Johny Hendricks has been climbing the welterweight division since he first entered the UFC. Fight after fight he entered against a bigger-named opponent and left with a decisive win in his back pocket. His knock-out of Jon Fitch at UFC 141 was a shock to many, but in hindsight maybe it shouldn’t have been. After rolling through top-rated welterweights like the aforementioned Fitch, Martin Kampmann, Josh Koscheck and Carlos Condit, Hendricks finally got his title shot at UFC 167.
I’ll preface this now by saying I am a fan of Georges St-Pierre and with each of his title defenses, I am on my feet cheering for Rush.
As a fan of the sport, I was consistently annoyed and frustrated with Hendricks as he spoke out against the champion each time he was passed over for a title shot. I’d agree he had a slight case to air a complaint over being passed for Nick Diaz, but the history between St-Pierre and Diaz and the window of opportunity closing much quicker, I think fans understood. Hendricks was the odd man out. It was satisfying to see Hendricks defeat Carlos Condit in order to earn that title shot that he had felt he had earned several fights earlier.
Hendricks believes in his ability, as he should. Any fighter who doesn’t is not going to ascend to the level that he has. In the aftermath of UFC 167 I was annoyed by some of his comments of saying he was the champ, saying he won the fight and a few others. As a fan of the sport, I had decided I am no fan of his.
Then I went back and re-watched the fight at 167 and his post-fights comments. I then went back and re-watched all of his fights over the past few years in the UFC. While I still feel he did lose the fight at 167, I came out on the other end a fan, a big fan. In the span of a couple hours I completely flipped on this guy. I’m mad at myself for even trying to dislike the guy. There are so many intangibles of the guy that are so damn likable and the one thing I was holding against him was being upset over a close decision that didn’t go in his favour, or being passed over for a title shot that he had felt he earned.
His entrance into the octagon, in my opinion, is possibly the best there is. Maybe second only to Chael Sonnen. Hendricks enters the octagon with a song titled “50$ and a Flask of Crown”, which seem to suit him well. At 167, as the headliner of the event, his entrance gets a little bit more time. The broadcast stalled going to Hendricks walking out until the lyrics of the song started. When the camera swings to Hendricks, he’s casually walking through the halls of the MGM Grand Arena singing the song as he slowly bounces, when he entered the arena it became a jog. The smile on his face as he entered was half fighter ready to go and half kid amazed of the situation he found himself. The guy seems to appreciate what he has earned.
Just before the fifth round of the title fight with St-Pierre, Hendricks is on his feet waiting for the round to start and he’s smiling. He’s bouncing back and forth with a smile on his face. There was a moment that I thought he was singing his entrance song in his head. He’s not exactly being consumed by the moment.
It’s refreshing to see a professional athlete truly appreciate what they have, not just in the aftermath of it all but in the very moment it is taking place.
The guy has won me over and I’m sure I’m not alone.
Hendricks may have left UFC 167 without the belt, but he certainly left it with more fans in his corner. The guy represents so much of what we need to see more of in sports. His only downfall that I had perceived was really only him wanting it so damn bad.
When I arrived in Las Vegas for UFC 167, I checked in at the MGM Grand and went towards the elevators to head up to my room. Before I make it to the elevators, Johny Hendricks is standing there with fans taking pictures and signing autographs. I stood back and watched as Hendricks circled to the left to greet the next waiting fan to give them a picture with the UFC star. After a few minutes, Hendricks’ handler begins to whisper that they need to go and is trying to move Johny along and towards the elevators. These prompts went unheard for a minute or two as Hendricks continued to pose for the pictures. After the pleas to move along were repeated a few more times, Hendricks turns and offers a quiet “just wait” as he finishes off with the waiting fans.
Make room on the Team Takedown bus, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.
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