In case there was any doubt after an impressive victory in his middleweight debut, former UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks has left no doubt. His days competing at 170 pounds are behind him for good.
“I don’t want to see ’70 ever again,” Hendricks said on a recent edition of The MMA Hour. “I’m officially done with it.”
It was a rough go there for awhile as Hendricks found increasing difficulty making the welterweight limit. An expected title eliminator fight against Tyron Woodley at UFC 192 fell out the day before the fight when his weight cut landed him in the hospital. He then proceeded to lose three straight fights, missing weight in losses to Kelvin Gastelum and Neil Magny.
That led Hendricks, who had been champion as recently as Dec. 2014, to ponder walking away from the sport.
“The reason why I thought about retirement was because I didn’t know if the UFC would accept me moving to 185,” Hendricks said. “You put such a legacy at 170 that not just the UFC but the fans, are they going to accept that? Are they going to open their arms and all this kind of stuff. That’s why I wanted to retire, because fighting was not fun. It was 12 weeks of hell and you’re like ‘why am I doing this?’”
Instead, Hendricks decided to go up to 185 pounds, and ended up squaring off with former Bellator middleweight champ Hector Lombard at UFC Fight Night 105.
Hendricks realized the week of the fight up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, that the move had paid immediate dividends, as he had more energy than usual and the weight he did need to cut came off fast.
“That was probably the easiest weight cut I’ve ever done,” Hendricks said. “I ate all the way up until Friday, I drank all the way up until Friday, and the only reason I didn’t drink Friday is I didn’t want to work it off. ... I was sitting there and I was looking at my coach and I was like “man I gotta be doing something.” Usually I’m having to run, I’m having a lot of work to try to touch down. I’m so used to my body not wanting to give it up where, we’d do the bare minimum and get what we want, so that way I could do more and capitalize on it throughout the week.”
Likewise, Hendricks found his stamina in the cage improved. In his most recent performances at 170, he started strong and faded fast, which led him to be cautious against Lombard.
“I was a little bit nervous because you gotta think my last fight’s have been first round good, second round okay, third I’m trying to survive,” he said. “People don’t see that but in my mind and my body that’s what I’m trying to do.”
This time, after consciously turning the heat down in the second round, Hendricks found he had energy in the final five minutes, which was enough to seal the deal on a unanimous decision in which he took a pair of 30-27s and a 29-28.
“First round, I pushed myself,” Hendricks said. “Second round thinking hey we gotta be easy, still move my feet, still do that but don’t kill yourself. Third round I was like wow, my energy level never depleted. If there was a fourth or fifth round I think I would have been able to get stronger. I needed to move forward, I needed something like that. It made me, it brought back the love I had for the sport, not having to hurt myself, not having to do all these things, and having the energy to do what you want to go out there and do.”
Hendricks acknowledged what’s been whispered around the MMA world: That as a fighter a bit too big for welterweight but on the smallish side for a middleweight, he’d be giving up size to larger 185ers like Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero. But won’t stop him from riding out this wave at middleweight and seeing how far it takes him.
“As long as my body is healed, I can go out there and fight every two months if I want to,” said Hendricks, who would like to compete next at UFC 211 in Dallas in May. “Cutting weight, right now I’m at 205, a little bit lighter than that, now that I don’t have to slam my body, I’m actually not eating as much, I’m eating better, I’m not super clean but I’m not going off the deep end like I used to for the ’70 class.”
Hendricks will return to the Octagon against Tim Boetsch at UFC Fight Night 112 on June 25.