Johny Hendricks: Ready For Robbie Lawler Rematch



The UFC is seeing a new generation of fighters come up and pry free the grip that the old guard has held for so long at the top of the sport. For six years, Georges St-Pierre dominated the welterweight division and helped bring the still-growing sport to a wider audience. But last November, Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks gave St-Pierre a beating that the French-Canadian had never been part of before. Despite losing the controversial division, the former Oklahoma wrestling standout had announced his arrival into the elite tier of fighters and helped usher St-Pierre into semi-retirement. Hendricks officially took his place atop the division and began his quest to secure his own legacy back in March when he defeated Robbie Lawler for the vacant title in a hard fought five round match.

But what makes this story interesting is that Hendricks’ first mixed martial arts bout was only the second time he had been in a fight. It was a sport where he expected his participation to be more of the cheering variety than the one that put him in harms way. “I’ve only been in one street fight in my entire life,” Hendricks explains as he prepares for a rematch against Lawler at UFC 181 on December 6 at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas. “It was me and my best friend and we fought over earrings. And afterwards we ate pizza.” It wasn’t that Hendricks wasn’t interested in fighting, it’s just that his parents weren’t interested in having their son getting punched in the head as a career choice.

“My grandfathers on my dad and my moms side were both golden glove boxers during World War 2,” Hendricks reveals. “They had punching bags and I wanted to learn but my parents didn’t want me to box, they wanted me to be a wrestler.” With the dream deferred, Hendricks made his foray into the world of wrestling where he was a three-time Oklahoma high school state champion before dominating at Oklahoma State University with two national championships and a 4-time All-American. But once a wrestler’s collegiate career ends, there is no professional league to compete in. And that left Hendricks out in the cold and looking for a revenue stream in 2007. But a phone call from his manager, Ted Ehrardt, changed everything and sent the Oklahoman into a foreign sport where the only experience he had was as a wrestler. “I started at 24 and I knew nothing,” he says with a laugh. “I had such a low knowledge of fighting that it takes four years just to find out what your good at.” It’s hard to believe that in a few years, Hendricks hasn’t just come into his own, he’s feared for his devastating punching power that has utterly destroyed his competition. And without any experience in hand-to-hand combat, Hendricks was just as shocked as everyone else by the trail of bodies he left unconscious in the Octagon.

“I had no idea what type of mixed martial artist I would be,” he says. “But my first boxing coach said I needed to quit trying to throw hard punches because I throw hard without trying.” With that, Hendricks made his debut in 2007 for Battle of the Cage and scored a 3rd TKO and proceeded to punch his way into the UFC. Still raw, Hendricks would end up losing his 10th professional fight to Rick Story in 2010 but accepted the loss as a learning experience and began to smooth out his rough edges. A 12 second knockout of former title contender Jon Fitch and a 46 second knockout of made him the most feared puncher in the division.

Even today, with all of the knockouts and the world title in his possession, one would think that Hendricks has taken a liking to the art of combat sports. But for 31-year-old, he admits that he’s still not all that enthralled by the art of fighting. “It’s not the fighting that I love, it’s the competition,” the Team Takedown fighter explains. “Is it going to be 10 seconds or a five round fight? Will I get knocked down and submitted? Not knowing the result is what is exciting to me everything else is secondary.”

What also separates Hendricks from his peers is the grounded element that he has where losing is an actual possibility. Many fighters live with the façade that they are invincible. But that does them no good once their bell gets rung and they find themselves in a precarious position. Hendricks embraces danger and uses it as the fuel to keep him at the top of his game.

Even when he lost that razor thin decision to St-Pierre, he was able to not allow it to devastate him because that reality has always been a part of his planning.“It’s not the fear of losing that worries me; it’s the fear of not competing at my highest level,” he says. “That’s why I didn’t take the GSP decision hard. I gave it my all and competed. I can look back and say that. Who would have thought I would have won a five round decision against GSP? Nobody. They figured I would gas out after three but I was able to push all the way through.”

As he prepares to face Robbie Lawler a second time in his first fight back from bicep surgery, all of these scenarios run through his head. Could he lose? Sure. Does he plan to? Of course he doesn’t. The fact that he’s the champion doesn’t weigh heavily on him either. All that matters is that he puts on a good show for the fans and is able to carve out his own legacy. “During this whole process I haven’t looked at myself as the champ, it’s a fight as soon as you sign that bout agreement, you are fighting for the belt that’s now in the middle,” he explains. “I don’t get to take my past fights into this one. I don’t take anything else but what happens in this fight I think that’s something that helps me. It keeps me motivated because as soon as you start believe your own hype, it’s time to retire.”