Johny Hendricks’ fall from grace was one of the more stunning seen in MMA history.
At his very best, Hendricks was a devastating and nearly unstoppable force with his unmatched wrestling and otherworldly power in his patented left hand. The Oklahoma State University standout’s run to the title was one of the more memorable ones in the early 2010s, smashing his way through notable welterweight stars like Jon Fitch, Carlos Condit, and Martin Kampmann. In more grappling-heavy tests, he still managed to pick up good wins over other strong wrestlers in Josh Koscheck and Mike Pierce.
Three years after the stretch and Hendricks’ career began crumbling as he tumbled down the ranks and began racking up more losses than wins to close out his UFC run in 2017. Many have speculated over the years that USADA entering into the fold zapped Hendricks’ ability to perform thanks to performance enhancing-drug (PED) use. Despite “Bigg Rigg” never testing positive in his 10-year MMA career, his most notable opponent’s coach, Firas Zahabi, is convinced that some foul play did take place.
“Guys, I do think he was on PEDs. Yeah, I do, honestly,” Zahabi said on the Tristar Gym YouTube channel. “His drop-off was so significant. When he fought Georges [St-Pierre], he admitted to being 220 [pounds] in the octagon. So, he made 170 and he went up 50 pounds? That’s insane. Georges was probably 185.
“What’s the whole point of the weight class? The whole point of the weight class is two guys of the same size are going to fight each other, that’s what it’s about.”
Hendricks performed exceptionally under the brightest lights in his first career title tilt opposite the all-time great St-Pierre. The showing was far and away the most competitive any opponent of “GSP’s” was since his final career loss to Matt Serra. Unfortunately for Hendricks, his efforts still wouldn’t be enough as St-Pierre earned the split-decision win in one of the most controversial title fights of all time.
The build-up to the fight became odd when talk of drug testing began to swirl heavily. It became an unnecessary narrative around a sensational stylistic matchup, leading Zahabi and St-Pierre to pull out all the stops in proving there was nothing to hide.
“I felt Johny did that a bit,” Zahabi said of seeking advantages. “You’re tricking the system so well by fighting this smaller guy. I think he probably did use PEDs.
“Johny Hendricks in an interview said he would do testing. This is public information. Me and Georges St-Pierre took it upon ourselves to hire VADA, who’s going to independently test both teams and they’re gonna publish it no matter what the result. Even if there’s a false positive, false whatever. The results will be published and an explanation soon to come. That’s it. That was music to our ears.
“The UFC didn’t want to use this group, they wanted to use another group,” he continued. “They wanted to use the Nevada state. Okay, let’s do both testing, let’s make everybody happy. I offered to pay $10,000 from my own pocket. Georges will pay one test, I will pay for the other, there’s no money coming out of anybody else’s pockets. Every test under the sun, let’s do it.”
The questionable St-Pierre defeat wasn’t the absolute worst thing in the world for Hendricks. With St-Pierre departing the sport to take a leave of absence, the UFC welterweight championship was vacated and Hendricks found himself back in a title fight. Taking on Robbie Lawler, Hendricks slugged it out with the “Ruthless” one in an epic affair. This time, the result was a unanimous decision for “Bigg Rigg” as he heard “and new” with his hand raised.
Eight fights later and Hendricks was done with MMA after a 2-6 pitfall that saw him finished by strikes in three of those losses. Considering how talented and impressive he was at his best, the near-immediate decline at such a rapid rate — accompanied by consistent weight misses — made Hendricks’ fall hard to fathom in real time.
“What happened in the end? Only Georges St-Pierre got drug tested,” Zahabi said. “In the end, we paid VADA to test Georges St-Pierre. Johny Hendricks did not keep his word. He said he would take any test and he did not. Why didn’t he keep his word? You guys tell me.
“I talked to Mike [Dolce] about this and he said, ‘Oh, I think he fell off afterward because he didn’t have the motivation. He just wanted to win the world title and after that, he didn’t have the motivation.’ I don’t know, might be true. I just don’t believe it. I don’t buy it. When you have millions of dollars on the line, you find that motivation. Nobody wants to go down like that. I personally don’t believe. I won’t say it’s impossible or they’re liars, that’s just not my take on it. I think he was on stuff. Why wouldn’t he take the test?”
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Prime Hendricks was one of a kind and one of my all-time favorites to watch. His descent was a painful one.
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