LAS VEGAS — Niagara Falls native Rashad Evans needed little time to win his co-headline fight at Ultimate Fighting Championship 167 but it was the defending champ who needed help from the judges to emerge the winner.
Georges St. Pierre retained his welterweight title with split decision over top contender Johny Hendricks late Saturday night.
Hendricks seemed to have the upper hand over the Canadian champion for most of the five rounds, landing the more significant blows and limiting any damage inflicted.
St. Pierre was able to keep it close to extend his winning streak to 12 fights. Two judges scored it 48-47 for St. Pierre, and the third had it 48-47 for Hendricks.
“Without a doubt, this was my toughest fight,” said an emotional St-Pierre. “I wasn’t surprised at his ability. He was very good at conquering my game plan.”
While St-Pierre was able to secure a take-down and Hendricks landed a few short elbows while pressed against the cage, neither fighter had an advantage in the first round.
Hendricks came out strong in the second round, loading up on his punches and landing a few shots that wobbled the champion. St-Pierre was able to regain his wits and began to find his range toward the end of the round.
The two fighters stood toe-to-toe throughout the third round and as the fourth round came to a close, the champion appeared bloodied and battered while Hendricks seemed unfazed and confident, gesturing to the crowd as if he was in complete control.
“I thought I had won three of the rounds,” St-Pierre said. “I was hurt and at one point in the fight I got hit in the eye and couldn’t see. I was hurt.”
When the decision was announced, the pro St-Pierre crowd seemed surprised to hear the judges side with the champion.
“I thought I clearly won the fight,” a disappointed Hendricks said. “I out-jabbed him, I out-struck him and did everything I needed to do to win the belt. I’ll be back. I promise that belt will be mine.”
UFC President Dana White expressed his displeasure with the decision after the fight saying,” I’m blown away that St-Pierre won the fight.”
In the co-main event, former lightweight contender Rashad Evans stopped Chael Sonnen in the first round.
Evans was able to take Sonnen to the mat and flatten him out on his belly, landing a number of hard shots and forcing the referee to stop the fight at 4:05 of the first round.
“I thought he was going to go for the take-down right away but he wanted to brawl so I said let’s go!” Evans said. “I’m willing to work as hard as I need to get a shot at that belt again.”
Sonnen has dropped three of his last four fights, all to current or former UFC champions.
“I got mauled,” he said. “I had the fence on one side and a world champion on the other.
Robby Lawler, Tyron Woodley and Ali Bagauntinov also won fights on the card.