The past two years have been a wild ride for Johny Hendricks.
The former two-time NCAA Division I national champion wrestler hammered his way through one of the most competitive weight classes under the UFC banner to become one of the best 170-pound fighters in mixed martial arts. Throughout his journey to the top of the ladder, "Bigg Rigg" leveled perennial contenders with his sledge of a left hand and defeated a collection of the best welterweight fighters to ever step foot inside the Octagon.
Along with success, the Oklahoma native also experienced a sense of validation as he carved his way through the rankings. Putting together six consecutive victories on the sport's biggest stage served to be the ultimate confidence boost. And as the success continued, Hendricks was finally able to match the same belief in his talents as his coaches and trainers have been saying for years.
While there were plenty of positives to be taken from the situation, Hendricks also experienced his fair share of frustration along the way, as the title opportunity he was working tirelessly to earn continued to eluded him. But each time a shot at Georges St-Pierre's championship was pushed further away, Hendricks stepped up and went after it with tenacity.
When Hendricks squared off with Carlos Condit at UFC 158, the moment had finally come for the Team Takedown fighter to capture the opportunity he had been chasing for so long. "The Natural Born Killer" was the final obstacle standing between him and the number one contender position. And when Hendricks had his hand raised at the end of the three-round war, the mission to earn a chance to fight Georges St-Pierre had been accomplished.
By facing Condit, Hendricks put all of his momentum and title hopes on the table. And with a victory at UFC 158, he proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is the true number one contender in the welterweight division.
"Pressure lets you know what kind of person you are," Hendricks told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. "That kind of adversity will show you what you are made of. You see a lot of guys who are told they will be the number one contender if they win the fight in front of them. They have fought a couple of really tough guys to get there, but when the chance is presented to them, something happens in some shape or form and they aren't able to take it. They end up losing. That was the biggest fear for me.
"I looked at guys who I believe are better fighters than I am and if that happened to them, how was I going to overcome it? The most important part of this fight to me personally was overcoming that adversity. A lot of great fighters weren't able to reach out and grab that title shot and I'm just glad it didn't happen to me."
As one chapter of his has come to a close, the next officially begins. Where Hendricks was once on a quest to earn respect and recognition, those things are now set aside as will attempt to bring in the ultimate prize.
At the post-fight press conference in Montreal, UFC President Dana White addressed the media and declared Hendricks to be the official number one contender in the 170-pound weight class. They were words Hendricks had been waiting to hear for the better part of two years and knowing his long-awaited showdown with St-Pierre would become a reality was instant motivation.
But for as good as that all sounds, the fight is yet to be made official, and that gives Hendricks cause for concern. The pound-for-pound great recently accepted a role in the upcoming Captain America sequel, and while filming the movie will require St-Pierre to be out for a stretch, that isn't the issue picking at Hendricks.
In a recent interview, Firas Zahabi told Sherdog that St-Pierre is open to moving up a weight class and making the long-awaited "super fight" against Anderson Silva a reality. In the same interview the Tri-Star leader also mentioned the champion was up to fighting Hendricks as well, but wasn't sure which route they were going to take.
Hendricks has been publicly campaigning for the chance to fight St-Pierre. He believes if the champion finds a way to avoid their clash, it is because St-Pierre is scared of what will happen when they step inside the cage.
If the welterweight king wants to do a movie and add to his back account, that is fine by Hendricks. But he wants the title opportunity he has earned and is willing to wait for as long as it takes.
"If they find a way out of this fight then no one can question why he didn't fight me," Hendricks said. "If I don't get to fight Georges for his next fight, then there is only one explanation. They can say he wanted a bigger money fight, but he has a great competitor sitting right in front of him. I would like the chance to fight GSP, and if that chance doesn't come, the only explanation would be that either his camp is scared or GSP is.
"I don't know what is going on, but something is a little fishy here. I understand him doing the Captain America thing. That is awesome and props to him for being able to venture out and find another way to make money. That's awesome. But if they sit there and decide not to give me the opportunity to fight him; that would suck.
"Make no mistake about it, I'm waiting for GSP this time. I had to take another fight to prove to the fans that I am the number one contender and that I deserved my shot. I knew I had to do that. But after defeating Carlos Condit, I've shown I deserve to have a title shot. I've done everything GSP has done. My last five fights, I've had the exact same record against the exact same people he has fought out of his last eight opponents. But there are three of them I'll never get the chance to fight.
"As a competitor, I want to fight GSP," Hendricks added. "I really do and that is because I want to fight the best. But if he goes up a weight class, the belt is more important to me than GSP. That's really what it boils down to for me. I have no problem with GSP whatsoever, but he has something around his waist that I want a shot at. That is what is bothering me."
While it could take months for the situation to come into focus, Hendricks isn't wasting any time and has already jumped back into the gym to begin his preparation. St-Pierre's decision is ultimately out of his hands, but Hendricks isn't allowing that to affect his progression.
The only thing on his mind is becoming a UFC champion and he will do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal. Knowing the opportunity to step in and make all the hard work and sacrifices worthwhile, is all the inspiration Hendricks needs.
"Oh you're not kidding," Hendricks responded when asked if getting to fight for the title is the ultimate motivation. "I'm already back in the gym and I'm super-excited to back to work. I worked my boxing today, and that and my kickboxing are two things I'm really going to focus on improving. We were in the gym and running through sparring rounds like nothing.
"We were doing two and a half rounds at a time and I was firing through it because I'm so motivated. Doing 13 minutes of mitt work with a two minute break and I'm excited to do those things because I know what is coming up. I know what I want to get and I know what I have to do to get it.
"You better believe I'm getting that title. I'm going to do everything in my power and train as hard as I can to make sure that 12-pound gold buckle that says UFC on it as somewhere at my house."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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