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Fightweets: What is Johny Hendricks’ legacy?

UFC 207: Hendricks v Magny Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It’s one final, quiet-ish weekend before International Fight Week kicks in. But that doesn’t mean there was a lack of news. So let’s get right into another edition of Fightweets.

Johny Hendricks’ retirement

@chjobin: With your magic powers, tell us what really happened with Hendricks... Going from gassing early to pushing GSP, from a UFC champion to a fading middle-aged athlete. Please... Enlighten us!

@Screenplaya: Will Jonhy Hendricks stay retired?

Let’s hope so. And that also goes for Rashad Evans and Josh Koscheck, both of whom also announced their retirements this week.

Hendricks’ career downfall was more high-profile than most, with a series of weight-cut issues and poor performances in the cage that got to the point of being cringe-inducing. And it all seemed to happen in the blink of an eye.

But that shouldn’t erase the memories of what this guy was in his prime: A super-tough competitor with absolute thunder in his fists who could change a fight’s complexion in the blink of an eye and also had the wrestling game to compete with anyone in his division.

Hendricks’ run to the UFC welterweight championship was one of the sport’s more memorable stretches, with lightning-fast knockouts of Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann and a thrilling fight with Carlos Condit to earn his shot at Georges St-Pierre’s belt.

I personally had Hendricks winning his infamous fight with GSP at UFC 167 by a score of 48-47. Maybe you had it the other way and I’m not going to argue it with you if you do.

But either way, GSP was soon gone, and their fight was close enough that you couldn’t knock Hendricks’ claim to the belt when he edged Robbie Lawler in 2014’s Fight of the Year to claim the belt.

All seemed rosy from there, right? Hendricks was 16-2 and on top of the world. Then he went another five rounds with Lawler at UFC 181 and didn’t get the nod. After a win over Matt Brown, things really went south. He was pulled from a UFC 192 fight with Tyron Woodley over a bad weight cut. He then lost five out of six fights, and missed weight three times along the way, including once at middleweight.

What went wrong? Well, for one thing, going 10 rounds with a killer like Lawler is bad news for anyone. It’s entirely possible those were the sort of career-altering wars from which a fighter never recovers.

And that’s before we factor in those weight cuts. Hendricks dropped huge amounts of, and already had a couple near-misses on the scale during his prime, before things went off the cliff. Hendricks had been old-school about weight cutting all the way back to his Oklahoma State wrestling days, and his body plainly stopped responding to the relentless yo-yoing.

So with all that said, what’s Hendricks’ legacy? He’s become the butt of jokes, which is unfortunate, because he was a tenacious competitor with a well-earned reputation for exciting fights. He’s also a poster boy for why weight-cut reform is needed in the sport. Maybe he was on the downside after the Lawler wars either way, but his issues with the scale clearly helped accelerate the process.

Will Hendricks return? I hope not. Just like with Evans and Koscheck, the last string of fights were ugly to watch. Maybe a ways down the road, Bellator will offer Evans or Hendricks big money to come out of retirement (it’s hard to see them do it for Koscheck, who washed out in Bellator), and we’ll talk ourselves into it, but that doesn’t mean it’s anything to savor.

Bellator and DAZN

@mr_smallman: Although Bellator San Jose (September) looks stacked, will it still do piss poor ratings?

That’s harsh. Either way, we won’t get ratings numbers from the card, because the Sept. 29 event in San Jose will be the first to stream on the DAZN (I keep calling it “dazing,” despite the fact we’re supposed to call it “Da Zone”), which means we won’t get TV ratings info for this like we do for Paramount Network events.

But, still, this is a big deal: $33 million per year for three years according to the current issue of Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer. That’s a lot of money in Bellator’s coffers, one which doesn’t put it on equal footing with the UFC, but one which buys the company a hell of a lot of room to distinguish themselves as a real alternative to the big machine.

And one, in theory, that will hopefully have the space to fully transition the company from the perception of an old-timer’s circuit to one in which it’s undeniably deep pool of young talent finally matures into the next generation of stars.

The moves that have been made in the mixed martial arts space over the past few months sort of remind me of boxing’s transition from network television in the 80s. I’m just old enough to remember, in my youth, the concept of big-name title fights on network TV. As cable took hold, the sport migrated to HBO and Showtime and pay-per-view.

There was plenty of hand-wringing about what the moves meant -- “Boxing is dead” is probably the single most tired column topic in all of sportswriting -- but while all but the biggest boxing fights have moved from the mainstream to niche status, it’s one hell of a lucrative, thriving niche.

UFC 210 photos
You can understand why Bellator wants to put Gegard Mousasi’s fight with Rory MacDonald on their new streaming service.

Which is where MMA seems to be moving. Streaming services are the next big frontier in television, and ESPN and DAZN (which calls itself a “Netflix for sports”) are betting that big-name MMA brands will be the sort of loss leaders that help gain a foothold and push the services to bigger things.

That’s been great short-to-medium term news for an MMA industry in need of good news. The job from here is about taking these big cash infusions and figuring out how to build the next Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey-level attractions with less exposure on the biggest platforms.

Which brings us back to the Sept. 29 show. You can understand why Bellator wants to make a big splash with its new partner. In theory, a card with Gegard Mousasi vs. Rory MacDonald plus the start of a welterweight Grand Prix is one that should be put on Paramount to maximize viewership. In practice, DAZN is paying good money and will want Bellator to put its best foot forward, kind of similar to the loaded first FS1 card in Boston in 2013, except on a streaming service. You should expect something similar when the UFC on ESPN+ next year. The future is arriving faster than we ever would have imagined.

No women on UFC 226

@rungdg: How is it that there are no women’s fights on UFC226? Biggest card of the year. Not even on the prelims. Bellator 201 features 2 women’s fights on the main card. Seems strange...

Well, there is a women’s strawweight bout between Jamie Moyle and Emily Whitmire on the Fight Pass prelims. Either way, I wouldn’t read too much into this one. Cris Cyborg fought three times in seven months and took a well-deserved break. Amanda Nunes just defended her bout at UFC 224, a main card with two women’s fights. Rose Namajunas is still on the shelf after injuries sustained at UFC 223 a card with two women’s fights; Holly Holm fought at UFC 224, which also had a great fight between Claudia Gadelha and Carla Esparza.

The overriding point here is that sometimes, there isn’t a conspiracy, this is just how the ball bounces, just like Bellator 201 getting two women’s main card fights, while great, isn’t an every day thing, either.

UFC tournaments?

@chjobin: Is it time for the UFC to make tournaments so rankings actually matter? Or at least show some kind of value to those numbers? Otherwise, being #1 contender doesn’t mean anything.

You know, tournaments aren’t a bad idea. I know that UFC frowns on them -- the four-man tournament which crowned Demetrious Johnson the first (and to this date only) UFC flyweight champ back in 2012 was the only one they’ve done in recent years (we’re not counting TUF here).

But, I mean, there are all sorts of things the UFC never used to do, but does now in the WME-Endeavor era, so why not give it a whirl? It would be something fresh could bring an interesting new wrinkle to what is otherwise an endless blur of one fight card after another.

That said, I don’t know if a tournament is something not you’d directly tie to the rankings, even though someone winning a four or eight-person tournament would obviously rocket up said ratings. We’ve discovered the UFC is going to do whatever they want anyway, regardless of who is ranked where, and, for that matter, regardless how good or bad the rankings are. But that shouldn’t keep the UFC from trying something new just for its own sake.

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