As kids we're all told that with hard work and dedication we can make our dreams a reality; as adults we're often dismayed to learn the realization of our dreams is sometimes determined by factors outside our control.
Take for instance the case of Johny Hendricks. The former two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion has assembled far and away the strongest resume in the UFC's welterweight division: he's won five in a row and beaten two of the best in the division by devastating first round knockout. Given this impressive run one would think Hendricks would be a no-brainer to challenge Georges St. Pierre for the welterweight title.
And yet apparently GSP, his trainer Firas Zahabi, and most importantly Dana White all feel differently. According to them the next contender to get a crack at the belt should be Nick Diaz, despite the controversial Cesar Gracie product coming off not only a loss, but also a one year suspension for marijuana metabolites.
So much for just deserts.
It's easy to see how Hendricks would take this personally. Sometimes our actions affect people who were outside the purview of our thoughts when we inadvertently offended them. Such was the case with GSP demanding the Diaz fight even though Hendricks is obviously the true number one contender. This doesn't make St. Pierre a bad person nor does it mean he's "ducking" anybody - more on his real motivation for wanting the Diaz fight in a minute - but at the end of the day he's responsible for a decision that adversely affected Johny Hendricks' livelihood. Of course Bigg Rigg isn't going to take that lying down.
"I go out there and I try to do so much to prove I am the one who should fight GSP and GSP takes it away from me," Hendricks vented to Ariel Helwani on this week's episode of The MMA Hour, "All it's doing is giving me more drive to want to fight him."
In most professions holding a long term grudge and using it for motivation may not be a healthy way to deal with one's resentment, but luckily this is MMA. In this business people solve their differences the old fashioned way: by stepping in a cage and whipping the tar out of one another.
What's more, some of the biggest money drawing fights in history were built upon a foundation of personal conflict. Before being spurned by GSP, all Hendricks had going for him was a five fight win streak, two NCAA D-I titles, and signature knockouts of Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann to help convince the public he was a threat to the capture the welterweight belt. That makes a pretty impressive argument all by itself, but now Bigg Rigg has something far more important than athletic credentials when it comes to drawing money: a grudge.
Hendricks has been on the media trail discussing how he believes GSP is afraid to fight him. This is a good start towards drumming up interest, but he needs to kick it into overdrive if he wants to maximize his earnings potential when he eventually faces the champ. Hendricks doesn't need to go to the cartoonish pro-wrestling extremes of Chael Sonnen, but he would be smart to stop saying things like, "Who knows? I might be able to beat him; I might not," like he told host Kenny Rice when talking about GSP on Inside MMA this week. That honesty is certainly commendable in most walks of life, but it does nothing to talk butts into seats and fingers into pressing "order" on remotes.
Instead he should be hammering home a simple and easily digestible message: GSP is afraid because he knows he can't take a two time NCAA D-I champ down and he doesn't have an answer for a left hand that can knock out any man alive. It doesn't matter if GSP took former D-I champion Josh Koscheck down with ease on two separate occasions nor if he possesses a more varied arsenal of standup attacks than Hendricks; what matters is that the narrative of a formidable challenger who holds a grudge against the champ is a time-tested method to get fans invested in a fight.
If Hendricks stays on message and hammers home this basic soundbite - that GSP is ducking him because he can't beat him - eventually he's going to convince a certain segment of the fanbase he's right through the power of repetition. Throw in some personal insults casting aspersions on GSP's manliness and suddenly St. Pierre/Hendricks becomes a fight the public will be clamoring for.
The thing is, it's not like GSP would likely mind if Hendricks started ramping up the trash talk. In fact it would probably make him more inclined to want to fight Hendricks.
For an example look no further than GSP hand picking Nick Diaz as his next opponent.
What was the comment that bent St. Pierre so far out of shape he supposedly begged Dana White for a match with Diaz? Why it was the 209's favorite son opining, "I don't think Georges is hurt. I think he's afraid to fight anybody."
You're going to tell me the normally rational St. Pierre is still seething fourteen months later because Diaz called him a chicken? What is this, an elementary school playground? I don't buy it.
But therein lies the rub: lots of people will buy this grudge, and in turn will pay to see the two men settle the score. GSP didn't get to be a virtual industry unto himself by being stupid; he understands how marketing works in the fight game. He plays his role as a likeable, dominant champion to perfection. Furthermore, he knows it takes a great antagonist to make him look his best.
That's why St. Pierre wants to fight Nick Diaz rather than Johny Hendricks. GSP believes the narrative of a likeable champion going up against a brash loudmouth is a recipe for box office success. He also knows there's a very good possibility that if the UFC doesn't do the bout immediately Diaz could lose his next fight, thereby taking a potential big money match off the table. It's got nothing to do with St. Pierre being upset and seeking revenge. In fact, GSP has even gone on record with his belief that trash talk is "part of the game" and "good for promotion." Some of his favorite fighters are men known for their brash mouths like Tito Ortiz and Phil Baroni.
If Johny Hendricks wants to ensure he gets his title shot in the most expedient manner possible he needs to tap into this mindset and take his incipient beef with St. Pierre to the next level. Some may decry this as taking a page out of the WWE's playbook, but trash talk has been a part of combat sports since at least days of Jack Johnson, if not before. To deny its place in the sport is to deny over a century of tradition.
However, there's one other thing Johny Hendricks should be doing besides staying up at night thinking of ways to insult St. Pierre: preparing to go into a full training camp.
Let's not forget this is Nick Diaz we're talking about here. Anyone who has followed Diaz's career over the years knows it's as difficult to predict his behavior as it is to predict a natural disaster. There are a multitude of ways he could potentially screw up and cost himself the biggest opportunity of his life before stepping into the Octagon with GSP in March. With that in mind Hendricks would be wise to prepare for any opportunity Diaz's volatile personality might unwittingly grant him.
At the moment there may be factors outside Johny Hendricks' control keeping him from his dream, but if he stays diligent in training and does his part to drum up interest in a fight with St. Pierre it's only a matter of time before all his hard work pays off.
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