Fear the beard: An MMAmania interview exclusive with UFC 133 welterweight Johny Hendricks

Johny Hendricks

Johny Hendricks has some of the best wrestling credentials of any UFC fighter today.

The 27 year old Team Takedown fighter was a four time All-American and won two national championships while wrestling at Oklahoma State before making the transition to MMA in 2007.

The bearded warrior made a huge impact in his UFC debut, blasting The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 7 winner Amir Sadollah in just 29 seconds and continued to wade through the welterweight division before losing the first fight of his career to Rick Story this past December.

Hendricks responded well to his first defeat, stepping in on late notice and crushing T.J. Waldburger in 90 seconds with a "Knockout of the Night" performance at UFC Fight Night 24.

The powerful southpaw is slated to square off with Mike Pierce on the undercard of UFC 133 this Saturday night and he spoke with MMAmania.com about his upcoming fight, responding to his first career loss and the transition from college wrestling to MMA.

We get things started with discussion of his epic beard after the jump.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I think the thing that people recognize most about you is the beard. What do you think is the fascination that the fans have with the epic beard of Johny Hendricks?

Johny Hendricks: It all started about two years ago, I was getting ready for a fight and I grew it out and Marc [Laimon} was like, "don't shave it. Keep it for the fight." I did, and the fans were like, "love the beard, love the beard!" I sort of looked back at that and thought, "you know what? The beard is exactly how I feel." Grown out, tired, ready to fight and after every fight I shave it so I know after I shave I'm like, "alright, I get to relax." It's almost like recharging the batteries.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Alright well UFC 133, you're fighting Mike Pierce. He's a very tough guy, only one loss in the UFC and that was to Jon Fitch. What are your thoughts on him as an opponent and how you think you match up against him?

Johny Hendricks: I think he's got heavy hands. He's a wrestler. He's a guy that wants to get you to the ground. I think the gameplan's gonna be a little bit different for this fight. I don't want to get too much into it because I don't want to give him extra time to train for what I want to do but it's gonna be a little bit different gameplan, a different fight than I'm used to. It's because I've fought somebody like this before and I did it the way I thought I should and it didn't turn out the way I hoped it would so I learn from my mistakes and I'm going to go in there with a totally different gameplan. I think I match up really good against him, I just have to prove it.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Mike Pierce is a guy that's faced some incredibly tough fighters, Mark Munoz, Jon Fitch and he's never been finished. Do you want to be that first guy to get a finish against him?

Johny Hendricks: Oh yeah. You always want to finish the fight but am I going in with that attitude? No. I'm going in there thinking this is gonna be 15 minutes of hard-fought scrapping and that's the only thing I'm taking into it because usually when I look for a finish, I overlook some other things that I should have been looking for. What I really want to do is focus on getting that 15 minutes, going as hard as I can, and getting my hand raised. Now if something pops up where I see an opening? I'll take it but I'm not just gonna focus on one thing because if you focus on that so much, you lose sight of everything else.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That makes a lot of sense. What do you think is the biggest concern against Pierce? He's a guy that's good at pressuring in the clinch, he's a strong wrestler, he's got a good ground game and he's got heavy hands. Is there anything that you're worried about the most?

Johny Hendricks: The fact that he's a nullifier, not letting me do what I want to do. He can put me against the cage and I can fight off the cage but I want to use my athleticism and don't want to get into a clinch battle. What I want to do is either flip the script on him or stay away from the scenarios, use more movements, stay away and really use my skills to the best of their ability to get things done.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Your last fight against Waldburger, you took that on short notice, about three, three and a half weeks and you came in there and blasted him in 90 seconds. How do you feel that getting an actual full training camp for Pierce could make things even better?

Johny Hendricks: I think it's great. I like having more time. It's a win-win and it's sort of complicated because I like knowing who I'm gonna fight but also there's some times where I like just going right in there and "BOOM" you're gonna fight somebody so you're training, don't know what you're training for but you're just trying to get better and all of the sudden they say, "you're gonna fight in three weeks." I sort of like that but then again, I also like knowing who I'm gonna fight so I have time to prepare for them. It's a win-win situation, regardless of how a fight happens. Even so much with two months is so long for training and not just focusing on working on things to do to nullify a fighter, you just go out there and fight. Sometimes, you get so focused on what they're gonna do instead of what you need to do, it sort of counter balances.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You talked about how you reacted to the first loss of your career against Rick Story and you've said that you reevaluated everything and you looked back at all the things that you'd been doing wrong. What do you think were some of those things that you'd been doing wrong that you had to correct?

Johny Hendricks: The clinch game. My clinch game was not all the way there and also defending some takedowns. I got so comfortable with doing jiu-jitsu on my back that I was not focusing on stopping takedowns, instead of using my wrestling to stay off the cage, stay off my back and go from there. I was comfortable wherever the fight went, I was comfortable but you don't win fights on your back and that's one thing I learned to. You've got to get takedowns to win fights and you've got to keep from getting taken down to win fights. 

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've heard that after that fight, you actually went out and trained with Rick Story a bit. Can you talk about how that ended up happening?

