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Johny Hendricks—Beard Guy Gets Mean

Johny Hendricks had a little mid-fight epiphany in his bout with TJ Grant this past May -- he’d been keeping things a little too civil for his own good.

can occur mid-bout for fighters, and thankfully for some the light bulb
comes on before they’re lying supine on the canvas. Johny Hendricks had
a little mid-fight epiphany in his last UFC bout with TJ Grant this
past May, somewhere in the last round of a drag-em-out affair. The
gist? Well, let’s just say Hendricks realized he’d been keeping things
a little too civil for his own good.
“I finally got my meanness back, and I’m pretty excited about it,”
the 27-year-old fighter says. “I felt like I’d lost my killer instinct.
After that Amir Sadollah fight, I just lost it. But I started getting
it back in the third round of that TJ Grant fight, and once I did I
started feeling better. I started thinking ‘I can do this, I can do
Hendricks took the third round from Grant en-route to a majority
decision win, and everyone remembers the quick work he made of Sadollah
at UFC 101 in Philadelphia, when he TKO’d the Ultimate Fighter 7
winner—albeit controversially—in just 29 seconds. It was after that
debut that he got tagged with the nickname “Happy Beard Guy” by fans
whose first impression was that of a smiling…well, bearded guy, looking
like a happy lost member of Alabama. It’s not an official nickname, but
Hendricks says, “I like it though…I am happy, and I want people to
think that I’m that way.”
Given that he followed that victory up with wins over Ricardo Funch
and Grant, it’s been an auspicious beginning in mixed martial arts for
the two-time Division-I 165-pound wrestling champion at Oklahoma State
University. The Okie fighter is 3-0 in the UFC (and 8-0 overall) in the
welterweight division, and is scheduled to take on upstart Charlie
Brenneman (12-1) on August 7 at UFC 117 in Oakland, California. A win
against the free-style wrestler Brenneman—coming off his own successful
UFC debut against Jason High—could catapult Hendricks into the next
echelon of fighters at 170.
Not one to flinch when opportunity knocks, Hendricks likes the idea of being on this proverbial cusp.
“I have to get there sooner or later, but I do believe that after
this fight I’ll move up in the rankings, moving up and fighting bigger
named guys,” he says. “That’s the whole reason I’m in here is to do
that. It’s working out just right—I’ve gotten the chance to get some
fights under my belt. I’ve sort of figured out my training camps, what
I need to do and all that good stuff, so I’m excited.”
As he makes his way up the ranks and rediscovers his mean streak,
Hendricks has found a little Yang to counteract the Yin: Golf. He’s
begun getting up every morning at 4:30am, well before his wife and
nine-month-old baby girl are up, to take to the fairways.
“I just started playing maybe a month ago,” he says. “I go play golf
at dawn, then train, then come home, then train again. And that’s my
That’s also the time to avoid the sweltering desert heat in Las
Vegas, in the early morning. Hendricks made the move to Vegas with his
friends and former OSU teammates Jake Rosholt and WEC lightweight Shane
Roller in 2007. This all came on the heels of a storied collegiate
wrestling career for the Cowboys where he wracked up two D-I
championships in his weight class (2005 and 2006) and was a four-time UFC 107 Johny Hendricks All American. He lost only once his senior year, compiling a 56-1 overall record, before heading west for the cage.
Besides becoming a legend on the mat during (and after) his dominant
four years at OSU, the vast attention he received in those days helped
prepare Hendricks for his transition into MMA—from the first shows he
fought in 2007, to the WEC where he beat Justin Haskins and Alex
Serdyukov before the welterweight division was phased out, and into the
pressure-cooker of the UFC. In other words, before he steps in the
Octagon, he feels perfectly calm and right at home. His nerves don’t
easily jangle.
“Yeah, I really do think it helped me transition,” he says. “Because
I’m sitting there, and I’ve had the pressure of being in the Finals,
wanting to win so badly. Going in there and being one-on-one in front
of this guy, knowing that I have to get the win, it’s the same. That’s
sort of like the wrestling I grew up in. Besides, you don’t get to see
that many people in the Octagon because of the lights—you can only see
a few. I think it’s actually easier to fight than to wrestle.”
That the lights shroud the audience is a fine illusion, so long as
he hears people cheering at the end of a good scrap. Going into every
fight, Hendricks says he is gunning for a TKO. With Brenneman, who has
a good right hand and has the ability to back up and retreat before
exploding for a takedown, it’s no different. Hendricks says the only
real difference is he has that familiar feeling back of wanting to
punish his opponent—a knack that had been unwittingly tapered down a
little bit in his previous bouts.
“Definitely—I’ve been hitting harder, throwing harder punches, so
I’ve got that back,” he says. “I’ve got that where I want to hurt
somebody. And I really think that that’s going to help me in this fight
because I think I will get that chance to do that. You’ve got to be
concerned with anybody who steps into that Octagon. I do think that I
will get the chance to knock him out . . . and I’ve also been working
on my ground and pound, so hopefully you’ll get to see some of that
And if he has to take a few big shots to end up in that position, well, so be it.
“Whenever you train, you’re always getting kneed in the face from
shooting,” he says. “When you shoot, you get a knee. I broke my nose in
college. I got cut in college. Those things never bothered me. Now, the
thing is, when I get punched in the face it’s not as bad as taking a
knee to the face.”
And these are the consolations to a fighter’s mentality. If we’ve
learned anything it’s this: Happy Beard Guy is not the same as Nice
Beard Guy.