john lawrence delivers the site’s first ever MMA interview …
Four time All-American wrestler, Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks was not a household name for fight fans a few years ago, but now his name is on the tip of everyone’s tongue as he prepares to fight Georges St. Pierre for the UFC welterweight championship.
Johny burst into the UFC in late 2009 with an impressive twenty-nine second victory over Amir Sadollah, and has continued to climb the rankings since. Suffering only one minor set back at the hands of a decision loss to Rick Story, Hendricks has beaten some of the toughest welterweights in impressive fashion. With six consecutive wins under his belt, including a devastating twelve second knockout of Jon Fitch, there is nowhere to go but up for the Oklahoma native. And with three knockout of the night victories, I don’t envy anyone who has the misfortune of standing across the octagon from him.
The number one contender took some time off from his busy training schedule to talk with Pop-Break about his very short road to the top.
Pop-Break: I know that you are from Oklahoma originally, were your family and friends okay with the tornadoes and flooding?
Johny Hendricks: I’m actually doing a signing at Bass Pro Shop this weekend. We’re trying to get people to help sponsor it so the proceeds can go to the victims. For as many people got hit, it was amazing there was only that much damage done. Having twenty-four people die from the first one sucked, but it’s really cool that they have that good of a warning system to save more lives. It could have been much worse.
PB: I’m glad everyone is safe. Now, for the question on everyone’s mind. Has there been any progress made on the GSP (Georges St. Pierre) fight, or is everything still up in the air?
JH: It’s still up in the air as of right now. Dana White and everybody else say it is going to happen, but I haven’t scheduled yet. Once I sign the contract, my mind will be at ease, but until it happens, I still think that it’s not going to and I’m prepared to fight somebody else.
PB: I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you. It’s definitely a fight that the fans are looking forward to. I’ve never seen anyone make their way up the welterweight rankings as quickly as you have. You came into the UFC and took care of Amir Sadollah, and from there you’ve just taken off. Was that your game plan coming in to the UFC or was it just good timing and getting to fight better and better fighters?
JH: At first, I just wanted to come in and have a good fight, and I was able to do that. Then following the Mike Pierce fight, they called and said “Would you like to fight Jon Fitch?” and I got really excited. I was going to get to step in there with a really high ranked level guy. It’s just what you do. The whole focus of everything we do is to put that belt around our waste and I’m almost there.
PB: So once you get you title shot and beat GSP, who’s next? There’s not many fighters left in the welterweight division. Are you going to have to double back through the division?
JH: There’s always that (laughs), but first I think it would be the winner of the Jake Ellenburger and Rory MacDonald fight. Truth is, if I go out there and beat GSP, I’m probably going to have to fight him again. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I believe it will happen. GSP is such a well known fighter, and like Anderson Silva, has got the reputation as a belt holder. I just might have to beat him twice. It’s pretty amazing to me you know, with the fighters I’ve beat, I could retire today and be happy. I can promise that that if I win the belt, I am going to have to defend it against Carlos Condit. He’s just an all around fighter. He has good striking and good jiu-jitsu, and he listens to his coaches, which is a rare thing in this sport. I definitely know I’ll be seeing him again.
PB: It is a very impressive resume, especially for such a short period of time. There are guys that have fought for ten years that haven’t fought (and beat) the caliber of fighters that you have.
JH: Once I fought Jon, I told my manager and coaches “Let’s make a run at this, I can really do this.” That was something they believed for a while already. We kept trying to line up tougher fights, because everything is in preparation for the title. Winning the title is only half the battle, I believe. I think that’s why you see some of the guys do different things and become more cautious. I really don’t want to become like those guys, and that’s why I wanted to fight the tougher opponents. Now I know that I can go the distance with them, and I know that I can make it just as exciting, if not more exciting.
PB: I’m really glad you touched on that. There are a lot of fighters out there that seem to fight to not lose instead of fighting to finish. What is your impression of those tactics?
JH: There’s just something about me that I just can’t go that way. Every fight is a championship bout to me. When you think about it, if you don’t win every fight, you’re never going to get a championship belt. So, why change anything once you get it around your waist? That’s why for a while I liked the light heavyweight division; you didn’t know who was champ. That belt got passed around for so long, and it was because those guys all went in there and fought. They weren’t content to just take somebody down or hold them down. They were there to fight.
PB: Every time you step in the octagon, you look like you’re having the time of your life. I know some fighters do that for showmanship or a mental strategy, but you legitimately seem like you’re having a blast.
JH: That’s what it’s all about to me. I always say if you don’t enjoy it, retire. I know that fighting is my job, but I’ve never treated it like a job.
PB: Well, there are definitely easier ways to earn a living than getting punched in the face.
JH: (laughs) Exactly. When I start to feel like it’s a regular job, I’ll retire. It doesn’t matter whether it’s tomorrow or five years from now. I don’t know if it will happen, but when it does, I’m done. There’s nothing more fun than getting in there in the thrill of a fray and not knowing what’s going to happen. The only thing that’s certain is that you are stepping into an octagon with one guy and a ref, and every five minutes a bell is going to ring and you get a minute to figure out what you did right or what you did wrong.
PB: Your fight against Carlos Condit was great and it was nice to see the sportsmanship that you both extended throughout the fight. You guys were touching gloves, smiling, commending each other. Sometimes I feel like that’s something that’s lost in this sport.
JH: I don’t hate anyone, and I don’t have to hate somebody to fight them. However you want to look at it, that’s what this sport was based on. When you look back at the Griffin/Bonnar fight, it was great not only because it was an all out war. At the end, they were raising each other’s hand, and they were able to show the world that this is not the brutal sport that everyone thought it was. When you look at the fights between Randy (Couture) and Chuck (Liddell), those guys could fight each other and probably go out and get a beer with each other that night.
PB: You got to train with Mike Tyson and work on some technique with him. How was that for you?
JH: A little surreal. Whenever you get to meet someone like Mike Tyson, it’s pretty amazing. He showed me a few cool things that I’m going to continue to work on. I also found out that we are on the same page about a lot of things when it comes to the art of fighting, and that makes me want to train that much harder.
PB: If you could fight anyone in any weight class, whether it’s just for a good show, or someone you think would make a great fight, who would it be?
JH: I’d have to say Anderson Silva or Jon Jones. I want to fight the best of the best, and to see those guys across from me would be pretty cool, and pretty terrifying at the same time.
PB: The tag line for our company is “A pop culture break in your day”. What do you do when you actually get a break in your day?
JH: Any break I get, I want to spend time with my wife and kids. I also have a tractor that I’ve been doing work to. When I really need some alone time, and get my mind relaxed, there’s nothing like a trip into the woods.