Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks, former 170-pound champion of the UFC, was the stuff of legend before his first championship bout against then Welterweight champion, Georges St. Pierre. Before that, every fight was approached the same from a striking perspective. Akin to an enraged berserker, Hendricks would lunge into his combinations, and with the blessings of Newtonian Physics behind him, put a decent beating on many who stood before him. After his fight with GSP, and the partnering of the UFC and USADA(United States Anti-Doping Agency), his ability to knock his opponents senseless declined. As a result, many speculated that Johny was only a force to be reckoned with at 170 pounds because he was taking performance enhancing drugs(PEDS).
Whenever the absence of his knockout power was brought up, fans were quick to assume that USADA was the reason behind his diminished strength. This writer believes that the demise of his night-night power was a combination of several factors, one of which being the change in his striking technique. In his UFC debut against Amir Sadollah, Hendricks was aggressive even in retreat, firing his looping left as soon as he was pushed against the cage, rushed the clinch, and put Sadollah down with uppercuts.
Throughout his early UFC career, it seemed that Hendricks managed his distance by hopping backwards at the first glimpse of danger, then coming forward with a thundering combination of punches, grabbing a clinch, or pushing to the cage with his punches for a take-down. You first see Hendricks lunge into his strikes against Ricardo Funch in UFC 107, engaging in an exciting back and forth first round against the Brazilian, after which he dominates the remainder of the match with his wrestling. The first time he does it to viciously finish his opponent was against Charlie Brenneman at UFC 117. In the flurry that marks the beginning of the end, Hendricks leaps into Brenneman with a powerful overhand left, after which he begins a terrifying onslaught, moving forward whilst throwing power shot after power shot.
Johny again reminded the world of his power with his stunning dispatches of Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann. Against Fitch, they danced for a few seconds, Hendricks repositioned himself in the center of the ring, then uncorked a violent overhand left that swiftly knocked out the American and sent him reeling backwards. The bout was over in 12 seconds. Against Kampmann, more of the same. In the first few seconds of the fight, Johny attempts that thundering combination I mentioned above and finishes it with a rare head kick attempt. Johny then repositions himself to the center of the cage and fires a catastrophic right hook followed by a left straight, both of which land flush, all while Johny is moving forward. Johny rushes in to finish an already dazed Kampmann to finish the fight by KO in 46 seconds.
Hendricks dispatches Jon Fitch with an overhand left while Fitch is in the backpedal
Right Hook -> Straight Left
Fast forward to almost two years later and two of the most powerful strikers at 170 pounds face off at UFC 171: Lawler vs. Hendricks. On paper one would expect a violent brawl, unlikely to pass the first round. In reality, the fans were treated to an immaculate display of technical pocket fighting for five rounds. Something had changed in Johny. Where Johny had previously lunged into his punches to pursue KOs, he was now lunging into his leg kicks after his punches, adding a tremendous new flavor to his style. Instead of lunging from the outside to close the distance and begin punching, he was now wading into the pocket and throwing shots with more efficiency, pursuing only take-downs after his lunges from far away.
Combinations like these are rare from Johny these days
Johny was now fighting with more patience and tact, and this in turn stifled his power. As of late, he has used his combinations to shoot for take-downs instead of striking solely to strike.Below are some of the tactics and gifts he uses in order to pull off wins, old and new, and some of the holes in his game that his opponents usually exploit.
- Take-down Defense – Taking down Bigg Rigg is no small task. That is in part due to his high level wrestling background. A four time NCAA Division I All American Wrestler, not many have the collegiate wrestling pedigree that Johny does in the UFC. His take-down defense is one of the reasons he has no problem keeping his hands up to protect his head. This only adds to his ability to just constantly walk through his opponents without fear of being stopped. Notice Johny stuffing a take-down whilst in the middle of a punching combination in the gif below.
- Take-down setups – Johny has been shown to be very adept at using his striking to push his opponents to the fence in pursuit of a take-down. In many fights where he is at a striking disadvantage (Carlos Condit, TJ Grant), Johny uses his punches to rally forward, causing his opponents to backpedal into the cage, lest they be slept, where Johny then shoots for a double to drag his opponent to the ground. It has been a staple technique in Hendricks’ arsenal, and a tool he has used much more recently after his performance began declining in the UFC.
Hendricks uses his footwork to circle around Condit and sets up
a take-down with his boxing
- Lack of Mobility – Despite his effective use of the back-step to effectively manage his distance, aside from the gif above, Hendricks doesn’t use much lateral movement. Colorful Karate striker Stephen Thompson effectively used this to his advantage by using his kicks to lull Hendricks into a false sense of security, making Hendricks think he was standing at a safe distance when he was actually within kicking range. When Hendricks eats shots, he has a habit of bobbing his head to half-roll with punches and throw his arms up to deflect anything else that may be coming for him.Thompson used his kicking to damage Hendricks from far away, while also pushing him to the cage where he quickly dispatched the former champion.
In this fight, you could tell something about Hendricks’ explosiveness was dramatically different. He wasn’t as aggressive, and had been pieced up rather effortlessly by Thompson.
As Hendricks continues to adapt to the increasing troubles of maintaining his weight as well as remaining relevant in the ever-changing UFC roster, Hendricks must deal with life post IV ban, which he says is to blame for his recent lackluster performances. Whether his alleged use of PEDs is also to blame for his performances have yet to be confirmed. He has had success in his most recent fight against Hector Lombard at 185 pounds, and his fans hope to see the resurgence of yet another fallen king.