What I love about being a fan and a writer is that there is always a good nugget of a story hidden behind all the hype and hoopla that comes leading up to a UFC event. Nothing changes, heading into UFC 141 that takes place on January 30th at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas, where the great story in Johny Hendricks continues.
The Oklahoma State University grad was considered one of the best amateur wrestlers in the country. While competing for OSU, Hendricks won the 2005 and 2006 NCAA Division I wrestling title at 165-pounds, and he finished second in 2007 after falling to Mark Perry from the University of Iowa. That was the only tarnish on Hendricks’s record and going into that match he had compiled a 56-0 record.
During Hendrick’s University days, when he was making guys suffer on the mats, if you would have asked him about possibly fighting in MMA he would of given you a puzzled look.
To be honest, my focus at the time was on the Olympics. I didn’t have any Internet or knew much about anything “mixed martial arts” until I graduated from college. I was 24 years old before I even started training in boxing, jiu-jitsu, or anything. After my last wrestling match where I lost, I was at a crossroads in my life. I had a manager ask me if I wanted to fight for a living, so I prayed about it, and decided why not. I went to Vegas to train and fell in love.
Johny eventually found a home at Team Takedown. He trains with the Rosholt brothers and Shane Roller. Team Takedown is a place that prides itself on turning select high-level wrestlers into MMA warriors. It’s a perfect fit for the Oklahoma native who feels that five years of University prepared him for the rigors of MMA training.
What I tell everybody is if you can make it through five years of college wrestling you can make it through fighting. Five years of college wrestling is brutal. You learn so much of what you can do and what your body can handle. You also develop into a man. When I started I thought I was strong until I started rolling with guys who were around twenty-three years old. The longer I stayed in wrestling, the stronger I got and the more I developed into a man instead of being just a strong eighteen year old boy.
However, the transition wasn’t easy for Hendricks who had to work really hard at making sure he could throw down with his hands and feet.
The stand up came natural to me too. I tried to just shut everything out and all I did was spar. I sparred with guys at amateur night and with guys who were pros. Once I started beating amateur guys in sparring sessions, which took about four months, I moved up to sparring with pros. What I did after that was if my technique wasn’t where I wanted it or something didn’t work in the pro practice, I would move back down and spar with the amateurs. Instead of just beating the amateurs up, I would work on my technique. I knew my place and I knew what I had to learn. I knew that I had to just take my time and not get frustrated. If something wasn’t working I took a step back, really looked it over, and then moved forward.
Moving forward is all that Johny knows and cares about. MMA was never on the radar back in University but possibly winning a gold medal at the Olympics was. But, after graduation he decided that he wanted nothing to do with the Olympics or amateur wrestling.
The wrestling world really didn’t like me and I don’t think they do today. A lot of people just didn’t like me. So I asked myself did I really want to go to the Olympics and represent people who despised me?
Some within the wrestling scene have said that Hendricks was a “dirty” wrestler but a lot of that venom might have been thrown his way due to how dominant he was. When you’re one of the best in the country and at the top of the mountain, people will do and say what they can to see you fall off your perch. Maybe Hendrick’s style of wrestling was just preparation for a fighting career. When you ask Johny why some in the wrestling community disliked him he gives this answer,
Whenever I wrestled I loved playing mind games. If we were close to the edge and you’re on bottom I’d push you out of bounds and make you work that much harder to get back into the center. Also if you are trying to stand up and we are almost out of bounds and I’m riding you all the way out, I would give you that extra shove so you’d get madder coming back to the middle. I’d do that over and over again. If I had a single leg on the side of the mat and we’re close to the edge and I know I’m not going to be able to finish the take down, than I will just drive you and push you out. I’d play mental games with people. They’d always be wondering why did he push me out? Why did he do this or that? It was fun for me to do that stuff and see them get mad and lose focus. They didn’t like that though.
In some ways life has a funny way of working out. Hendricks has now found himself closer than ever to a potential title shot in the UFC’s welterweight division. Except one thing, he doesn’t quite know where he currently stands.
Right now I gotta win. I have to beat Jon Fitch. Having GSP injured and out I think has hurt my chances of getting into the title mix quicker though. You had GSP and Diaz fighting, Carlos Condit and Koscheck, and me and Jon Fitch. There was some order…but now the waters are murky. I have no idea who will get the next title shot even if I win. I think it would have played better for me if GSP didn’t get hurt but since he did, who knows. But right now I’m not worried about it, because I have to get past a tough opponent. If after that night, god willing, things go in my favor, then maybe I’ll start thinking more about it.
