Photo of Johny Hendricks by Esther Lin for MMAfighting.com
Mike Bohn's "My First Defeat" series brings readers inside the mind of a mixed martial artist (MMA) as he or she recalls the emotions involved with the first defeat of their professional career. Today, he sits down with top welterweight contender Johny Hendricks about his first, and only, pro MMA loss to Rick Story in 2010 and the agony of defeat.
American writer Richard Bach once said, "It's not whether we lose the game, but how we lose and how we've changed because of it and what we take away from it that we never had before, to apply to other games."
One time. Only one time in 14 professional fights has Hendricks failed to have his hand raised. And that one time still rests heavy on his mind.
The date was Dec. 4, 2010. Hendricks, who at the time was undefeated (9-0) as a professional with a perfect (4-0) record in the UFC, met fellow wrestler Rick Story on the main card of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 12 Finale in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was a highly competitive three-round match up where both men had their moments, but ultimately it was Story who earned the unanimous decision.
"He's a tough fighter," Hendricks told MMAmania.com of his knowledge about "The Horror" going into the fight. "He's a guy who is always going to move forward, and he's going to throw a bunch of punches. That's about all I knew and we trained a certain way and it wasn't the right way to win."
The first round was very close with both fighters spending a majority of the time on their feet. It was a difficult round to score, but a takedown by Hendricks late in the round may have been enough to give him the edge on the judges scorecards.
The second round began with Story controlling the action by putting Hendricks on his back. Hendricks eventually made his way back to his feet, but it was all for not as moments later Story took the fight to the ground once again with control of position.
At the start of the third it was more of the same for Story, he took Hendricks to the ground, replicating his success from the second frame. Part way through the third round, Hendricks began to find his groove and was able to avoid the takedowns and press Story against the cage. It was all for naught, though, as the judges awarded Story the decision.
"Of course I thought I won, then the decision happened and I lost," Hendricks recalled. "I was like, ‘How did I lose that fight?' I went back home, or no -- that night I went back and I rewatched the fight. Then I rewatched it again then I rewatched it again and I was like, ‘Man, you know this is what we trained, this is what we trained, why is it not happening? Why is it looking -- why did I do this, why did I do that?'
The major lesson learned in the defeat was Hendricks needed to evolve his training. If the fight isn't going his way, there needs to be multiple back up plans in place that will help him find a way to win. Hendricks says that is something he's thought about since the loss and he now brings a handful of strategies into each fight.
"That's what we trained so I was like, ‘Okay, wait a minute, we only went in there with one or two game plans.' So now I go in there with five or six different game plans, depending on how they react, if they do stuff from my first game plan, how I'm going to go to the second one. And how you move to the third and the fourth and the fifth and the sixth. And what I also learned is if I have more game plans, I can pick and choose through the game plans how to get the W.
"That loss actually was a good lesson for me, you know what I mean? And that's what I always say -- losing isn't great, it isn't fun. But if you treat it the right way it can be the best thing that happens to you. And that's the way I looked at it."
Every fighter handles a loss differently. Some use it as motivation and become a better fighter by making effective adjustments to their game, others let a loss overtake the course of their career and don't fight the same way ever again.
For Hendricks, he does the former. Despite having every opportunity to blame the Story fight on a preexisting injury, bad camp or whatever else fighters blame losses on after the fact; there are no excuses coming from 'Bigg Rigg'.
"I've been there I've lost and you know whenever I lost I didn't go out there and claim anything. I was like, ‘Hey, he was the better guy that night.' That's all I've ever said and I learned from that fight, I learned to make myself better. I learned what I need to do and just, that's the way I want to handle it.
"If I lose, I want to handle it that way, I want to be like, ‘Okay I lost, he was a better fighter than me that night.' You know you pick yourself up, you go back, you look how you trained. ‘Okay I trained this way, I thought it was good enough, why was it not good enough?' Then you start picking at it. ‘Okay well I should have done this, this and this.' Then you just sort of build yourself back to a good level back in camp."
Hendricks, a two-time NCAA wrestling champion at Oklahoma State University, is no stranger to hours of hard work it takes to improve you skills in an athletic competition. The defeat to Story forced Hendricks to re-evaluate how he prepares for fights not just in training, but also in terms of strategy.
