Johny Hendricks is leaving Dallas with UFC gold. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Despite engaging in a bloody, back-and-forth brawl with knockout puncher Robbie Lawler, UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks was keenly aware of where he likely stood in the eyes of judges heading into the fifth round of the UFC 171 headliner.
Hendricks felt he had won the first two rounds and conceded that Lawler had evened the score over the following 10 minutes. As far as “Bigg Rigg” was concerned, his dream of becoming UFC welterweight champion came down to how he fared in the final period.
“I thought I did really [well] the first two rounds. Obviously, Robbie made a couple of change-ups, and I didn’t adapt fast enough to change the outcome of the third and fourth rounds,” Hendricks said at the UFC 171 post-fight press conference at American Airlines Arena in Dallas. “I knew if I was going to win this fight that it was going to be in the fifth, and that’s what I tried to do.”
Hendricks’ gutsy charge to close out the last round proved sufficient to sway all three judges in his favor, though the outcome was most certainly in doubt during rounds three and four. Lawler hurt Hendricks with accurate power punching, knocking the Oklahoma native off-balance in the third and then lacerating him with more blows in the fourth.
“From whenever it cut, [vision in my right eye] was blurry. I couldn’t see out of it much, but you have got to adapt,” said Hendricks. “If I was going to win, I knew I had to do something where that wouldn’t happen as much. He’s going to hit me, and yes, it’s going to hurt, but hopefully I can land some punches in return.
“I was going to [try more] takedowns, but certain things happened where I couldn’t. That’s when I knew I had to change up my game plan. Instead of focusing so much on the takedowns, where I was leaving myself open, I started doing some punching and landing my own shots.”
Lawler approached round five with the same intensity, but Hendricks would not be denied. The stocky southpaw fired back at the Strikeforce veteran, putting his punches together beautifully and hurting Lawler midway through the frame. With Lawler’s back to the cage, Hendricks changed levels for a double-leg, planting Lawler on his backside and controlling him for the bout’s final minute to secure the round and the fight.
With the biggest win of his career now in his back pocket, Hendricks seems ready to take on all comers. Though the new champion would not specify whom he would next like to face, Hendricks assuredly stated that he would shy away from no man at 170 pounds.
“It’s not my call. The UFC picks my opponents, and that’s what I’m going to do,” said Hendricks. “[Whomever] the UFC puts in front of me next, I’m going to fight. I want whoever is No. 2, and if No. 2 is hurt, then I want No. 3. We’ll go down the line, and that’s the way I want it.”