At UFC 141 Jon Fitch will stand across the cage. It’s been a while since Fitch has been in the Octagon. In fact it will be ten months almost to the day and Hendricks doesn’t believe cage rust will be a factor in this fight.
I can’t speak for him but I know if I don’t compete for five months, I don’t feel rusty when I get back in there. He’s been out for a bit longer than that but there is still that competitor’s edge where as soon as you step into the Octagon all of that stuff goes away and your body does what it needs to do. I mean there are two ways to look at it, one it’s a blessing because you have February until now to train or you have February until now where you need to get a job and you can only train once a day and that can hurt you.
When it comes to Fitch’s much maligned style of fighting, Hendricks believes it’s much ado about nothing.
His style is tough. He’s a grinder. Jon Fitch knows how to win and get his hand raised better than most anybody in the UFC. He’s a winner pure and simple. Whenever a fight starts to not go his way, he is really good at switching the momentum to his favor and that is what I have to stop.
Some people are already calling for this fight to be a “snooze fest.” Which is quite surprising to Johny who feels his style is very pleasing to the fan’s eye. He is also tired of hearing about wrestlers being boring fighters.
Look…if you have two guys who are really good at wrestling and are able to compete against each other at a high level that is when it has the potential to be a boring fight. But each fighter is different. I personally don’t think I am a boring fighter, at least I hope not, but if I were to fight someone who is stylistically similar to me it could end up being boring. You do what you have to do in order to get your hand raised, but there has to be a little bit of both. What I mean is that although it’s all about getting your hand raised, I do understand that you have to put on a bit of a show for the fans.
This fight actually has all the makings of fight of the night. Fitch may not be as highly decorated of a wrestler like Hendricks but most fans know that Fitch is an expert when it comes to grappling in the Octagon. He also trains with Josh Koscheck who has spent a lot of time preparing his AKA partner for what could be a war of attrition. For Hendricks he knows that his wrestling is going to have to be better than ever.
I’ve been training my wrestling a lot this camp and also for my last fight against Mike Pierce. I have done more wrestling in the last eight months than I have in four years.
There is no doubt that this is the biggest fight of Johny Hendrick’s career and a win over one of the best welterweights in the business would be a huge statement. Besides working on his wrestling, Johny is also preparing his body the right way with the help of Mike Dolce who is one of the best nutritionists in the game. A proper diet will be a challenge going into the Christmas season.
I’m going to wake up, let my daughters open their presents. That’s about it. I just want to watch my daughters enjoy Christmas. I’m doing the Dolce Diet so I’m hitting pretty light right now like around the mid to high 80’s. With his diet I’m drinking around a gallon and a half of water a day and eating five meals but I’m hitting my weight and it’s nice. Usually I have to suffer to make that. Now it’s easy because I already cut 25lbs so the process is better on my body and mind. It’s extremely nice.
For a fighter dropping weight the proper way is such a big relief. There are still athletes out there who drain themselves and try and suck every last piece of poundage out of their body leading all the way up to fight day. When you’re preparing for a war with Jon Fitch, Hendricks knows that a proper diet could be difference between a win and loss.
It [Dolce Diet] has worked really well for me. What I like about it is there is variety. What I mean by that is there are really only eight things you can eat, but you can make those eight things in so many different ways. I like oatmeal, I like eggs and turkey bacon but one thing I get to do is eat venison steak or venison burgers instead of turkey burgers and stuff like that because venison is deer meat and very organic. It is some of the most organic meat you can get. The only thing that has been hard to get use to is the amount of water I have to drink. It’s tougher than you think, especially since I am use to drinking a lot less per day. You eventually get sick of water but not only that I found myself getting thirstier. So what Mike Dolce told me was to drink it through out the day slowly instead of drinking it quickly that has seemed to work. If you eat clean and drink that amount of water, it just flushes your body out. It’s pretty sweet. It’s all key to my preparation.
UFC 141 promises to be a great card, and although most of the focus will be on Lesnar vs. Overeem, in my opinion it will be a showdown between Hendricks and Fitch that could steal the show and the winner could find themselves as a possible number one contender. You know that is in the back of Johny Hendrick’s mind and he is thankful to be in this position.
I want to thank Ecko for this fight, as well as Team Takedown. I always say thanks to my family especially my wife who lets me sleep in until 11am and still makes me breakfast in bed. She is in the background allowing me to do what I do for a living. I also want to thank God that I have been blessed to wake up and do something that I love.