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Hendricks overcomes weighty issue to find new lease on UFC career


Someone call Doc Brown because Johny Hendricks would like to borrow the DeLorean.

Go ahead and set the date to October 2, 2015, the day the former welterweight champion was supposed to hit the scales to make his bout with then contender, now champion, Tyron Woodley official while you’re at it.

“I wish I’d have listened to myself a long time ago because I would have been at ’85 two years ago,” said Hendricks, happily counting down the days until he will step into the Octagon as a middleweight for the second time this Sunday against Tim Boetsch. “As soon as I missed weight with Tyron, I wanted to go to ’85.”

On the day of weigh-ins, news broke early in the morning that Hendricks’ weight cut had gone sideways – that his body had shut down and his bout with Woodley, scheduled to be the co-main event at UFC 192, was cancelled. While it was the first time Hendricks had missed weight, hitting the 170-pound limit was becoming an increasingly difficult task for the bearded southpaw. But rather than trust his instincts and pack up shop at welterweight, he stubbornly pressed forward.

After suffering the first stoppage loss of his career against Stephen Thompson, he missed weight and dropped a listless decision to Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 200. Five months later, he failed to get down to the divisional limit again at UFC 207 and dropped another decision – his third loss in a row – to Neil Magny.

“I think that’s when you’re at your all-time low,” Hendricks said, reflecting on his 2016 campaign. “You lose three in a row, you miss weight twice, what do you do? You sit there and say, ‘You know what? I’m done.’ After this last fight at ’70, as soon as I stepped off the scale, I looked at Joe Silva and said, ‘I’m an ‘85er.’ I’ll never see welterweight again. I refuse to go back there.”

Seven weeks later, Hendricks was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, making his middleweight debut against veteran Hector Lombard.

He was on the scales early at the morning weigh-ins, looking comfortable half a pound below the divisional allowance and the following evening, “Bigg Rigg” halted his losing streak and started the next chapter of his career, outworking Lombard from start to finish to earn the unanimous decision victory.

More than seeing how he felt competing at middleweight, Hendricks said his Maritimes engagement with Lombard back in February was about figuring out if he still enjoyed competing and wanted to continue pursuing a career in the cage.

“If I went out there and beat Hector and I didn’t enjoy it and I didn’t want to go back and train, I’d have been done. There are a lot of other things to do in life besides get your face beat in for a paycheck,” he laughed. “That’s really where my head was at. My head was, ‘If it’s not fun, I’m not doing it anymore.’”

Not only did Hendricks enjoy himself, he felt a spark again for the first time in years.

Rather than taking a vacation, avoiding the gym at all costs and letting his offseason weight climb to a difficult to manage number, Hendricks was back to work seven days later, building on the progress made while preparing for Lombard and falling in love with the sport all over again.

“Now that I don’t have to cut weight, I’m training almost all the time because I’m not dreading training; I’m not dreading going to the gym,” said Hendricks, who squares off with divisional stalwart Boetsch in Sunday’s penultimate pairing. “I’m not looking at this going, ‘Man, if I get back in there, I’m going to have to kill myself to try to make weight.’ Now it’s really been fun.

“After this last fight, I think I took a week off and I started seeing my coaches three times a week just because it’s no longer a job; it’s actually enjoyment again.”

He’s also able to enjoy life and time with his wife and four children even when he’s in the midst of training camp as well, something that wasn’t an option during his welterweight days.

“I have freedom,” he said. “I don’t have to miss the girls’ birthday parties. I get to eat cake. I get to drink a Coke with them. In the ’70 days, forget that; I would go work out during their birthday parties. I have a life again; that’s the best way to explain it.”

The infectious energy that was a signature of his rise up the welterweight rankings has also returned after fading during his final rough stretch in the division.

There is excitement in his voice as the former Oklahoma State standout talks about returning to his home state to compete in front of what is sure to be a partisan crowd in Oklahoma City, which is roughly 70 miles down I-35 from Stillwater, where he starred for the Cowboys, earning All-American honors in each of his four years while claiming a pair of National championships.

And the excitement extends to the pursuing the second chapter of his career in the cage as well.

“I can’t wait to step into Oklahoma and finally have a fight because it has been nine years since I’ve fought in Oklahoma, so to be able to do it as a co-main event on a great card,” started Hendricks, pausing to find the words.

“I used to dread fighting somewhere close (to home) because of all the extra stuff you have to do, but now, after years of doing it here in Texas, I love it. I love having that kind of pressure on me. I don’t know why.

“This fight with Tim Boetsch – he’s a true ‘85er and how will I handle against a true 85-pounder; that’s what I’m excited about,” he added. “I think the ’85 division is not ready for a guy that not only can hit hard, but has the hand speed that I can bring to the table.

“The only regret I have is not doing it two years ago.”

Where’s Doc Brown when you need him?