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For Johny Hendricks, hard lessons come on the judges’ scorecards

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

DALLAS -- To paraphrase a line from the MMA book of clichés, our judges, they giveth and they taketh away. Want proof? Just take a gander at ol' Johny Hendricks. From shaky wins to shakier losses, few fighters over the last few years have become more versed with both sides of the judging crapshoot than the former UFC welterweight champion.

For a while, it almost felt like his favorite topic of conversation: ‘Let me tell you why I beat Georges St-Pierre.' And if you take a step back and examine the bigger picture, that's understandable, because while his certainly wasn't the first livelihood dictated by the whims of three outsiders who, at best, should've at least explained their curious criteria before slinking back into the ether, the L's dotting his record do seem to have taken a greater toll than most.

Hendricks repeated a similar refrain, albeit less adamantly, three months back when those outsiders awarded Robbie Lawler the UFC belt in a rematch that wound up even closer than the original. That one hit Hendricks hard in a different way, because finally he had the gold he craved and still he let it slip away. So as the cameras and writers moved onto the next, Hendricks couldn't help but linger, asking himself what went wrong.

"You've just got to sit there and say, hey... it is what it is," Hendricks told

It's simple statement, but in reality Hendricks couldn't have stumbled upon any truer.

Because we all admit the system is broken. No one argues that. And while the hallmark of any great athlete is the ability to adept to nonsense on the fly, when the system keeps breaking down against one fighter in particular, usually there's something up with that fighter. For better of worse, there's at least some aspect of their game causing the rift, and those hard lessons were lessons that Hendricks had to learn.

"If I'm fighting Matt Brown and I'm sitting there thinking, okay, what are the judges scoring," Hendricks said, "I can't fight that way, because if I make a mistake in there, he beats me. It's too high of stakes. He could catch me with a knee or catch me with a punch. There's so many scenarios that, if you rush a scenario, you're doing [yourself a disservice].

"Because if you do that, you rush something and you lose, the judges don't matter at that point."

Sometime between last Christmas and Saturday's UFC 185 clash against Brown, Hendricks arrived at the realization that it no longer served him to carry on his shoulders those past scorecard woes. Now any queries are met by self-effacing shrugs. It was his fault, he'll say. He didn't do enough, and next time he'll simply have to do better. Point the finger the other way, not at those judges.

It's a commendable step forward in self-awareness, but for some reason it's not enough, and even now Hendricks hears the critics roving through social media and online message boards, calling him a complainer and condemning him for a few kneejerk reactions of humanity where he realized just how fickle dreams can be.

"You can't please everybody. And that's the thing -- I learned that," Hendricks said. "So if they want to say that, by all means, let them be internet warriors.

"Let them cut to 170. Let them fight a fight. Let them lose a fight that they feel they should've won. Everybody looks at the one-percent. They see the final product, right? They see the people with everything they got, the nice TVs, the nice house, the nice cars. But they didn't see -- like for me, I had to work since I was 14. I slaved over jobs, building fences in Oklahoma, mowing grass. Crappy manual labor jobs. All of that leads up to this. Wrestling so hard. Then you get into MMA. Then you do a three-and-a-half month camp and you bust your butt, you put everything out there. Then you go out there and you try to put on your best performance, and it gets sucked away from you.

"That's why it's so hard. That's why whenever you guys ask me, that's whenever I sit there and tell my peace. But if y'all don't ask me, I don't say it. Because hey, it's part of the sport. You've just got to live with it and move on, and hopefully the next time it doesn't happen, right? That's the difference, that people don't understand it's part of the story."

After living in the open for so long, Hendricks understands the nature of the beast. That's why he doesn't take it to heart. The negativity will come, whether from detractors or elderly boxing folk who scored a seat at the judging table because they play poker a senator's son or went to school with a gaggle of city councilmen.

But the conversation is tired and Hendricks is over it, because really, he knows the noise becomes irrelevant if he does exactly what he's best at -- swinging dem bungalows and knocking Matt Brown's head clean into the third row, if ya know what I'm saying.

"I'll tell you this, I hate to be a judge. I judge fights all the time, and I'd say that 90-percent were easy. The other 10-percent, I'm like, okay, sure, I didn't see that," Hendricks finished with a chuckle.

"But it's just one of those things. It comes with the territory."

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