LAS VEGAS, NV -- Johny Hendricks dragged his director's chair towards the front of the dais, dark stubble strewn across his face, a soon-to-be mighty beard in its infancy stages. Whoops of "Johny!!!" erupted from the crowd within the MGM Grand lobby, each one prompting Hendricks to raise his fist in salute, while less than 15 feet away sat the man -- and the belt -- he'd been eyeing for seven long years. To call it a surreal moment would be a severe understatement.
"It's weird, because realistically, I'm the average person," Hendricks told MMAFighting.com at Monday's UFC 167 media day.
"I got in one fight my whole entire life. I knew nothing striking-wise or anything seven years ago. Seven years ago in June, I knew nothing. Just wrestling. To know that I'm still growing as a fighter, I'm still doing this, and where I'm at now, today, is huge."
Hendricks always figured this day would come, but it was only two years ago, when he stunned the MMA world by flattening Jon Fitch in 12 seconds, that he first know it could become a reality. Yet even then, the road to Georges St-Pierre was a long one. He'd hurdle the next man, then wait and wait, yell but not be heard. Even once the fight was finally booked, Hendricks wasn't quite ready to believe it.
"I was a little nervous until the Anderson [Silva]-Chris Weidman fight happened, because you never know what's going to happen. If Anderson wins, does the superfight still happen?' Hendricks said. "So he sort of helped me out, and now it's actually going to happen. I can't wait."
Hendricks will be compared to Weidman more than once over the next few months. It's an easy comparison to make, but that's what happens when you're trying to upset the natural order of things. For years, Silva and St-Pierre comprised the big-two of the UFC. Jon Jones eventually rose through the ranks to cement a new big-three, but the idea was still the same. Each man, a dominant champion in their own right, coldly leaving behind a trail of dismantled opponents.
But that balance shattered at UFC 162, and Hendricks watched as Weidman's life flipped upside-down overnight.
"I know that if I beat GSP, my world's going to change," Hendricks said. "And I've made corrections to my life for that. I'm already putting them in place to make myself better and also, really to enjoy it. Don't take anything for granted. Enjoy every moment of it, because when it comes, it's going to go."
Like Weidman, Hendricks is a man many believe to be tailor-made to topple the champion. A four-time All American wrestler with thunder in his left hand, Hendricks is undaunted by the challenge that awaits him. He knows the strategy St-Pierre will employ, and he welcomes it.
"He's been the same fighter for a long time now," Hendricks said.
"You go in there knowing, ‘Hey, I know GSP's gameplan. He's going to jab, he's going to kick, and he's going to try to take me down.'"
That jab, in particular, has proven to be a disabling weapon. From Josh Koscheck to Jake Shields, St-Pierre made his career out of stifling decorated grapplers with a seemingly insurmountable understanding of distance.
"He leans with his jab," Hendricks pointed out. "He's got a 76-inch reach. Whenever he actually does jab, if you watch him, he'll lean in about three or four inches. In those three or four inches, you think you can swing back. You end up missing. Then what happens is you get flustered and you start reaching. As soon as you start reaching, he starts going underneath.
"The way you've got to counter that is to slip the jab, parry the jab, there's a lot of other things you can do to close the distance.
"That's the difference," Hendricks continued. "Punch me in the face, I'll punch you twice as hard. When I'm in there, all my goal is to break somebody's jaw. Let them forget who they are that night. Let them wake up the next morning and go, ‘What the hell happened?' That's my goal every fight. So if he's going to sit there and try to do that jab, watch: I'll bite on my mouthpiece, I'll eat one to throw my left or right hand, all day long."
It's clear that Hendricks isn't short on confidence. Without any doubt, the 29-year-old believes he's a different breed of opponent than any St-Pierre has faced prior.
But while Hendricks tries to remain respectful, sometimes his disdain for St-Pierre's style can't help but rear its head.
"He does what he has to do to win. I just can't do that," Hendricks explained.
"I'm not going in there with that mindset, ‘Hey, I want to take you down and grind out a win.' No. I want to lay people out. I want to make it exciting for these people that are lined up here to see us today.
"The fans, they predict a little bit of my fight," Hendrick continued. "If I'm on top and they're booing -- look at the Condit fight, they booed a little bit when I was on top -- hey, friggin' get up then. We'll bang it out. They're here, whatever it is, paying to see me and him go at it. If they start getting stagnant, and they start getting bored, watch, I'll switch it up."
Ultimately, Hendricks knows this opportunity will be anything but a cakewalk. He readily admits, there's a ton of work still to be done, particularly in preparing for potential championship rounds. St-Pierre's reach advantage isn't getting any shorter, and that conservative, mistake-free strategy isn't any growing any less impenetrable.
But nonetheless, Hendricks holds fast to a statement he first made last December, when St-Pierre elected to fight a suspended Nick Diaz instead of the bearded contender, who was fresh off a one-shot knockout in a supposed title eliminator. Back then Hendricks loudly proclaimed that the champion was ducking him, and as far as he knows, that may still be the case.
"I haven't seen a change in him. I think it's sort of default," Hendricks finished with a grin. "Who else does he get to fight? There's nobody else but me. So we'll see. I'm glad that the fight's happening now, but does he really want to fight me? We'll know November 16th."