheck by the impressive Tyron Woodley. A veteran of the original Ultimate Fighter, Koscheck may well at the tail end of his career particularly after a performance like this. Despite both being decorated wrestlers, Koscheck and Woodley went in and traded hard shots for most of the first round apart from a brief period in the clinch, and Koscheck got himself caught in the wrong place for an incredibly well-timed right hand from Woodley. Once Koscheck was wobbled and on his way to the ground, a pinpoint one-two combination from Woodley put him out. In the opening pay per view fight, Ali Bagautinov took a unanimous decision over Tim Elliot in an entertaining flyweight contest. Bagautinov comfortably took the first round with some excellent striking, but a close guillotine attempt and good wrestling drew Elliot level going into the final round. Elliot repeated the same mistakes of the first round, rushing forward and pushing the face but not backing it up with enough offence.
After a disappointing undercard in the main, Donald Cerrone delivered on the promised excitement with an excellent triangle choke submission victory over Evan Dunham. The Cowboy said that, had he not been pleased with his performance, he would have retired after this fight, but with a performance like this Cerrone is still a force in the lightweight division. Sergio Pettis looked impressive in his debut, taking a dominant decision win over Will Campuzano. In some ways the perfect debut performance Pettis displayed a well rounded style, beating Campuzano on the feet and on the ground. Elsewhere, Gian Villante kicked the night off with a bang, taking a TKO win over Cody Donovan in a slugfest. Thales Leites, Rick Story and Erik Perez took unanimous decisions with 30-27 scores across the board on a prelim card that lacked the excitement that many fans expected.
George St Pierre def. Johny Hendricks via split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47) to retain the UFC welterweight champion
Rashad Evans def. Chael Sonnen via TKO (punches) – Round 1, 4:05
Robbie Lawler def. Rory MacDonald via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Tyron Woodley def. Josh Koscheck via KO (punches) – Round 1, 4:38
Ali Bagautinov def. Timothy Elliott via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Donald Cerrone def. Evan Dunham via submission (triangle choke) – Round 2, 3:49
Thales Leites def. Ed Herman via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Rick Story def. Brian Ebersole via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Erik Perez def. Edwin Figueroa via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Jason High def. Anthony Lapsley via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Sergio Pettis def. Will Campuzano via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
Gian Villante def. Cody Donovan via TKO (punches) – Round 2, 1:22