Jon Fitch has been a thorn in the side of the UFC for a long time now. I personally happen to really enjoy Fitch’s fights. Maybe I’m alone, but I find it very entertaining to watch Fitch get matched up with great opponents like Thiago Alves and B.J. Penn and just systematically take them all down and beat them all up. Unfortunately for Fitch, I just might be alone, as most MMA fans loathe his fighting style, and are generally uninterested in watching him fight. Because of this, the UFC has little interest in giving Fitch another title shot against Georges St-Pierre, and so Fitch is relegated to fighting relative unknowns like Johny Hendricks.
Here’s the problem: Hendricks might have what it takes to beat Fitch. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you probably know that Hendricks has been a “SILVA favorite,” consistently rated by my system as one of the five best welterweights in the world, despite his status as a relative unknown. Most people might see Hendricks as a fighter the UFC is matching Fitch against just to fulfill the obligation of actually giving Fitch opponents to fight. I happen to see Hendricks as a fighter the UFC chose to fight Fitch because he may just be able to “solve the problem.”
Why am I so enthusiastic about Hendricks? Well, part of my analysis in looking for fighters who could be future superstars is looking for fighters who are ahead of the MMA developmental curve. My research has suggested that pro MMA fighters need about two years of experience before they fully blossom. Fighters who are very successful in their first two years have a chance to become real championship contenders in their third year and beyond. The best example of this was Jon Jones, who didn’t beat Andre Gusmao very decisively in his UFC debut, but it was a win for Jones, in the UFC, and still in his first year of fighting. Jones started his third year of fighting against Vladimir Matyushenko, and since then is 5-0, the UFC light-heavyweight champion, and he looks nearly unbeatable.
Hendricks wasn’t as stellar in his first two years as Jones, but it was still pretty darn impressive. He piled up a 6-0 record, including his UFC debut, a KO win over Amir Sadollah, and now sits at 11-1 with a 6-1 record in the UFC. He didn’t fight all bums either: he won a grueling battle against the very tough Mike Pierce in his last fight, and also has wins over Charlie Brenneman and T.J. Grant to boast about.
In fact, let’s look at Mike Pierce, who is a common opponent between Hendricks and Fitch. When Fitch fought Pierce, they were just about even in striking, with Fitch landing 55 significant strikes against Pierce’s 54. When Hendricks fought Pierce, he won the striking battle more decisively, 54-37. It’s hardly anything conclusive, but it still supports the idea that Hendricks could pull off the upset in this fight.
With all of that said, Fitch still has to be considered the better fighter at the moment. Fitch’s recent fight history is just better than Hendricks’s, with wins over Alves, Pierce, Paulo Thiago, and what I felt should have been a win over B.J. Penn in February.
SILVA PREDICTION: JON FITCH (81.11) OVER JOHNY HENDRICKS (80.82)
So Fitch gets the slight edge in SILVA, and he deserves the edge. He’s taken on so many tough opponents, and beats them so consistently. However, there are just a lot of things going Hendricks’s way here. Hendricks has a higher rate of finishes, Hendricks performed better against Mike Pierce, and Hendricks is squarely in the prime of his MMA career, while this fight represents the first beyond the dreaded 9-year mark for Fitch. I’ll pick Fitch to win, because like I said, he deserves that edge until proven otherwise, but if Johny Hendricks pulls the upset, I won’t be surprised in the slightest.