Posted 11/16/2013 by Derek Suboticki in Subo Says

Bigg Rigg’s Ride: How Johny Hendricks Earned His UFC 167 Title Shot

By Derek Suboticki, November 16th, 2013

This is pretty nice, right? Instead of mocking Rafael Natal headlining a weak card held in front of 3,000 people, replete with awful pacing (that’s MMA fandom in a nutshell, by the way – reacting to a card dedicated to aiding veterans affected by traumatic brain injury by bitching about “pacing”), we’re now in the fat part of the UFC’s fallow period. Despite the disappointing (if not entirely unexpected) injury to lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, the late 2013 harvest of major UFC fights is still on pace to yield a bumper crop of great fights, beginning with Cain Velasquez’s triumph over Junior dos Santos. But while dos Santos, as the former champion, had eyes on him during the entirety of his short run back to title contention, Johny Hendricks, set to serve as Georges St. Pierre’s foil at UFC 167, emerged from relative obscurity and won 10 of 11 UFC fights before arriving at this point. How many can you name? I’ll wait.

Ok, now that you’ve gotten maaaaaybe half of them, let’s start from the bottom and work our way here.

UFC 101, August 8, 2009 - Bigg Rigg’s UFC journey began over four years ago when he debuted, at 5-0 (including two wins in the recently liquidated WEC welterweight division), against fellow MMA neophyte Amir Sadollah. Sadollah, in fact, had just made his professional MMA debut by besting CB “Most Hated Face In MMA” Dollaway at the TUF finale two months earlier. Looking back, the match-up makes sense record-wise, but you have to think Zuffa brass wouldn’t do it again in retrospect (Sadollah went on to face Phil Baroni and Brad Blackburn in his next two bouts). Hendricks absolutely melted Sadollah in 29 seconds for what was at the time the quickest stoppage victory of his nascent career. Sadollah, at 6-4, is still on the UFC roster, which I hear is bloated. Maybe if you wanted to make some room…

UFC 107, December 12, 2009 - Hey, remember Ricardo Funch? He debuted at 107 with a 7-0 mark against Hendricks and was outwrestled en route to a unanimous decision loss. Funch would end up 0-4 in the UFC, cut twice, and doesn’t appear to have any fights since June of 2012. While, at first glance, this looks like Zuffa screwing up one young fighter’s career while elevating another, Funch and Hendricks entered the UFC with relatively similar records; one simply succeeded while the other failed. Penn v Sanchez was the headliner; bonus points for remembering the co-main (hint: one of the participants is fighting for a Bellator title soon).

UFC 113, May 8, 2010 - Hey, remember TJ Grant? He’s one of the best lightweights in the world, wisely taking ample time to recuperate from a concussion suffered in training.  Grant is a huge lightweight, and undefeated at 155 after beginning his UFC career with a 3-3 mark at welterweight. His time at 170 was punctuated by three decision losses to good, large grappling specialists in Dong Hyun Kim, Hendricks and, finally, Ricardo Almeida. On the scorecards, Grant’s bout with Hendricks was the closest, with one judge scoring a draw after three rounds. A close fight, but one that demonstrated Grant’s lack of relative size and power at welterweight.

UFC 117, August 7, 2010 - The Spaniard! For Bigg Rigg’s fourth UFC fight, he was slated to battle Charlie Brenneman, 1-0 in the organization and 12-1 overall. After a Brenneman-like (grappling and scrambling) first round, Hendricks, either through his corner or divine intervention, heard the words “just try to starch him before he gets a hold of you,” and the advice stuck; the second round was only 40 seconds old before Charlie, in what would become a recurring visage, gazed up at the referee’s face, asking what happened. Brenneman’s most famous UFC triumph would come at UFC Live: Kongo v Barry, against…

TUF 12 Finale, December 4, 2010 - Rick “The Horror” Story. One of the greatest nicknames in MMA history. This title shot could have been Story’s. At 12-3 (4-1 in the UFC), Story took on the streaking Hendricks and stifled him for fifteen minutes, showcasing a better MMA wrestling game against his amateur-accolade laden counterpart.  Story went on to beat #3 (at the time) ranked welterweight Thiago Alves; one can only wonder what happens if Nate Marquardt isn’t pulled from his bout with Story and replaced by the Spaniard less than two days out. I may have called this piece “The Horror’s Story” because that’s how lazy I am. The loss marked Bigg Rigg’s first, either in or out of Zuffa; he would have to put together another winning streak to enter title contention.