"[I learned I need] More game plans, more understanding," Hendricks stated. "Now I watch a lot more video. I didn't watch that much video. You know I let my coaches do it. Now I watch a lot of videos. So that way I can see with my own eyes what they're doing, how they're doing it, how they're setting that up. Instead of somebody telling you what they're doing, now I actually can physically see it and now I'm like, ‘Okay, may we can do this to counter that, maybe we can do this.' I've kind of got my own inputs and then the next thing you know we come up with a totally new game plan. Then a couple weeks later we will rewatch some more videos and we'll be like ‘Oh man, you know that's still good but what if we tweak this and do this.'
"That's sort of something that I learned from that fight too is you‘ve got to be constantly evolving. Even on your game plans just because if you get too stagnant, you get comfortable. When you get comfortable, you lose."
Even though he has only tasted defeat once in MMA, it doesn't mean Hendricks is unfamiliar with the feeling of being on the losing end of a high-level competition. Coming from a wrestling background, losses are much more common in the amateur wrestling world than in mixed martial arts. Hendricks uses those past experiences from wrestling to help put his lone MMA defeat into perspective.
"[Losing in MMA] is like losing an NCAA tournament," Hendricks explained. "The reason why I say that is in an NCAA tournament you lose, you have a year to think about why you lost that match. Why didn't I win the championship? Here, it's like doing international wrestling, you know you lose a match, you have three or four months to see how you improve from that loss, how you picked yourself back up. And you're like, ‘Okay'. That's just how it's different.
"You put so much time and effort into one night, win or lose you got to go back and say, ‘Did I do the right stuff or did I not?' And as you're doing that, you're going to see that your development becomes a lot better, you know? And you're like, ‘Okay, this is why I lost or this is why I won, we need to keep doing this but I think we can make these areas better.' And that's sort of all you can control."
There is a popular saying in the MMA world that goes, "You learn more from a loss than you do a win," and Hendricks agrees. While it would obviously be nice if he was still undefeated, the loss to Story taught him a number of valuable lessons, the most important of which caused Hendricks to go back to the beginning of his career and evaluate what he did right and wrong in every fight.
"Oh 100 percent [you learn more from a loss than a win]," he said. "Because we -- when you win, even if it's a sloppy win, you'll look at it and think, ‘Oh man I did that good and that good and that good!' Now if you lose, you go like, ‘Oh man.' And when I lost, here's what I did when I lost -- I went back and watched even my earlier fights and I was like, ‘This is what I've been doing since I almost started, how do we fix this, how do we fix this and this and this?' And I went back through all my fights and I started dissecting, this is what I do wrong and it turned my into the fighter I am today."
"I wanted to be undefeated. Those are goals that I set for myself. I want to go 15 and 0, 20 and 0, or you know now that I lost I look at my career as it was zero and zero, and now I'm 4 and 0. And now I want to continue to stay -- whatever and zero. I know I'm always going to have that loss on my record, but I hate it -- I would much rather be undefeated by far."
Despite the fight being over two years ago, Hendricks says the loss to Story still digs away at him on the inside. Hendricks is a realist, though, and knows in the unpredictable sport that is mixed martial arts nothing is ever a guarantee. He knows there is a chance of another loss coming his way in the future and if it does, it will be used as the ultimate motivation.
"I still haven't (got over the loss)," Hendricks said. "That's something that I've been very blessed about, I don't taste that very often. And whenever I do, it never leaves me. I'm still mad about losing in my senior year in college, that was five years -- almost five-and-a-half years ago."
"Losing to me, I don't like it. It's never an option but sometimes you do lose. If you can win ‘em all, that's awesome. But sometimes you do lose and when you do lose you just got to pick yourself up, say, ‘Why did I lose, why this and this?' Then you move forward and keep it in the back of your mind so if you feel like you're not training that hard, you sit there and go, ‘You know, you remember what it felt like to lose? Oh screw that you know I don't want to lose again.' And it'll help drive me that much hard."
Hendricks next fights Martin Kampmann in the co-main event of UFC 154: St-Pierre vs. Condit on Nov. 17 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. If he loses, "Big Rig" will likely miss out out on the golden opportunity to challenge for a world title in 2013.
A fact that likely is likely very aware ... now more than ever thanks to Rick Story.