mma / Columns

The Decline of Johny Hendricks

December 30, 2016 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris

UFC 207 has not yet happened as of yet, but the fight card will see what could be one of the last fights in the UFC for former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks. Hendricks is now going into the fight with his back against the wall. He’s fighting No. 8-ranked welterweight Neil Magny, who is himself coming off a first-round knockout loss to Lorenz Larkin. However, Hendricks has a sullied reputation right now having missed weight for the third time of his career. So not only is he going into the fight on a two-fight losing streak, he has to deal with the embarrassment and humiliation of having missed weight yet again. Considering how Hendricks was not very long ago at the top of the division, his sharp decline is stunning.

Hendricks came into the sport with a strong pedigree. He was a two-time NCAA Division I wresting champion. He’s an All-American. He had a short run in the now-defunct WEC under ZUFFA and went 2-0. And while expectations weren’t high for him in his UFC debut, he made a big impact when he came into the UFC, knocking out Ultimate Fighter winner Amir Sadollah. Gradually, Hendricks built up a four-fight winning streak before suffering his first career loss at the hands of Rick Story, who is still currently ranked No. 10 at welterweight. Hendricks quickly rebounded from there beating TJ Waldburger and Mike Pierce. After that, he pulled off a stunning first-round knockout over Jon Fitch, a former title contender and perennial top welterweight. His winning ways continued from there, rattling off wins over Josh Koscheck, Martin Kampmann, and Carlos Condit. With the win over Condit, Hendricks had finally gotten the opportunity he had long sought after, a title shot against welterweight king Georges St-Pierre. St-Pierre had spent years at the top of the welterweight heap. While it was a very close fight, GSP was ultimately scored the victor. Many fans and analysts thought Hendricks was the rightful winner, so it was a crushing blow to Hendricks. Hendricks was fortunately given another opportunity due to GSP taking a sabbatical from MMA and relinquishing the title. He was matched up against Robbie Lawler. This time, in another close fight, Hendricks was finally awarded the title and became champion at UFC 171. Everything Hendricks had worked for since coming into MMA had finally paid off.

Unfortunately, it seems this is where Hendricks had peaked as a fighter. Lawler had actually worked his way back toward a rematch with Hendricks for a title fight at UFC 181. It was another tightly contested, five-round war. This time, Lawler was given the judges’ decision. And just like that, Hendricks was champion no longer. Regardless, it was a close fight, and Hendricks was still seen as a top contender. With a couple wins, he could easily get back into the title mix and receive a potential rematch for the title. Hendricks managed a strong start to 2015, pulling off a workmanlike decision over Matt Brown. Later that year, he was set against top-ranked welterweight Tyron Woodley at UFC 192, and it would be a fight that could determine the next title contender at welterweight.

Unfortunately, Hendricks didn’t make it to the fight at all. A short time before the event, Hendricks was suffering from kidney stones and an intestinal blockage due to his weight cut. He was forced to withdraw from the fight. As a result, Woodley was given a title shot against Lawler and ultimately won the belt. However, his weight cutting issues can be traced back even further when he was fighting Robbie Lawler. Speaking on The MMA Hour, Hendricks revealed his body shut down after he almost missed weight at UFC 181. Hendricks also stated: “It was either [change his approach] or retire. That’s how bad that weight cut was. It sucks because the last couple fights have been where it’s been questionable, and it’s been half my fault. I can’t do that weight cut. I can’t balloon up to 218 and think that [Mike] Dolce can get me down to weight. That’s where I’m taking the responsibility. I’m walking around at ’95, and I’m getting my muscle mass back, I’m looking to get my body weight back. … It will also be better for me when I fight, because I’ll have my power back, my steam, and you feel like you’re hitting hard again. That makes me happy. It will help with my wrestling or anything. I wanted to do things at welterweight. That belt is waiting for me, and I want to get that thing back, and if I do the right thing, I might the right sacrifices, good Lord willing I’ll get it back. Let’s just say it won’t ever happen again. If it does, than yes, I’ll have to be 185 or be done. I don’t think my body can handle another one like that.”

So Hendricks already put it on the table in January 2015, almost two years ago, if this happens again, he will either move up to middleweight or retire. He’s said this more than once publicly. Well, it did happen again at UFC 192, and it cost him, Woodley, the UFC and the fans a major co-main event. But that wasn’t the last time. While Hendricks made weight for a big fight earlier this year with Stephen Thompson, he suffered a first-round knockout. Thompson was a surging and highly touted opponent. So, it’s not necessarily that terrible to have such a loss on your record. Unfortunately for Hendricks, his next fight out was against Kelvin Gastelum. Interestingly enough, Gastelum is another fighter who can’t make the weight cut at 170 pounds. Hendricks missed weight yet again. He came out looking sluggish and slow, and was defeated by Hendricks.

Hendricks spoke to reporters this week, and without mincing words, he looked horrible. He was already in the middle of another failed weight cut, and he did not seem to be in a good place. You can check out a video of his media scrum from fight week below (via Las Vegas Review Journal).

During the scrum, Hendricks actually challenged reporters to try and make a weight cut for the next UFC event. Obviously, Hendricks was tired of being asked about the weight cut, which he yet again failed to make today. The problem Hendricks has there is that reporters are not tasked with making weight for events. That what Hendricks’ job is to do. Obviously, weight cutting is insane and debilitating. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is Hendricks’ job. It what he signed up for.

Hendricks was the one that proclaimed multiple times he would retire if he had another bad weight cut or move up to middleweight. Since he’s under six feet tall, Hendricks wouldn’t be a big guy at middleweight. Also, the UFC has no 180-pound or 175-pound divisions. However, he clearly can’t handle the weight cut anymore at his age and at this stage of his career. Yet, here were are, just hours before UFC 207, and Hendricks is facing another failed weight cut going into a fight with Neil Magny.

Obviously, retirement is Hendricks’ decision, but he is the one that put the word out there in the first place. It implies that Hendricks is very close to retirement. Whatever he tried to do to get back on track has failed miserably. So, now he’s at the point where he has to take drastic measures. The UFC could very well fire him if he loses and goes 0-3 after a third time missing weight on Saturday night.

The reality Hendricks faces now is symbolic of how harsh and unforgiving the sport can be, especially after fighters, even champion, reach their peak and are getting toward the end of their careers. When fighters hit a decline, they hit it hard. Hendricks used to be very exciting to watch. He was wrestler, but he had knockout power and he could knock you with his right or left hand. He had a very easygoing and appealing personality. He was a country boy from Oklahoma and a family man. As such, it’s just sad that Hendricks has continued to decline in this way and also continues to torture himself with a weight cut that no longer gives him any sort of advantage or helps him in any way.

So, if Hendricks does walk away from UFC 207, and if he doesn’t retire, it’s time to move up. That’s his only option *IF* he continues fighting. Otherwise, if he doesn’t retire after he loses to Neil Magny, he will very likely be having his next fight in Bellator.

Jeffrey Harris is 411mania’s resident Jack of All Trades and has covered MMA for the site since 2008. You can shoot him an e-mail at [email protected] or hit him up on Facebook. He also co-hosts the 411 Ground & Pound Radio podcast along with Robert Winfree. You can listen to the latest episode of the podcast in the player below.