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Johny Hendricks, once Martin Kampmann's punching bag, ready to strike back

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

MONTREAL -- It's clear from listening to Johny Hendricks that he doesn't exactly treasure his three-and-a-half years spent in the Las Vegas desert. While the time in the gym helped mold him into a welterweight contender, the entirety of the experience was far from pleasant.

It was a time when he'd spend 6-7 hour days in the gym, and come home too exhausted to do anything other than sit on his couch and watch television. On one occasion, when he actually ventured outside in an attempt to meet his neighbors as a southern gentleman might do, he had a door slammed in his face. And then there was the end of his affiliation with Xtreme Couture.

According to him, things began to fell apart as he improved and the gym's other welterweight fighters began to realize he could one day be a future opponent.

For an athlete raised in the wrestling world used to competing against those he trained alongside of, it seemed a bit curious, but Hendricks understood. It soon became clear his time there was up, and even though he'd once been the punching bag of the gym's fighters, Hendricks could take his forward progress with him to his next stop. As it turned out, that was Texas, a place where he is much more comfortable.

At least for a few more days though, he'll occasionally flash back to Las Vegas, when he was training alongside his UFC 154 opponent Martin Kampmann.

"That was a learning curve," he said on Thursday. "I got beat on by everybody. I don’t know which one beat me worse, you know what I’m saying? It’s just a learning curve. [Martin] got his good shots in but then at the end, I started getting mine, and that was the most fun part about it. I started developing and once I started getting that taste of development they were like, 'Hey, we might have to fight you one day. We have to sort of start separating our ties.'"

This is where the facts fall into dispute.

Kampmann disagrees with the timeline and rationale. As he recalls it, at the time, Hendricks was competing in the WEC while he was already established in the UFC.

"It was a beneficial training relationship and he helped me with my wrestling, I was helping him with his standup and now we’re fighting each other," Kampmann said.

Hendricks believes that once he reached a certain level, he was "bumped to the back," and that none of the gym's key fighters wanted to train with him, necessitating a move.

Another disagreement stems from their days together on the wrestling mats, with Hendricks, the four-time NCAA All-American, saying he "taught" Kampmann how to wrestle. Not so, says the Danish fighter.

"I think that’s a pretty big overstatement, pushing the issue," he said. "I could wrestle before. He definitely showed me some good moves. He’s a good wrestler, a two-time American champ. Of course I learned some good wrestling from him but I knew how to wrestle before that as well."

While each man has his own version of history, they'll also each have the opportunity to make some new, irrefutable history on Saturday as the winner could go on to become the welterweight division's No. 1 contender. At best, the winner will fight for a belt. At worst, he gets bragging rights.

Both acknowledge that their interactions a few years ago have no bearing on what could happen during UFC 154's co-main event. Kampmann says Hendricks has made leaps forward with his striking, saying he's "gotten a lot slicker and a lot better," while noting the danger of his power, and Hendricks praises Kampmann's technical proficiency.

It's interesting to note that Kampmann has been the betting underdog in six of his last seven fights, and that holds true against his old training partner, likely because of the feeling that Kampmann may not be able to absorb Hendricks' power.

Hendricks certainly plans to put that theory to the test, saying Kampmann's recent durability has some limit.

"Let me hit him one time," he said. "I can’t wait to put my left hand right on his chin and let’s see where it goes from there. All I want to do is hit him one time. If he handles it, awesome, we’ll fight. If he doesn’t, guess what? It’s over. That’s my mind frame right now. I just want to hit him as hard as I can one time and see what happens."

The former punching bag is ready to punch back. Meanwhile, "the Hitman" insists he's ready for whatever may come from, even from an ex-training partner hellbent on proving he's the better man.

"I can eat a good shot and I’ve proved that a lot in my fights," he said. "Of course I don’t plan on getting hit but it’s a fight. I’m sure I’m going to get hit eventually. I can eat a good shot. I’m not worried and I’ll dish it right back."