By John Morgan -Via MMA Junkie
LAS VEGAS – Former UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks has no excuses for his performance at Saturday’s UFC 181 event. Instead, he has a simple evaluation: “I didn’t fight.”
In the pay-per-view headliner at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Events Center, Hendricks(16-3 MMA, 11-3 UFC) faced the man he beat in March to win the then-vacant UFC welterweight title, Robbie Lawler (25-10 MMA, 10-4 UFC). While it wasn’t the “Fight of the Year” candidate the first bout was, the rematch was closely contested throughout the 25-minute affair.
And though Hendricks weathered an early storm and took clear control of the fight in the second and third rounds, he began to fade in the championship frames, which allowed Lawler to score much-needed points over the final 10 minutes and claim a razor-thin split-decision win.
Hendricks didn’t necessarily speculate as to what caused him to shut down but admitted he fell apart as the fight wore on.
“I thought I did pretty good the first three (rounds),” Lawler told MMAjunkie after the fight (watch the post-UFC 181 press conference). “In the fourth round, I started slowing down a little bit. But you can’t take nothing away from Robbie. What did I say the whole time? He’s a tough fighter. He’s a guy that you’ve got to put away. I wasn’t able to do that tonight, and the judges gave it to him.
“What can I do except for come back like he did, pick myself up and get that belt back?”
Hendricks does have at least one reasonable excuse at his disposal. After all, a torn bicep suffered in the first fight was expected to keep him sidelined until next year, but when UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman suffered an injury and was forced to withdraw from UFC 181, Hendricks was asked to speed up his schedule to help bolster the UFC’s final PPV of 2014
Hendricks was asked if he would like to point to that shift as a reason he appeared a little flat, but the Team Takedown fighter refused.
“I can’t do that,” Hendricks said. “I’m not going to take anything away from Robbie Lawler. Robbie fought good. He deserved to get his hand raised tonight.”
Hendricks is likely to hear criticism of his performance over the coming weeks and months. After all, he appeared the sharper fighter for most of the contest, but he let off the accelerator when he needed it most. A gritty Lawler then seized that opportunity to earn the belt with a late rally (watch the Lawler vs. Hendricks video highlights). But Hendricks said he doesn’t need to hear the evaluations to know he dropped the ball in his first attempt at defending the UFC welterweight title.
“Look at the fourth and fifth round; I just didn’t fight,” Hendricks said. “I didn’t come out the fourth and the fifth like I normally do. It is what it is.
“I’m going to be my worst critic. I don’t need you guys to sit there and say, ‘Oh, he looked like sh-t,’ or, ‘He looked like this.’ That’s my job. That’s what it was. I didn’t stay light on my feet like I should have. I should have done a couple other things to secure my win, but you get lost in the moment. That happened to me, but I’ll be back. I’ll be back.”
What comes next could be very interesting. After all, Rory MacDonald is currently waiting in the wings and had been tabbed as the next welterweight title challenger. But with the potential for a trilogy between Lawler and Hendricks hanging in the balance, UFC officials way very well opt for an audible.
The former champ declined to lobby for such a scenario but certainly didn’t minimize his interest in another instant rematch.
“That’s not my call,” Hendricks said. “Whatever the UFC wants, that’s what I’m going to do. That’s my management’s job and my coaches. If they want the rematch, then we’ll do the rematch. I’m perfectly fine with that.”
So for now, Hendricks goes home to nurse his wounds and ponder what might have been. His attitude seemed as positive as possible for such a disappointing situation, and like most put in a similar position before him, he vowed to return stronger. And if there were an admission of one pre-fight problem, it may have come there.
A well-known fast-food aficionado who enjoys his Baconators as much as any other red-blooded American, the 31-year-old admitted he’s going to stay much closer to his fighting weight in the offseason and hopefully avoid any more of his now-legendary massive weight cuts.
“First off, foremost, I need to say that I feel blessed,” Hendricks said. “The good Lord blessed me with a great wife, great kids and the fighting. The fight tonight made me learn a lot about myself, a lot about what I need to do, and a lot about what I need to correct in my camp – and a lot revolves around not walking around at 215 (pounds). I’m going to make that decision.
“I’m going to work with Mike Dolce and stay around 195 and do everything right because I had that belt, and I want it back. I love food, too, don’t get me wrong, and that’s going to be a tough decision. But I love that belt more than food.”