UFC 185 appears to be in contention for “Event of the Year” status on paper at least. It’s very telling that a pivotal welterweight tilt that could decide the next title challenger at 170 pounds is considered nothing more than a “feature fight.” Although the spotlight won’t be as bright on Johny Hendricks at UFC 185, he still has ample opportunity to silence the critics.
And make no mistake about it, those critics are getting louder as each day goes by. It began at UFC 167, where Hendricks lost a very controversial split decision to then-welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. Hendricks battered St-Pierre with thunderous punches, leaving visible damage on the champ’s face. Hendricks would point to the damage left by his strikes as evidence that he’d won the close decision. It was a sentiment that many people would echo, but there remained a group of fans that believed Hendricks came off as a whiner following the loss.
Hendricks continued his downward slope during the weigh-ins for UFC 171, where he’d come in overweight for his title clash against Robbie Lawler. Hendricks eventually made weight, and a “Fight of the Year” candidate against Lawler bought Hendricks some good will. The two welterweights took turns exchanging some of the hardest strikes thrown in the Octagon, setting a record for most combined strikes landed at 348 over the course of five rounds. Even more surprising was the fact that 308 of those were listed as significant strikes. Although Hendricks celebrated the close decision victory over Lawler at UFC 171, his previous words would come back to haunt him.
At UFC 181, Hendricks was the fighter with the marked-up face while Lawler looked like he had just finished a few rounds of hard sparring. However, nobody could question the toughness of Hendricks after he willingly traded shots with one of the sport’s hardest punchers, especially considering Hendricks fought with just one fully functional arm.
Then came the now infamous image of Hendricks enjoying a sandwich. Fans had already known that Hendricks was a mountain of a man for the welterweight division, but this particular photo didn’t do him any favors in the public eye. Hendricks was out rehabbing from an injury, so perhaps fans were too harsh on him. After all, it would be hard to keep excess weight off if you weren’t able to work out at the same level you’re used to. The problem is that excess weight seems to be a constant issue for Hendricks.
Leading up to UFC 181 and his rematch with Lawler, Hendricks insisted an easy weight cut would prove to be the difference. In their contest, Lawler came at Hendricks like a bat out of hell in the early rounds. Hendricks weathered the storm, but something changed as the fight wore on. Instead of Hendricks utilizing his devastating knockout power, he resorted to a strategy that resembled a “wall and stall” style. Hendricks was able to thwart most of Lawler’s attacks by grinding Lawler against the fence, but it wouldn’t be enough to secure the victory. Instead, Lawler’s hand was raised and he was crowned the new UFC welterweight champion.
Hendricks gave props to Lawler and seemed to take the high road following this controversial decision loss. But that wouldn’t last very long. Hendricks would claim his body shut down following a brutal weight cut and he even pondered retirement. Dieting guru Mike Dolce confirmed that the weight issues stem from the off-season habits of Hendricks.
Heading into UFC 185, Hendricks is primed to prove the doubters wrong. This time, it really is all on the former champion to perform. He’s not working with Dolce heading into UFC 185 and is facing a guy in Matt Brown that will look to push the pace from bell to bell. Dieting and a weight cut shouldn’t be the top concerns heading into a bout with an aggressive and extremely versatile opponent like Brown. If Hendricks has his weight and conditioning under control, he has the chance to make a real statement. For his part, Hendricks is excited heading into UFC 185 and aims to steal the show despite there being two title fights on the marquee. It should also help Hendricks that it will be his first fight in nearly two years that isn’t a main event, which means he’ll only have to go for 15 minutes rather than a potential 25 minutes of a championship fight.
Hendricks is facing a fighter who doesn’t know how to be in a boring fight. He doesn’t have the pressure of headlining an event. And he is handling his dieting/weight cut in-camp. The ball is clearly in his court. It’s really all on Hendricks as to whether or not he can find the championship form necessary to challenge the winner of UFC 189’s Lawler-Rory MacDonald welterweight title fight. Hendricks has the necessary resources in terms of fighting skills. Nobody can doubt his punching power, and he has his amateur wrestling credentials to fall back on as well. He’s even shown the ability to mix up his striking attacks by throwing hard kicks and knees during his title fights with GSP and Lawler. Hendricks has all the pieces of the puzzle. UFC 185 is the time for Hendricks to piece them all together.