Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, May 5, 2010 | 11 p.m.
Truth be told, Johny Hendricks could care less if he wins or loses to T.J. Grant in their welterweight fight at UFC 113 in Montreal, Canada this weekend.
The Las Vegas-based fighter will have one goal in mind when he steps into the octagon on Saturday, and that is to put himself in a position to learn a thing or two.
If that means putting his perfect 7-0 professional record on the line, so be it.
“I don’t care about my record right now,” Hendricks said. “All I care about is getting smarter and better. That’s my whole thing right now. Every fight, I have to learn something.”
For the majority of fighters competing in the UFC, the time for taking unnecessary risks and playing to opponents’ strengths is long gone.
That’s what amateur careers are for.
But despite competing in the most talented MMA organization in the world, Hendricks still considers himself a toddler in the sport. With only seven professional fights under his belt, finding limitations and fingering out flaws is still an important step he has to take.
While training sessions in the gym can help with that, Hendricks says there’s no better place to test yourself and work on your game than inside the UFC octagon.
“I’m still young at this sport,” Hendricks said. “I don’t have 15 fights like a lot of these guys do. I have seven. So every fight, I’ve got to put myself in dangerous positions because if I don’t find those holes now, whenever I get to the top they’re going to get exposed. And then I’ll be screwed.”
Considering Grant is a jiu-jitsu specialist, 12 of his 15 professional wins have come by submission, many will expect Hendricks to avoid the Canadian fighter’s guard at all costs on Saturday.
But Hendricks says he actually hopes the fight goes to the floor where Grant (15-3) should have an advantage. How, he asks, will he test his jiu-jitsu if it doesn’t?
“Where they’re best at is where I want to beat them,” Hendricks said. “I don’t want to run away from something like that. If I do knock him down, I have to get right down in there and see where my holes are.”
One look at his record and it’s clear that Hendricks isn’t lying when he says he’s looking for a test in his fights over an easy win.
A two-time NCAA wrestling champion at Oklahoma State University, Hendricks knows he could have spent the early part of his career taking opponents down and riding out decision wins.
He could have done it in September 2007, when he fought an undefeated Muay Thai fighter to a third-round TKO win in his first professional fight.
But if he had, he wouldn’t have learned that he enjoyed the sport.
“I only started training MMA three months before that fight, but in a way that was good,” Hendricks said. “If once I got in there and got hit and thought, ‘Screw it, I’m no good at this,’ I wouldn’t have wanted to waste six months on training.
“He hit me a couple times and didn’t really hurt. I opened up a cut around his eye and targeted that the rest of the fight. After that point is when I thought, ‘You know what? I think I love this sport.’”
He could have done it again last March, when he took on the veteran Alex Serdyukov at WEC 39 in Corpus Christi, Texas.
But if he had, he wouldn’t have learned that he could survive a worse beating than he could have imagined but still fight back to a decision win.
“When I fought Alex, I thought, ‘This is going to make or break me,’” Hendricks said. “He was a tough dude. He was taller than me. He was a big 170-pounder.
“The only time I took him down was when he got me with a good shot. If I had just taken him down in the first round, taken him down in the second round — how would I have known that I could take a hard shot to the chin and still be OK? Those kinds of questions aren’t in my mind now when I step in the cage.”
Hendricks isn’t putting himself through fight school for nothing.
Eventually, the 26-year-old fighter is going to gear up for a title run and start competing more for ‘W’s then for experience.
Striking coach Ken Hahn believes that Hendricks will be a legitimate title contender in less than a year, despite the fact he’s only started working with him fully during this training camp.
Hahn, who brought along former heavyweight champion Frank Mir’s standup before the two parted ways last year, says that Hendricks is one of the hardest working fighters he’s ever trained.
“Basically, where it took me three years with Frank, he’s done it in three months — if that puts it in perspective,” Hahn said. “When you have someone who doesn’t care, does what you say without hesitation and is a gifted athlete, that’s what Johny is.”
One more year.
One more year of non-stop work in the gym and testing himself in his fights to make up for getting into the sport late.
When that year is over, Hendricks will start worrying about his record.
“I have to know in my mind that I’m there, and the only way to do that is to get in here everyday and build that confidence with each fight,” Hendricks said. “Right now, I’ve got like six hurdles in front of me. I can’t just jump over one and say I should have the title. I have to jump over each one.
“In a year’s time, I want to make that run. Mentally, whether my body is ready or not, I’m making that run.”
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].