MONTREAL – For all the talk of Georges St-Pierre's dark place prior to UFC 158, imagine how Johny Hendricks must feel.
Over the last two years, Hendricks learned that simply winning isn't enough.
Nor, he learned to his dismay, is winning in spectacular fashion enough to get a shot at St-Pierre's UFC welterweight title.
Hendricks will face Carlos Condit on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 158 at the Bell Centre when he believes with all his heart that he should be facing St-Pierre for the belt in the main event.
That honor, though, will go to Nick Diaz, who was handpicked specifically by St-Pierre.
In defending the decision to fight Diaz instead of Hendricks, St-Pierre said he felt Diaz should have gotten the decision over Carlos Condit in their match at UFC 143. St-Pierre also said he felt Hendricks got a gift win over Josh Koscheck at UFC on Fox 3 last May.
St-Pierre is a lot of things for the UFC: He's one of its greatest fighters ever, as well as its biggest star. He's the epitome of a class act and is the type of guy a company can build around.
Hendricks doesn't dispute that. What he does dispute is the notion of St-Pierre as matchmaker and St-Pierre as judge.
"Who is this guy to be judging my fights?" Hendricks said, his voice rising.
Hendricks is generally a genial guy who smiles and laughs easily and doesn't seem to sweat much. But frustration is beginning to set in given the odd way the last year or so has played out.
When Hendricks looks at the main event, he doesn't see one of the UFC's most heated rivalries. Instead, he sees a guy coming off a loss, who failed a drug test and was suspended for a year, getting the opportunity that Hendricks had worked so long and so hard to obtain.
Hendricks, you see, passed all of his drug tests. He avoided suspension. He won when he needed to win and was spectacular when the situation called for it. He handled his obligations professionally, showed up on time, did what was required and never complained.
After a 12-second knockout of Jon Fitch and that decision victory over Koscheck, Hendricks went into his fight with Martin Kampmann at UFC 154 on Nov. 17 on the St-Pierre-Condit undercard believing a win would earn him the next shot at the title.
Win, he did. He knocked Kampmann out in 46 seconds and seemed to have locked up the shot at the belt.
Instead, though, he's prepared to face Condit. UFC president Dana White said at Thursday's news conference that Hendricks would finally get a title shot with a victory. But still, the wait hasn't been easy to accept.
"You think about this and you go, 'Huh? How is this happening?' " Hendricks said prior to learning of White's decision.
On one level, the decision to make St-Pierre-Diaz instead of St-Pierre-Hendricks is easily understood. The personal animosity between St-Pierre and Diaz is so great, and the public interest in the bout so high, that a pay-per-view bout between them seems like a slam dunk to do big business.
Saturday's card could do 750,000 buys, an enormous number by any standard.
St-Pierre understands the pay-per-view side of the business as well as anyone in the UFC. He went over the options with UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta and White, and it became obvious: The biggest fight monetarily was the one against Diaz.
And so, after opting for Diaz over Hendricks in December, St-Pierre insisted that it was strictly business: A fight with Diaz would generate significantly more dollars than a fight with Hendricks.
"Not most people," St-Pierre said when it was suggested most fans viewed Hendricks as the legitimate No. 1 contender. "Most people want Diaz, believe me. This fight will sell on the pay-per-view. This fight, people will tune in way more than Hendricks.
"Of course, for Hendricks, the time will come, but now is the time for Nick Diaz. Believe me, Nick Diaz is the fight the fans want to see. ... To be logical, the big fight is this right now. I'm doing it. Ask Dana. Ask Lorenzo. Nick Diaz is the big fight right now."
Professional athletes, fighters in particular, have very small windows of opportunity to make the big money. When that window is open, they'd be fools not to take advantage.
St-Pierre is no fool.
But that leaves Hendricks in an awful spot. He's now facing Condit, an enormous challenge who is as good as any welterweight in the world, and he needs to win for a shot at the belt.
Hendricks will do it for far less money than he would have made had he been in the championship bout. It's not necessarily fair, but then, life isn't fair.
"To be honest with you, I'm not real happy about any of this," Hendricks said. "But the only thing I can do about that is go out and fight and win and be impressive. If I do that long enough, sooner or later, I'm going to get that call [that I'm fighting for the title]. I just have to keep doing what I'm doing."
All of this has sent Hendricks into his own dark place. But unlike St-Pierre's, his dark place is no joke and is easily understood. The vagaries of the fight business are difficult to understand and even harder to accept.
This is a lesson Johny Hendricks won't soon forget.
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