Since he defeated Robbie Lawler on March 15 to win the UFC's welterweight title, Johny Hendricks guesses he's signed several thousand autographs.
"It's at least that many," he said. "It's been a lot."
But the newly crowned king, who is rehabilitating a torn biceps muscle he first injured during training camp and then hurt worse during the Lawler fight, has signed every one of them the same way.
Not one of them includes the extra words, "UFC champion."
Matt Brown in San Jose, Calif., on July 26, to determine the No. 1 contender – Hendricks has learned a lesson in humility.It's not his style. As he awaits his next challenger – Lawler will meet
Since he's become champion, he's become more recognizable. Demands on his time have increased. In an odd side effect, he's discovered that because of his status, people suddenly want to shower him with gifts.
Hendricks, though, declines the freebies.
"It's strange, and I don't understand it, but I've found that since becoming champion, people want to give me things for free," Hendricks said. "I appreciate it, of course, but I don't take it. I had to earn my way to become the champion and I'm not going to be any different than anyone else.
"I worked hard and set goals and I was lucky enough to reach one of them [when I won the title], but I'll tell you, I'm not going to let that change who I am. If I need something, I can buy it. I don't need no one to give it to me. I like feeling like I've earned everything I've got."
Much of his time now is dedicated to allowing his body to heal as he awaits his next contender. In addition to tearing his right biceps, he said he also fractured a bone in his left leg during his win over Lawler.
He first noticed each of the injuries during training camp, and each was exacerbated during the fight. The course of the fight changed when Hendricks felt the biceps muscle tear from the bone as he was completing a takedown.
"About 10 days before the fight, I did a partial tear," Hendricks said. "I didn't know I tore it right away. It felt like a stinger. Maybe a good way to describe it is to say it felt like a charley horse. And it lingered with me for the rest of the week. Then, in the fight, it happened on the first takedown.
"I pulled his left leg with my right arm. Whenever I pulled his leg, it went. I knew it right away. It just rolled right up, and I felt this slight numbness in my arm. After that is when it turned to pain."
Hendricks could no longer take Lawler down, and it impacted the rest of the fight.
Lawler soon figured it out, and so without having to worry about being dumped flat on his back, he could load up the power on his shots and fire with impunity.
"In those first two rounds, he knew I could take him down and that kept him at bay," said Hendricks, who beat Lawler by unanimous decision. "But by the third round, he realized I couldn't take him down. He didn't know why, but he knew I wasn't going for takedowns any more. I tried to threaten him with takedowns, just to keep the possibility in his head, but threatening a move and actually putting them down hard on their butts are two different things.
"Since he knew I couldn't take him off his feet, it allowed him to stay flatter on his feet and set down on his punches a little bit more. When he didn't have to worry about me taking him down, it allowed him to load up more."
He's not sure if he will get the rematch, and he's equally unsure if he wants one. He said fighting Lawler a second time would make preparation easier, but he said he enjoys meeting and preparing for the challenge of new opponents.
Hendricks said he didn't see Brown's epic victory in Cincinnati over Erick Silva in a back-and-forth fight, but he heard enough about it to be sufficiently impressed.
Whoever wins, Hendricks said he'll have his hands full.
"The great thing about the way we do things here, you're not going to see me fighting the 30th best guy or the 50th best guy or whoever," said Hendricks, who said he hopes to return in October. "The premium guys are the ones I'm going to see, and as an athlete, that's what I want. You want that opportunity to go out there and match up your skills with someone people think is all great and this and that. It means something when you beat someone like that.
"Whether it's Robbie or it's Matt Brown or it's Rory [MacDonald] down the road, I know what this [title reign] is going to be like: It's going to be one elite son of a gun after another. It's coming, and I know it."
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