Johny Hendricks: Well after the fight I was like, "you're a tough dude and any time you wanna train, I would love to," just because I like training with guys my size and I like training with different partners. I think it's very important because you can get very comfortable sparring with the same people over and over and over. You sort of get into a routine. Sometimes it's nice to go with somebody new that you really don't know how they train, you really don't know what they're gonna do and it almost acts like a fight. So then you're training like a fight and it takes time. In a week, you're not gonna figure out somebody and in two weeks, you're not gonna figure out somebody so every day you spar with somebody, grapple with them and you're constantly trying to figure out what they're good at, what they're not and you're playing that chess game just like a fight so that's one of the things I really liked about training with Rick Story. He's tough and he did some really good things that were just like a fight and that's one thing I really like.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I want to talk a little bit about your history. A lot of people talk about making the transition from college wrestling to MMA. What do you think is the biggest difference between the amateur freestyle wrestling where you were a national champion to MMA wrestling?

Johny Hendricks: The hardest thing, I would say, is learning to fight off your back. I had to really do a lot of that and also getting punched in the face and not instinctually wanting to take somebody down. In a wrestling match, if you get put in a bad situation, you try to take them down and move yourself to a better position. In fighting, you can't just rush a takedown, you'll get kneed in the face or put yourself into another bad situation that could get the fight ended like a guillotine, triangle, stuff like that. It's tough to really be able to stay calm on your feet and on your back to where you just still stay focused in there.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've noticed that, unlike most wrestlers who make the transition where they're just thinking takedown, takedown, takedown and nothing else, you're much more well-balanced. You're looking for the knockout, you're clinching, you're looking for everything.

Johny Hendricks: Yes, and that's because I don't want my opponents to know exactly what I'm gonna do. In my last fight, I went at somebody, I knew what I was going for but I just didn't want them to know what I was going for. You've got to keep your opponent on their toes to where they're always guessing and one thing that I got away from in fighting for a bit too. I always focused on one thing, stay on the feet, stay on the feet, stay on the feet so what I did was I went to Oklahoma State and reinvented myself as a good wrestler. Defending the takedowns and getting the takedowns and doing that work, the coach Smith is loving it as well because I'm going up there, working with his guys and he's helping me get back to where I was as well. It's really cool because those younger guys are just trying to kill me. They want to take me down, they want to beat me up because of who I am. That means I've got to train that much harder because if they take me down, that's a huge feather in their cap and their constantly pushing me so much that I love it. 

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've mentioned that you got a little too comfortable off your back, almost to a fault, but that's uncommon for wrestlers, especially one of your caliber. Can you talk about what goes through your mind if you ever find yourself on your back in a fight?

Johny Hendricks: I feel great there. What I did was whenever I got in this, I knew I had the wrestling, but who's to say I'd never be put on my back? What I would do was, when I would train, I'd train 80% off my back because what would happen if I'm in a fight and I train all my top game and somebody puts me on my back and I know nothing? I'd much rather have an average top game but a great bottom game just so I feel more comfortable. It also opens up more things. I can take more chances because I'm not afraid to be there.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This is your seventh fight in the UFC, but only two of your fights have been televised on a main card of events. Do you wish that you'd be given a little more exposure especially considering you've had three very impressive knockouts?

Johny Hendricks: You know, I don't bite the hand that feeds me. They feed me. Yeah, of course I would [like to be on TV more] but look at the cards that I'm on too. They're always stacked with a bunch of great fighters. I'll get my chance. I'm just biding my time, trying to get cage time, trying to get everything to where I'm a complete fighter so when I do hit the market, I'll not have to learn everything there. I'll have already learned it on the undercards and I'm ready for whatever they throw at me. 

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I wanted to ask about Team Takedowns. I know most training camps are a little different but Team Takedown is a situation where they provide for you, house you, do a lot of things for you that most fighters have to do on their own. Can you talk about how that's a little different than the typical MMA training camps are?

Johny Hendricks: Yeah, the biggest most important thing is it relieves all stress. All I have to do is wake up, train, go home and get ready for the next session. I don't have to do it like some guys who wake up, go to work nine hours and then go train. All I have to do is focus on what I need to do to become a better fighter. I think it relieves a lot of stress and I'm very grateful for that. I wouldn't be where I'm at if I had to do a side job, do all the training and everything else on top of that.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Final question Johny, what do you think the fans can expect when you step in there against Mike Pierce on the Facebook stream Saturday night?

Johny Hendricks: They can expect a hard-fought three round, 15 minute war. I'm not expecting anything less. We're gonna go toe-to-toe and I'm getting my hand raised no matter what the cost is. I'm hoping that they have to drag me out because that's how hard I went inside the Octagon where my coaches have to lift me up just to get my hand raised. That's the kind of chance that I've been preparing for is going as hard as I can and not regretting anything.

Johny would like to thank everyone who's been helping him, his coaches Marc Laimon, Steven his striking coach and Adrian Ramirez and his sponsor Ecko MMA.

So what do you think, Maniacs?

Will we get that "15 minute war" Hendricks is promising on Saturday night? Or will Pierce be the nullifier?

Sound off?

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