The MGM Grand Garden Arena was unfamiliar territory for Johny Hendricks.
While the top Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweight prospect had competed in "Sin City" once before, a decision loss to Rick Story at The Palms back in 2010, there was more than just geography that was different for the bearded brawler's return to Las Vegas, Nevada.
It was the first time in his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career that he entered the Octagon as the underdog.
That's because Hendricks had been promoted to the big leagues, which came after a 6-1 run following his graduation from the ranks of World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC). Waiting to see if he was the next big thing -- or just another victim -- was 170-pound gatekepeer Jon Fitch.
"Bigg Rigg" limped in to the UFC 141 pay-per-view (PPV) main card on Dec. 30, 2011, at +220.
The unfavorable betting line was not a reflection of Hendricks' talent, rather a testament to the kind of work Fitch had done as a welterweight steamroller. The American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) staple had amassed an incredible 13-1 record in what was widely considered one of the sports most competitive weight classes.
His only loss?
A five-round unanimous decision to reigning division kingpin, Georges St-Pierre.
In addition, Hendricks had barely squeaked by fellow rugged ruffian Mike Pierce his last time out. True, he was known for having a powerful left hand, but finishing Fitch was like finishing Kelidar. You knew it was possible, you just weren't sure if anyone had the resolve to try to pull it off.
Swinging for the fences meant exposing yourself to the takedown.
Fitch had built a career out of taking guys down and grinding them into dust. Both were collegiate wrestling standouts, but Hendricks was easily the more accomplished, having secured two NCAA Division 1 national championships during his time at Oklahoma State.
Though it didn't stop Charlie Brenneman, or the aforementioned Story and Pierce from taking him down.
That's why it didn't come as much of a surprise to see most of the fans and pundits (except this guy) picking Fitch for all the wrong reasons. In their defense, Hendricks wasn't even ranked in the top 10 and he was taking on the guy who spent most of his tenure in the number two spot.
Then the cage door closed at UFC 141 and the welterweight division was changed forever.
This is the sort of fight that ordinarily, would get a nice little recap; however, it only lasted 12 seconds, so there isn't much to say outside of "Fitch got KTFO." That's how dangerous Hendricks is on the feet, and why he's ended eight of his 15 wins by way of knockout or technical knockout.
One more nets him the division title.
But to get his hands around the gold, he's going to first have to dispose of the best fighter in the world at 170 pounds, Georges St-Pierre, in the main event of UFC 167: "St-Pierre vs. Hendricks," which goes down this Saturday night (Nov. 16, 2013) in Las Vegas, Nevada.
And just like the last time he made the trek to MGM Grand, he'll be a sizable underdog against a better-ranked opponent.