It was only after UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks defeated Robbie Lawler at UFC 171 that he let everyone in on the problem with his performance. He had suffered a torn bicep in his right arm in training, which essentially rendered him a one-armed competitor on fight night.
Nevertheless, his performance was fine -- in fact, that fight, which wasn’t decided until the fifth round, is still one of the forerunners for Fight of the Year. Hendricks dug deeper in the championship rounds and secured the victory late. He also got the vacant 170-pound belt, which has been on the shelf while he recovers from surgery.
Hendricks appeared on Monday’s edition of "The MMA Hour" and said that he is healing up nicely.
"My arm’s almost there," he told Ariel Helwani. "I’m lifting 100-pound weights. It’s almost 100 percent right now, and I still have a couple of weeks to work on it. I think in a couple of weeks when I go to the doctor, he’s going to be very happy."
Hendricks said he will visit the doctor in three weeks to get an official prognosis. In the meantime, he knows definitively whom he will face when he does come back. And that will be Lawler, who beat Matt Brown at UFC on FOX 12 to earn the rematch.
Hendricks says he watched the fight, and that he was split in his rooting interest. Brown offered fresh blood; Lawler, a chance to make a more emphatic statement.
"I was torn between those two," he said. "One, yeah, I can face Robbie Lawler healthy, [with] everything going right, get in there and see if it is as close a fight as it was the first time. Because I’m healthy, both arms are active, I can do a lot more.
"Then again, there’s a part of me that wanted to face somebody new, wanted to face Matt Brown. Because you get to face somebody new, you get try new skill sets and stuff like that, so it was like a 50/50 toss up on that one. But realistically, that’s why I’m not paid to think, I’m paid to fight."
Lawler has now won a pair of fights since losing to Hendricks. He scored a TKO victory over Jake Ellenberger at UFC 173, and followed that up with the decision of Brown. As for whether he was impressed with what he saw out of Lawler on Saturday night, Hendricks thought Lawler did the job.
"It was a good win," he said. "Anytime you step in the Octagon and win, it’s good. Matt Brown, that was the first time he’s faced somebody in the top ten, but Matt Brown did a good job. It was a tough fight. It was a back and forth fight – a couple of those rounds were close, but I though Robbie won. So now we get the rematch, and I’m sort of excited about that. Going into something healthy, with two arms, would be nice."
Hendricks cited the uselessness of his right arm in the previous fight with Lawler, pointing out the third round in particular when he was limp and hanging at his waist. Even hindered in such a state, Hendricks said he thought he performed well.
"I was doing good combos, good leg kicks, and there are some other things that I can add into that," he said. "That fight was sometimes you just got to stand up and get a win. Sometimes they’re not pretty, sometimes you’re badly injured, you just got to get it done. That was that fight. Now it’s about going in there, reliving that fight, and seeing what I could have done better."
As for whether or not Lawler is deserving of the next shot in the deep pool of welterweights, Hendricks grew philosophical.
"You’re only as good as your last fight," he said. "Meaning, there are a lot of welterweight fights coming up. Let’s say Rory MacDonald or Dong Hyun Kim, any of these guys in the top ten, they finish somebody and then the fans are like, we want to see that fight. Realistically, I think that’s why [Lawler’s] been trying to stay in the public’s eye a lot. And that’s what I try to do. When I was going for my first title shot [against Georges St-Pierre], that’s what I was doing. I was trying to stay in the public’s eye because you never know which fight is going to get you that title shot. Same thing with all these other guys. Lawler’s the No. 1 pick right now, but if somebody else goes out there and does something amazing, who’s to say the fans don’t say we want to see that fight?"
On the topic of St-Pierre, who won a controversial split decision over him at UFC 167 to retain his title before vacating to take a break from fighting, Hendricks says he hopes we haven’t seen the last of him.
"I’m not going to lie, I would like to fight him again, because now the tides are changed," he said. "And not only that, but that was my first five-round fight. I’m getting smarter, I’m getting better the longer I’m in the Octagon, and the more I hit that fifth round. I don’t want to continue to hit that fifth round, but it’s a good learning curve, that first one was. That’s why I was sort of excited to think I was going to get a rematch.
"And like I’ve been telling a lot of people, I’m not here to takeaway from GSP. He did lots of great things for the sport, lots of great things for the welterweight division. I want to build my own legacy. If he’s in it, that’s awesome, if he’s not it’s cool too, because I will never beat his legacy. I will never beat Matt Hughes’ or Chuck Liddell’s or Randy Couture’s. I’ve got to make my own dent in the welterweight division, my own way."
If St-Pierre does come back, and Hendricks is still holding the belt, he said he thinks the rematch would be huge. Big enough, he said, to perhaps pack a stadium, even on American soil.