It wasn’t all that long ago that Johny Hendricks looked like he was going to be a staple atop the UFC’s welterweight division.
A six-fight winning streak in the Octagon led him to a showdown with then champion Georges St. Pierre, and although “Bigg Rigg” lost a split-decision, many observers thought he won the bout. When St. Pierre announced that he was taking an indefinite hiatus and vacating the belt, the hard-hitting Hendricks claimed UFC gold in an instant classic against Robbie Lawler at UFC 171.
Since then, the former NCAA national champion wrestler has fallen on hard times. He lost the belt in a rematch with Lawler and has fallen in three of his last four Octagon appearances overall. After a bad weight cut forced him to pull out of a bout with Tyron Woodley at UFC 192 at the last minute, Hendricks has been severely outclassed by Stephen Thompson and Kelvin Gastelum in his most recent two outings. To make matters worse, he missed weight for his showdown with Gastelum at UFC 200.
Suddenly, Hendricks was simply an also-ran in a division he once appeared primed to rule. It took a special kind of pep talk to re-ignite his competitive fire.
“Right after I left Team Takedown I was sort of comfortable with where I was at. I was also still wanting to be a family guy. I wanted to spend more time with my kids, with my wife. Being 33 years old and having three kids at the time and a fourth one on the way, I sort of wanted to be a father. Being an athlete and a father are very hard to do,” Hendricks said on the UFC “Unfiltered” podcast. “My wife said after my last fight [against Gastelum], ‘You’re not fighting anymore if you fight like that.’ So we sat down, we talked about it and she was like, ‘I know you still want to fight, so become the athlete that you were and we’ll move forward from that.’ That’s really the biggest thing I could have is my wife back me the way that she did.”
As he heads into a UFC 207 matchup with Neil Magny, Hendricks believes he has finally achieved the type of focus that has been lacking in recent fights. There’s no more thinking several steps ahead, no more plotting out the 170 pound title picture. All of Hendricks attention is centered on Dec. 30 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
“I’m fighting one fight at a time finally. Now I can really sit there when somebody goes, ‘Johny what’s next for you?’ S--t, I don’t know. I really don’t know,” he said. “That takes a lot of pressure off me. Now it’s up to my wife. We’re training hard, she’s letting me do what I need to do. Urijah Faber just had his last one; he looked good. If you know it might be your end, you’re gonna train that much harder because you don’t want to go out on a loss. Right now I’m in a great place mentally, physically and all I can think about is Dec. 30 can’t come fast enough.”
Given some of his recent issues, doubters will want to see how Hendricks fares not only on fight night, but on the scales prior to that. Hendricks expects that everything will run more smoothly against Magny at UFC 207.
“It’s always my fault if I miss weight. Whenever you miss weight, you’ve got to let it go. You’ve got to try to still compete,” Hendricks said. “More than anything I just wasn’t firing. I watch that fight [vs. Gastelum] even still today and I’m looking at it going, ‘Man why can’t I fire?’ Things are open and I’m not doing them. What was the deal? And the deal was that I was not mentally ready. I have to be that.”
Hendricks did acknowledge that missing weight before his fight with Gastelum affected him mentally as well as physically.
“You go through a 12-week camp, you train your butt off and you’re going, ‘Hey this could get me back the title, right?’” he said. “And then all of a sudden you don’t make weight and you’re going, ‘What now?’ That’s a big mental thing.... The day before the weigh-ins, your body just stops sweating and doing everything that it did. Yeah, it does play with you.”
For now, Hendricks isn’t letting anything distract him from the task at hand: not future title hopes, not a trilogy bout with Lawler. It sounds cliche, but staying in the moment could help Hendricks achieve the long term goals he’s trying to keep out of his head.
“As of right now I’m not thinking of anything. All I’m thinking about is Neil Magny. I’m finally on that aspect,” he said. “The belt is always there in the back of my mind, don’t get me wrong. I’m finally doing what got me to the belt in the first place. Saying,’ I don’t care who’s next. All I care about is this person right here.’
“If I go out there and I perform like I need to, the belt will come. If I continue to fight. That’s the kind of attitude that I need to have to get back to where I want to be.”