Fight Night: Nogueira v Davis, March 26, 2011 - In somewhat of a rebound fight, Hendricks faced TJ Waldburger next (note the consistency of Hendricks’ fight schedule; not being injured and actually fighting three times per year is a GREAT way to move up the ladder). Waldburger – previously defeated by the aforementioned Funch in 2008 – had very, very little for a motivated Hendricks, and was on the wrong end of KOOTN (using this until corrected) honors a mere 95 seconds into the bout. This finish marked Johny’s first “Of The Night” award.

UFC 133, August 6, 2011 - Part of me still thinks Mike Pierce won this fight. Part of me still thinks Mike Pierce won his fight with Josh Koscheck. That’s just what Mike Pierce does. An insanely tough wrestleboxer with good TDD, good power and a solid chin. Sound familiar? Hendricks’ edge in stand up and aggression earned him a close split decision victory here, but between Pierce and Story, the game plan exists; if you can outgrapple Hendricks, you can earn rounds off of him.

UFC 141 December 30, 2011 - THIS is the one that people really remember; this fight put Hendricks in the title conversation and introduced his brand to a much larger group of fans. At the time, Jon Fitch was 13-1-1 in the UFC, fresh off of a majority draw against BJ Penn that saw Fitch negate two 10-9 rounds with an undeniable 10-8 performance in the third frame. Fitch hadn’t been finished in a fight since 2002, when light heavyweight Wilson Gouveia kneed him in the face at HOOKnSHOOT. Hendricks – politely allowing Goldberg enough time to finish his movie pitch – knocked Fitch halfway across the cage with his first punch of the fight and left him scrambling for a single leg on Steve Mazzagatti. When the ref sprawls on your shot and ends up on top, you know you got rocked. 12 seconds later, we had a new contender at welterweight, one that had finally ended Fitch’s stranglehold on the #2 spot.

UFC on Fox: Diaz v Miller, May 5, 2012 - In what I still think is some curious matchmaking, Hendricks was essentially tasked with taking AKA’s soul after dispatching of its most successful member. I mean, maybe the idea was to take Johny and put him on free TV so they could show his highlight reel eleventy million times, but when you’re looking to showcase a fighter, maybe don’t put him against Josh Koscheck. In an ugly redux of the Pierce fight (really, Hendricks/Pierce/Koscheck can be assembled any which way and the fight will turn out similarly), Hendricks won a contested and debated split decision over a more established 170 wrestleboxer. Phew.

UFC 154, November 17, 2012 - “This is bullshit,” people thought. “Hendricks can wrestle, but I’ve never seen him against a striker.  Maybe he gets picked apart!” Fair, but futile. While 8-1 in his UFC career, Bigg Rigg had yet to knock off anyone that would be considered a stand-up specialist by most. Enter Martin Kampmann, perennial almost-ran and owner of what could have been a seven fight winning streak, depending on how you feel about the Shields (debatable) and Sanchez (otherworldly atrocious) decisions. One of those wins, by the way, was over erstwhile thorn in the side Rick Story. No matter, though – it took Johny about 34 additional seconds to time/place his left hook, and Kampmann flew roughly as far as Fitch did. This was Hendricks’ third KOOTN bonus in five bouts.

UFC 158, March 16, 2013 - Fight of the night, arguably fight of the year (we get to have that fight soon! Yay!), a true #1 contender’s bout between two worthy top five fighters. Everybody outside of the 209 loved Carlos Condit, particularly after his effort against Georges St Pierre after 154; fans, fighters, people that are sexually attracted to men, Mike Fagan (notice there are crossover between these groups).  What could Hendricks do against such a well-rounded fighter? Could he take him down like GSP did?  Would his striking translate against a lengthy contender with range? 11 takedowns and several harrowing near-knockouts later, Hendricks emerged victorious and all but begged for his title shot.

“I’ll fly to your house, I’ll get a ref and we’ll do something about it.”

Tonight’s going to be fun.


Derek Suboticki  is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also co-hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET at, also available as a podcast via iTunes.




Derek Suboticki

Derek Suboticki is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also co-hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET at, also available as a podcast via iTunes. Previous work includes being former editor at Head Kick Legend and Fightlinker and contributor for Watch Kalib Run and Cageside Seats.