Wrestling is not just the takedown but the clinch
You could probably lump pinning/escapes as the 3rd big skill set an amateur wrestler brings to the table but given how everything gets lumped into “BJJ” these days, the stand up portion of wrestling is what stands out in MMA.
GSP is often touted as the best welterweight wrestler in MMA and statistics clearly show he has one of the highest takedown rates and takedown defences in the division/UFC. One part of his wrestling game that is overlooked though, is his clinch work. Amazingly, GSP despite not having being part of wrestling athletic program has dominated the clinch against many elite wrestlers which have entered the sport of MMA.
Underhooks are Key
Underhooks are critical in MMA to (1) stopping level changes, (2) getting turned into the fence, (3) closing the distance to kill strikes and also (4) taking opponents down. Clinch takedowns are an important facet of wrestling to master and GSP has used the clinch extensively in his career either for defense or offence. This really allows GSP to be a master of “ranges” in MMA, attacking close or from a distance and making it hard to run a game plan on him.
GSP has always managed throughout his career to establish to the underhook first/early on his opponents and dominate them in the clinch. He showed one brilliant example in his match with BJ Penn where he trapped BJ against the fence for extended periods but he has also showed flashes of it throughout all his fights.
As trivial as it may sound, the battle for underhooks is a critical and continuous battle throughout a fight, even on the ground. GSP has always been aware of the need to get this on his opponent, especially coming off failed level changes/shots. From here, his two other main take downs (aside from his double) – (1) underhook/kneetap and (2) running the pipe off the high crotch come into play. If you watch carefully he often tries/hits this chain on opponents:
a) Double, if you stuff it – goes to
b) underhook/kneetap, if you hop on the free leg to get behind his drive
c) high crotch and runs the pipe as you hop
He can do this in the open or against the cage and given his agility and speed, many get overwhelmed by this chain.
GSP’s wrestling is not just about dexterity though. GSP has typically also been the physically strongest clincher in the division as well. He has reversed everyone into the cage and never been trapped. I don’t think UFC collects data on “time pinned to the fence”, but GSP has spent minimal time there, always able to out-rotate you back in. He has always been able to call on that reserve to win a clinch battle if necessary when guile doesn’t pan out.
Hendricks is a Clinch Master
Given that Hendricks’ past fights have mainly been about him hitting doubles against the cage and his left hand, it was quite a surprise to see him out clinch GSP for 25 mins. Though his double was neutralized for the most part, his ability to get the underhook at will was an eye opener. Hendricks basically did everything that GSP has done to his opponents, getting the underhook out of stuffed doubles, when GSP tried to strike or when GSP shots were stuffed. Sometimes when GSP was overwhelmed by strikes GSP would willingly clinch up even. Furthermore when GSP tried to match Hendricks strength to strength to turn Hendricks when they both had underhooks, GSP lost every battle, getting turned at will.
If this is something due to GSP’s ACL surgery no one knows, but one thing to note is GSP’s ability to hop on his right knee to evade singles has been absent in his last few fights post surgery (no one could really get to his legs anyway). GSP seemed very unwilling to throw his leg around and land randomly to evade take downs or dig in and rotate in the clinch. Just IMHO. The other explanation is maybe after losing the psychological battle to pummel Hendricks’ underhook in round 1, GSP abandoned trying and figured it would be pointless to fight Hendricks’ strength in his underhook. Guess we will never know but in any case, Hendricks’ displayed a 3rd dangerous weapon besides his KO power in his left and his doubles – his clinching.
Looks like Robbie Lawler is next for Hendricks and whatever the result my own fantasy pick for Hendricks would be Askren. He lost to Hendricks in their last wrestling encounter over 10 years ago but so much has changed it would be quite interesting to see how the re-match turns out. Askren through out his career has used his unique wrestling style to beat physically stronger opponents and still holds his own vs active college wrestlers even though he has retired from the sport. Just saying.
Here’s the final video on the GSP v Hendricks’ encounter. Enjoy.