Johny Hendricks can't explain it, but he's different than St-Pierre's past eight victims

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It's a question with which eight consecutive men have wrestled. Regardless of how heartbreaking or lopsidedly wrong their answer, each of those eight men have invariably failed to find the right combination of words and techniques to explain: What makes you so different? What makes you the man who will finally defeat Georges St-Pierre?

"It's a feeling," the ninth man in line, Johny Hendricks, said simply on Monday. "It's that desire, that want. It's something inside of me that you can't explain.

"Here's the thing, you never know when you're going to win, you never know when you're going to lose. That's the beauty of our sport. I believe that this is my time. I've done everything that I can, and realistically, in the last six and a half years, I've only lost once, too. I'm a lot younger fighter (than St-Pierre), and I'm still developing, which I'm very grateful for," Hendricks continued.

"He's just a man, just like I am."

St-Pierre may indeed just be a man, but in terms of the history books, his division-mates look like boys.

At the mere age of 32, St-Pierre has essentially rendered every welterweight record obsolete. He tied Matt Hughes' mark for most consecutive 170-pound title defenses back in 2010, then eclipsed it the next year at the largest UFC event in North American history. He won the only champion vs. champion bout in UFC history, is currently tied with Hughes for the most wins ever in the promotion (18), and trails only Anderson Silva for the most consecutive overall title defenses (8). He is the UFC's highest consistent pay-per-view draw, and headlined five of the 10 best selling non-Lesnar pay-per-views of all-time.

By comparison, Hendricks has yet to fight in a UFC main event. Yet the former two-time NCAA champion scoffs at the idea that he is inexperienced when it comes to the spotlight.

"Man, I've been under the lights since my freshmen year in high school," Hendricks said. "I wrestled 140 matches in high school. I wrestled 140 matches in college. That spotlight doesn't get much more than that. I've been competing my whole life. Who cares about the spotlight? Who cares about all this other crap? I'm facing a man. I'm facing Georges St-Pierre. You see what I'm saying? Experience? I have plenty of experience.

"Here's the thing, is that I don't have to showcase my whole skillset to win fights," Hendricks continued. "I haven't had to. Now this fight I might have to. I have jiu-jitsu, I have wrestling, I have power, I have striking. So where is the inexperience or the lack of something? Everybody keeps saying (it) every fight. ‘He's fighting Kampmann, better striker. ‘He's fighting Condit, a better striker.' Where did I win those fights at? Everybody keeps doubting me, and I love that. I absolutely love that."

Despite a lengthy and impressive list of past accomplishments, when Hendricks meets St-Pierre at UFC 167, that fact remains that it'll be the first five-round fight of Hendricks' career. "Bigg Rigg" faded late during his March contest against Carlos Condit, but he has taken strides to improve that aspect of his game ahead of Saturday night.

"I was pushing myself to the limit everyday that I possibly could," Hendricks flatly said. "I think, now, I am ready.

"One thing I've learned, if you watch all my fights, I push very, very hard the first two rounds, because I have to win two out of three, right? Well now I've got to win three out of five. So that changed up the way I'm looking for stuff. I've worked a lot on my boxing, a lot on my kickboxing, to not only just go for the kill, but also to set up the kill. That's something that I'm looking forward to, to see how that adapts, see if I can translate what I've learned these last four months into the Octagon."

Still a blue-collar boy from Oklahoma at heart, Hendricks maintains that the mantra of his camp has been to put in the extra work every day, regardless of circumstances. Part of that training has included occasional trips back to his alma mater, Oklahoma State University, to challenge collegiate standouts on the wrestling mats where Hendricks first built his legend.

"Whenever I go back, I feel the different desire of these young men," Hendricks said. "First it was, ‘Johny is a national champion.' Now they want to push me and try to beat me because of what I'm trying to accomplish here. My wrestling is getting sharper each time I go back. My coaches say that right now I could probably go back and still wrestle and tryout for the Olympics, and that means a lot to me.

"It's hard. Don't get me wrong. It's a brutal grind, a constant grind; but that's what I love about it. It's a grind that you can't get anywhere else, and that's what this fight is going to be. It's going to be a grind. If I have any chance of winning, I have to grind. I have to move forward, and that's what wrestling has taught me through many years. That's why I want to get back to those roots."

Hendricks is no fool. He watched what happened when Chris Weidman dethroned a king; he knows that Saturday offers a life-changing opportunity, a chance to build a legend on the grandest stage of the year. But all the pomp and circumstance means nothing if he allows himself to forgot the present, to get ahead of his goals and wind up as number nine on St-Pierre's slow march to history.

"You enjoy the ride, but don't focus on the ride," Hendricks concluded. "I know it's the 20th anniversary, but that's at the back of my mind. My main focus is Georges St-Pierre, of course, and right now it's making 170. As soon as I make 170, then that's when all the fun begins."

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