UFC 171 gives Johny Hendricks second shot at title
Johny Hendricks bruised, bloodied and battered Georges St-Pierre last November, only to watch St-Pierre leave the UFC octagon with his welterweight title belt and a split-decision victory.
With a second chance to claim the now-vacant belt when he faces Robbie Lawler at UFC 171 in Dallas on Saturday night, Hendricks refuses to let any frustration over that loss hinder him from finally climbing atop the 170-pound division.
"As soon as the judges announced what they said, I had to put that in the back of my mind," Hendricks said. "Also, as soon as I got the fight with Robbie, everything else just disappeared. I have another great opportunity, and I don't want to waste it."
Although Hendricks (15-2) won't get the chance to claim the title directly from St-Pierre, he hasn't showed much disappointment behind his bearded, bespectacled, aw-shucks Oklahoma persona.
He didn't have time to stew: St-Pierre, the champion since late 2007, vacated his championship and stepped away from mixed martial arts right after that fight, leaving the UFC to match two top contenders for the right to be his successor.
The choices were Hendricks and Lawler (22-9), a hard-hitting veteran who crashed out of the UFC before fighting his way back into title contention. They'll meet at the American Airlines Center on a card also featuring Carlos Condit against Tyron Woodley in a bout that will likely determine the new champion's next opponent.
St-Pierre's departure deprives the UFC of one of its biggest stars and pay-per-view draws, but the Quebecois champion left behind a division stacked with intriguing challengers. While Hendricks has been the class of the group, he also knows he could lose that spot by Sunday morning.
"These other three guys, we all can make our own destiny," Hendricks said. "It doesn't matter if GSP is going to be here or not. We're all exciting. I think that's what makes the fans excited now, is that they don't know what's going to happen.
They don't know if we're going to knock each other out."
Hendricks was an NCAA champion wrestler at Oklahoma State before picking up MMA, moving swiftly from smaller promotions to the UFC. He won 15 of his first 16 fights, including several against top-flight competition: Condit, Martin Kampmann, Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch and T.J. Grant.
But he couldn't do enough to wrest the title away from St-Pierre, who took much more cosmetic damage in their bout. Hendricks would love a rematch with St-Pierre if the longtime champ ever returns, but he thinks the rugged Lawler is a tougher matchup.
"Georges, he was going to throw a jab, a high kick, a low kick, and try to take you down," Hendricks said confidently. "That's his game plan. Robbie, if you make a mistake, we've seen it time and time again that he can knock you out, so you really have to make sure that you stay focused. That's a lot more dangerous fight. There are guys who can knock people out. You're one punch away from losing, but those are also the more fun fights for me."
Hendricks badly bruised his hands in the fight against St-Pierre, leaving him throwing punches at only a fraction of their usual velocity. He plans to get better hand wraps from his boxing coach for this bout.
He'll need healthy hands against Lawler, a touted prospect who got dropped from the UFC back in October 2004 after three losses in four fights.
After a series of wins in smaller-time promotions, he lost five of his eight bouts in Strikeforce before getting a chance in the UFC, where he has strung together three straight wins over Kosheck, Bobby Voelker and top prospect Rory MacDonald to earn this shot.
"I've gone through a lot of ups and downs," Lawler said. "I'm just willing to get back up and grind every day to try to get better. Everything is clicking at the right time."