St-Pierre vs. Hendricks, the Numbers and Ben Askren's Potential
Ben Askren isn't the biggest Georges St-Pierre fan.
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out. Askren has been quite vocal regarding St-Pierre's skills on Twitter for quite some time. I can't even pinpoint when it began. It's like I woke up one day and there was Askren, railing about St-Pierre's perceived lack of wrestling skills.
And he hasn't stopped.
Most recently, Askren was critical of St-Pierre's performance in his title defense against Nick Diaz at UFC 158. The Bellator welterweight champion—who knows a little something about wrestling, having been one of the rare MMA fighters to make the United States Olympic wrestling team in addition to his numerous other wrestling titles—even offered a bet to UFC President Dana White: He'd go takedown for takedown with St-Pierre at the upcoming July UFC Fan Expo, with $1,000 on the line for each takedown but with White receiving 3-to-1 odds.
Unsurprisingly, White declined to respond to Askren's grandstand challenge, so Askren upped the offer. "Maybe I'll make him another offer—5-to-1. Maybe he'll think that's fair," Askren told MMAjunkie Radio in an interview last week.
In the same interview, Askren also outlined his reasons for thrashing St-Pierre.
"I think he lost a lot of the killer instinct he had when he was a lot younger," he said. "I know that's tough to maintain when you're at such a high level for so long, but I just think his title is there for the taking when someone goes in there and has a good solid wrestling base and is willing to fight hard for 25 minutes. They can take his title."
Askren's statements aren't surprising. After all, they're the same points that many fans and many media members have made following St-Pierre's performances in recent years. They're the very reason that I'm predicting that Johny Hendricks—who will likely challenge St-Pierre later this year—is easily the most dangerous opponent St-Pierre has ever faced, and has a very real chance to take the welterweight title from the greatest fighter in the history of the weight class.
"Johny has a better shot than anyone in a very long time," Askren said. "I think a lot of these more recent challengers to GSP—actually, I would have been happy if Nick Diaz would have won. It would have been hilarious if he won. But in reality, the chances of him winning were very, very slim."
Askren is right about Diaz's chances in the St-Pierre fight, just as he's right about Hendricks. St-Pierre has faced wrestlers of Hendricks' caliber before—Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck come to mind—and he's performed in typical excellent fashion.
But neither Koscheck nor Fitch have the kind of power and punching ability that Hendricks will bring to the cage against St-Pierre on the night when the pair finally face off. For Hendricks isn't just dangerous on the feet—he's a force of nature. He packs incredible power in both hands, but he also has an innate ability to actually put those weighty fists on his opponents that is comparable with the champ.
But I don't want to make assumptions. I'm the kind of guy who hated math as a kid, but grew up absorbed in baseball stats. There's something about numbers in the context of a sporting event that comforts me. I realize that sounds a little weird—especially coming from a guy who will pull out a calculator for even the smallest computation—but bear with me.
Let's take a look at some bare-boned stats on both Hendricks and St-Pierre, provided by my good friends at FightMetric, and see if there's anything that jumps out at us before leaping to any conclusions.
Significant Strikes Landed per Minute (SLpM)
Hendricks: 50 percent
St-Pierre: 55 percent
Strikes Attempted per Minute (SApM)
Hendricks: 50 percent
St-Pierre: 75 percent
As you can see from the numbers above, St-Pierre lands approximately one significant strike per minute more than Hendricks, and he's also more elusive, with 75 percent avoided punches compared to Hendricks at 50 percent.
But that doesn't tell the entire story. Hendricks attempts nearly three times the amount of significant strikes per minute as St-Pierre. In short, he's looking for the knockout, at all times, and regardless of what his opponent is doing. But St-Pierre also has 75-percent striking defense, which means he's far above the norm in terms of avoiding significant strikes.
But what happens if St-Pierre decides to take the fight to the ground?
Takedown Average (per 15 minutes)
Hendricks: 50 percent
St-Pierre: 76 percent
Hendricks: 63 percent
St-Pierre: 86 percent
These numbers give us a deeper look at what St-Pierre's game plan going into the fight should be, and it's no surprise that it will likely mimic every other St-Pierre fight since 2008 or so.
Hendricks attempts more takedowns per 15 minutes than St-Pierre, but the champion also defends nearly every takedown attempt. And sure, Hendricks has excellent wrestling, but it appears—judging from the data, at least—that attempts to take the champion down won't lead to fruitful outcomes.
On St-Pierre's side, it's clear that he'll have the advantage in the takedown department. His accuracy is a stunning 76 percent, which is nearly unheard of in mixed martial arts and is a big reason why he's considered one of the best wrestlers in MMA. Hendricks has a takedown defense of just 63 percent, which could indicate that he's fair game should St-Pierre decide to put the fight on the ground.
In short: Hendricks will want to keep the fight standing, because that's the one place he'll have an advantage. If he can land strikes, he has the chance to knock St-Pierre out—which is why St-Pierre will want to put Hendricks on his back and keep him there.
Would Askren fare better against St-Pierre?
FightMetric doesn't provide statistics for Bellator, so we have nothing to compare. But you'd have to think that Askren, with his wrestling credentials and overwhelming skill, would at least present a truly credible threat toward St-Pierre in the wrestling department. He'd be overwhelmed on the feet, but he would likely force St-Pierre to change his game plan from one that is wrestling-based to something more heavily focused on striking.
But we may never find out, as Askren is in Bellator, and his inflammatory comments toward White over the years may lead the UFC President to avoid bringing Askren into the fold even when he becomes available.
And that's a shame, because I'd truly like to see St-Pierre put to the test. A real test, not one created out of hype and desire to sell a pay-per-view. Hendricks may very well provide that test, but the numbers don't look good for him.
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