Johny Hendricks has already been a champion; at Oklahoma State he collected an NCAA Division I wrestling championship in 2005 & 2006 at 165-pounds as well as a four-time All-American at OSU and a three-time Big 12 Conference champion.
But the ultimate prize for his spoils of war will be winning a UFC championship, a title that has eluded him but maybe that’s just because he hasn’t got his chance yet.
With his wrestling accolades most would be practicing their takedown defense but when facing this power-puncher you also have to be aware of his striking abilities as well, something that we learned in his octagon debut putting The Ultimate Fighter champ Amir Sadollah to sleep in under thirty seconds.
The big-bearded Team Takedown product has scratched and clawed his way to the top of the loaded welterweight division getting better every time he walks to the cage.
“The good lord blessed me with some athletic ability and with my coaches and wife and kids and everybody believing in me, that’s what it really boils down to, whenever I started this game I knew that I had to be good at stand-up because I had the wrestling background and in the MMA world at that point people hated watching wrestlers,”
“I realized punching people feels sort of natural to me so I started doing it more and more and what helped me more than anything is, for a year and a half I had nothing – No striking coach, just me and Mark [Laimon] every day and we sort of developed a style that worked for me”
Hendricks made the transition from prospect to title-challenged in a big, big way last December when he defeated the second best welterweight in the division Jon Fitch, a feat that only long-time divisional ruler George St-Pierre has reached in the UFC.
Next week he looks to collect his tenth victory under the Zuffa banner when he faces Fitch’s ex-training partner Josh Koscheck.
“I just can’t wait to get in the octagon with the guy; I’ve done so much talk that when I see him it almost feels like it’s not even real, you know what I mean? But finally the time has come that I can actually fight the guy”
Much like Hendricks, the latest addition to the Dethrone Base Camp’s wrestling is his bread-and-butter and as he developed cage time and confidence he grew into a feared striker but Hendricks expects him to return to what he knows best in New Jersey.
“I think what’s going to happen is he’s gonna try and stay away from me a little more and I expect him to try to take me down the first chance he gets, that’s what I’m expecting because whenever you look at a guy with power, especially one-punch power, one shot can take you out and he’s been knocked out before so that’s what I expect to happen”
If he is able to get his hand raised next week it will be his second-straight win over a former title challenger making him the consensus top challenger for the winner of the inevitable clash between George St-Pierre and Carlos Condit.
“If I beat Josh Koscheck, who else has ever been able to beat Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck? There’s only been one guy, that’s GSP and nobody’s been able to finish Jon Fitch so if I can go out there and put on a good performance against Josh Koscheck and just get my hand raised I think that’s gotta put me in front of everybody because first off, I just beat the number-two guy and now if I beat the number-four ranked guy back-to-back I don’t see who’s done that in the past year”
The real issue with being the top-contender right now is St-Pierre is at home nursing an injury and isn’t expected to be returning to the cage until November but Hendricks would be willing to wait on the sideline to get a chance at what’s rightfully his.
“Yes, I am [willing to wait] because if you look at this, how many people have been told they get a title shot and something happens and they’re asked ‘do you want to wait or have another fight?’ and they usually say ‘I want another fight’ and how many times have they lost? Just because they went from that title shot and now they’re so overwhelmed with this fight and if you win it your guaranteed a title shot and that’s something that weighs on people’s minds.”
Hendricks solidified his place as an elite fighter at 170-pounds when he knocked Fitch silly, if Koscheck takes him lightly he will find himself looking up at the lights within seconds, much like his former American Kickboxing Academy training partner.
Listen to the entire interview on MMASucka Radio here along with UFC middleweight Alan Belcher and MMASucka’s own Carlin Bardsley
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