How a loss turned out to be a good thing for Johny Hendricks

That Johny Hendricks lost his welterweight championship to Robbie Lawler at UFC 181 in Las Vegas in December is no great shock. They'd had an extremely close fight the first time they'd met, nine months earlier at UFC 171, when Hendricks won a taut decision for the vacant belt, and Lawler is widely acknowledged as an elite opponent.

It was how Hendricks lost that raised plenty of eyebrows. Hendricks seemed lackluster, without a lot of energy or passion. And when the scores favored Lawler, he seemed surprisingly accepting of it.

It was stunning that he seemed to fight with so little drive.

But there was a reason. Even a race car can't do much if it doesn't have gas in the tank. And Hendricks simply was worn out by fight night because of a difficult weight cut and the rigors of training camp.

The intensity in a title fight ratchets up several notches, but when Hendricks looked for the little extra required in a championship match, he got no response.

Johny Hendricks, left, lands a punch during his loss to Robbie Lawler. (USAT)
Johny Hendricks, left, lands a punch during his loss to Robbie Lawler. (USAT)

"No, I didn't [have the energy] I'd had in past fights," said Hendricks, who takes on Matt Brown on Saturday in what figures to be a sensational welterweight battle at UFC 185 in Dallas. "I didn't fire on all cylinders, but that's why we're doing everything differently. That's why I never got over 195 [pounds]. I started lifting weights again. I got my body fat down to 15 percent, and I'm usually walking around at this point at 20 percent. We're trying to add strength. There's just so much stuff we're trying to do.

"In three months, I went from 24 percent [body fat] starting off the fight camp to this fight camp where we started at 18 percent. We dropped off a lot, and in the last two months, we've dropped another 3 percent body fat. It's really good for me and it's going to help me make the weight easier."

Despite all of his great success, Hendricks faces a particular sense of urgency to get himself into the kind of condition to easily make the 170-pound limit for welterweight title fights. (The non-title division limit is 171 pounds.)

Hendricks is 5-foot-9, which would make him very short for the middleweight division. Champion Chris Weidman is 6-2. In the division's Top 10, the shortest fighter is No. 8 Tim Kennedy, who is 5-11.

Hendricks' body type makes it important for him to be able to compete at 170, where he won't give up a great deal of height and reach, like he would if he were a middleweight.

UFC president Dana White visited Hendricks' Team Takedown training facility in Texas, which was put together by team creator/founder Ted Ehrhardt. White raved about the facility but said some of its amenities could have made it tough on Hendricks.

"Johny Hendricks won the belt and with the belt comes a lot of success, a lot of money and a lot of spoils," White said. "Johny Hendricks, every time he came in, you saw it on him in his face and in his weight. The guy was eating whatever the hell he wanted. He was living like a rock star.

"If you've ever been down to that camp, these guys live really well. Ted, the manager who runs that camp, has the best of everything there. He has an award-winning – award-winning – Texas barbecue chef there. He's eating this unbelievable Texas [expletive] barbecue and he's out hunting and fishing so that when it's time to go back to work, he'd gotten so [expletive] heavy that camp was miserable for him."

Despite his struggles to make weight for the Lawler rematch, Hendricks was still in the fight. It wasn't as if he got blown out, so he has the knowledge that perhaps on his worst day against one of the finest opponents he has faced, he was still very competitive, not to mention some who felt he'd done enough to retain the belt.

The odd part was Hendricks' muted reaction to the decision. Some who saw him took it as a sign he didn't care. Hendricks, though, said it was something much different.

Hendricks says he's focused on getting better. (USAT)
Hendricks says he's focused on getting better. (USAT)

"Whenever something bad happens, you can react a couple of different ways," Hendricks said. "One, you can be a douche bag and get mad and holler and everything, but what is it going to change? What does it change by doing that? You know what, it changes nothing. Or, you can do it the way I chose to. I said, 'You know what? I'll be back. I'm going to get better. I'm going to do the right things and I'm going to get the belt back.' I'd much rather channel that anger [about the loss] into my performance instead of making a fuss when that won't change a thing."

So Hendricks faces Brown in a bout that carries great significance. Both lost to Lawler in their last outings and each needs a win to remain in range of a title shot.

One of the characteristics of elite athletes is the ability to forget mistakes. Rory McIlroy, the No. 1 golfer in the world, hit a 3-iron into the lake on the eighth hole of a recent round in the PGA Tour's WGC Cadillac Championship. But he forgot about it and went on to finish his round at 2-under.

And Hendricks said he's not consumed by the loss as much as he is consumed by coming back better.

"If you are out there golfing and you hit a bad shot, anyone who knows golf will tell you that you just have to forget about it," Hendricks said. "If you don't, you'll hit another bad one and another and then another. It plays with your head. It's the same way in a fight. Yeah, I wasn't at my best. Yes, there were things I wished I'd done differently. Whatever. The key thing is to learn from it and move on, and I've learned my lesson and moved on.

"I'm confident I've done the right things and I'm anxious to get in there again against a guy like Matt Brown, who comes to fight and is a great fighter, and show everybody what I've been up to these last few months."