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GSP, Hendricks face fearsome foe

Mano-a mano showdown ultimate test for both men

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LAS VEGAS -- Chael Sonnen has fought for the title in two weight classes and, while moonlighting as a Fox TV analyst, is no stranger to breaking down MMA matchups.

He sees challenger Johny (Bigg Rigg) Hendricks as the hardest fight of welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre's career.

"But it also, by far, the hardest fight Johny's ever had," Sonnen adds.

Hendricks (15-1) is a former NCAA champion wrestler with one-punch knockout power. Jon Fitch, who went 25 gruelling minutes with St-Pierre in 2008, lasted just 12 seconds with Hendricks in 2011.

The former Oklahoma State wrestling star disposed of Amir Sadollah in 29 seconds, Charlie Brenneman in 40 and Martin (The Hitman) Kampman in 46.

St-Pierre (24-2) and Hendricks meet tonight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in the main event of UFC 167, the UFC's 20-year anniversary show.

The 30-year-old Hendricks is a happy-go-lucky, gregarious father of three young girls who has shown his killer instinct this week in his choice of words, if nothing else.

"My mind is to kill him," said the Dallas-based challenger, before quickly adding: "Not in that sense, but it's to beat him, to demolish him. I want to win where he doesn't want to fight me again... Yeah, he's done a lot of things, but that doesn't matter.

"When he steps into the Octagon with me, the past's the past. I plan on making a new future."

Of course, St-Pierre is used to having a giant target on his back. He has won his last 11 fights -- the longest current winning streak in the UFC -- while making eight straight title defences (former middleweight champion Anderson Silva holds the record at 10).

St-Pierre is a relentless machine whose performances in the gym would make an NFL scout drool. And the 32-year-old from Montreal is constantly adding new challenges to his training, be it working out with elite gymnasts or sprinters.

Muay Thai veterans Lamsongkram Chuwattana and Yod Wilek were part of his camp for Hendricks, helping break down the challenger's striking.

"Having Lam and Yod was a great blessing," said GSP coach Firas Zahabi, a former Muay Thai fighter himself. "Between the two of them, they have about a thousand fights. They have a keen eye. They watched Johny Hendricks, they analysed Johny Hendricks and they advised us greatly on many things, what to do, how to avoid the step-up power."

A southpaw, the 5-9 Hendricks' biggest weapon is his left hand. He can close distance at speed, launching himself at opponents and catching them going backwards. The stocky Hendricks also scores well in the clinch position, where he lands 37.8 per cent of his significant strikes.

Look to the 5-11 St-Pierre to keep his right hand tucked to his chin and fire off a left jab like a piston. He did it against Josh Koscheck, another former star wrestler with knockout power, and literally broke his face. Koscheck required facial surgery after his last loss to the champion.

The jab is a major part of the arsenal of any Zahabi fighter. St-Pierre uses it to tenderize his opponents, keep them away and to set up takedowns. Against Hendricks, he will look to make the most of a seven-inch reach advantage.

Hendricks' success with his fists has meant he has not had to resort to his wrestling much. But he took down Carlos Condit, a prickly striker, 12 times last out.

UFC president Dana White noted in the buildup to the fight that St-Pierre has been spending time on his standup game, while Hendricks -- returning home to OSU for a number of training visits -- has been concentrating on his wrestling.

While Hendricks was an amateur wrestling stud, St-Pierre is widely seen as the best wrestler in mixed martial arts. His 84 takedowns are a UFC record, as is his 75 per cent takedown accuracy rate. And he has stopped 88 per cent of his opponents' takedowns, the highest rate in welterweight history.

Often when two UFC fighters with the same strengths face off, the contest turns to a different area because it is hard taking on someone where they are at their best.

"Usually people take the path of least resistance," said Zahabi. "It's going to be hard for either one of them to take each other down."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 16, 2013 C8

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