UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks took an unconventional lesson from his right bicep injury.
"Don't go see the doctor within two weeks of your fights," Hendricks told Yahoo! Sports. "They'll find something that's going to mess with your head."
Hendricks is being a little bit tongue-in-cheek, of course. But as the former NCAA wrestling champion rehabs from surgery to repair the injury that was suffered in training for his UFC 171 title victory over Robbie Lawler and exacerbated early in the five-round fight, the champ didn't need a doctor to figure something had gone wrong.
"What happened was, my final day of hard training [for the Lawler fight], I felt something and I immediately said, 'Let's shut it down,'" Lawler said. "It was like someone dead-armed me. Then in the first round, my first attempt at a takedown, I tore the bicep fully. At that point, it's all about adrenaline and the discipline from your years of wrestling training and you just push your way through."
Hendricks gutted out a unanimous decision victory on that March night in what many consider the frontrunner for fight of the year. The immediate aftermath of the fight, though, brought about that trip to the doctor he didn't want to make before the bout, and the decision that surgery would be required.
That's given Hendricks time to take a deep breath and ponder all that's gone down in his career. It's only been a year and a half since Hendricks was angry about being passed over for a shot at then-champion Georges St-Pierre — Nick Diaz was given the shot instead — and he had to fight Carlos Condit instead. That was just the start of a wild chain of events, which included a win over Condit, a highly controversial loss to St-Pierre, and the win over Lawler for the vacated title.
Hendricks applies the same no-nonsense demeanor which has earned him a loyal fan following as he looks back on the recent past.
"If anything, I learned that you always have to look at the silver lining," Hendricks said. "You have to make the obstacles placed in front of you work for you. I learned things in the fight with Carlos which helped make me more prepared to fight Georges. I'm a better fighter today because the Condit fight happened.
"The bottom line is, you have to stay grounded, no matter what comes your way. It takes so much time and effort to get to the top and it doesn't last forever, so I can't get a big head about things now."
As the champ works on his return from his injury — he's back in the gym, but hasn't yet been cleared to go all-out — the divisional race beneath him has taken shape. There was a bit of a wild-west feel at 170 pounds after St-Pierre vacated the title in December. But since Hendricks took the title via a narrow unanimous decision in the bout to fill the vacancy against Lawler, a pecking order has emerged.
Lawler got right back on the horse and finished Jake Ellenberger just two months after the loss to Hendricks. Matt Brown, a perennial darkhorse, has won seven straight fights. Rory MacDonald continues to move up the ranks, with impressive wins over Demian Maia and Tyron Woodley in recent months.
Lawler and Brown will meet on Saturday in the main event of a UFC on FOX card in San Jose, Calif., with the winner expected to get the next shot at Hendricks' belt. Hendricks feels the bout could go either way.
"The key thing here is, can Robbie Lawler make you fight his fight?" Hendricks said. "I can tell you from experience that that's Robbie's strongest point. If Robbie can dictate the tempo and fight the way he likes, he'll win it. But if Matt does his thing and doesn't let Robbie get comfortable, he can win this fight."
Always looming in the distance, of course, is St-Pierre, the longtime former champion who is on any sane person's short list of greatest MMA fighters of all-time. St-Pierre won a controversial split decision over Hendricks at UFC 167. In the aftermath, St-Pierre vacated the championship which he held for five-and-a-half years and took an indefinite leave from the sport.
GSP is expected to return at some point, although it won't be any time soon, since the Canadian underwent ACL surgery a couple months back. If and when he returns, does the current champ feel the former one deserves an immediate return bout?
"That's a double-edged sword," Hendricks said. "The division moves along so fast, who knows where things will be when he returns? And if Georges is out too long, he might want to take a tuneup fight in his return to get rid of the ring rust."
But that said, it's a fight Hendricks wants.
"You want to do it for two reasons. One, of course, is that you want to show your respect for everything Georges has accomplished in this sport. He's earned the spot. But part of it is selfish, too. I had a controversial loss to Georges, and I want to get my chance to fight him again. What if Georges returns, and loses a fight, and never gets back to where he was before? For all different reasons, it makes sense to give Georges an immediate rematch if that's what he wants."
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