When he retired from MMA this past summer, Johny Hendricks had no intention of fighting again in any combat sport — especially not just a few months later. But after WBKFF came calling, bare-knuckle boxing piqued his interest.
Hendricks meets short-notice replacement Dakota Cochrane on Friday night in the main event of WBKFF 1. The fight marks Hendricks’ bare-knuckle debut and is for the promotion’s middleweight title. Hendricks was expected to fight Brennan Ward, but Ward pulled out due to a contract dispute earlier this week.
“It sounds fun to me — that’s the only way I can explain it,” Hendricks told Bloody Elbow. “I love boxing. Obviously, my hands are my better attribute. … It’s only 10 minutes of fighting, and it’s all hands.”
For Hendricks, bare-knuckle boxing is a fresh idea — he feels motivated again. But during the last few fights of his MMA career, it was the opposite of that: he got tired of it. He didn’t want to fight anymore, and regrets not retiring sooner.
“I got to a point where I couldn’t care less,” Hendricks said. “Everybody was excited to be in the UFC, and I was like, ‘Meh.’ I liked the workers and stuff — everything was good. But it just came to a point where you fight hard, you lose, you should win, you lose. You lose a couple fights that you should’ve won, what do you do? It hurt me a little bit. I’m putting my life on the line, and you lose fights — why would you try hard?”
Hendricks, who won the UFC welterweight title in 2014 and lost it the same year, fought for the last time just over a year ago. He fell to rising middleweight Paulo Costa by second-round TKO, extending his losing skid to two in a row. His lone win in his last six fights was a decision over Hector Lombard.
A week before he got the call to fight at WBKFF 1, he was sparring some of the younger fighters he trained, and he felt the itch — something many retired MMA fighters feel at one point or another after stepping away from the sport.
“I had to take a step back,” Hendricks recalled. “After one of the sparring sessions, I was shaking. I wanted to hit with everything I had.
“They looked at me and they were going, ‘Why are you shaking?’ I just told them my body wanted to unload on them. I go, ‘I wanted to fight you guys.’ I sparred them many times, and I never had that happen to me. My hands were shaking. I was just itching to go.”
A week later, he accepted the WBKFF fight, because it is different. It isn’t the same routine he did as an MMA fighter for over a decade. Hendricks expects to perform better than in his final few MMA fights because to him, it’s new and exciting — he’s actually looking forward to it. And it’s just boxing, which he believes is his best attribute.
Hendricks signed a three-fight deal with WBKFF, and believes we could see the “Bigg Rigg” of old — the guy who arguably beat Georges St-Pierre in 2013, the guy who knocked everyone out, the guy who won the 170-pound title in a “Fight of the Year” affair — on Friday night.
“I’m excited to see what I can become,” Hendricks said.
Hendricks expects to perform better than he has in a long time because he finally has his weight cut in check — he’s filling in the crack in his shield, Hendricks said. Weight issues forced Hendricks up to 185 pounds in 2017, where he registered a 1-2 record. Ahead of his bare-knuckle debut, Hendricks hired famed nutritionist George Lockhart, whose team has helped Hendricks for the past three weeks. Hendricks vs. Cochrane is set for 185 pounds, but Hendricks wants to get back down to 170 within a year.
“I’m not satisfied,” Hendricks said. “I was [when I retired], but now that being out of it for 10 months and not really doing anything, not working for anything, not having any goals set, I gotta have goals, I gotta have wants. [I want] to show that I can still be the best fighter around.
“If you’re in my way, I’m gonna punch you. I’m gonna knock you out. I’m gonna walk through you in any way I can to get to my goal.”
In preparation for the fight, Hendricks punched heavy bags without gloves — that’s one of the things he changed up from a regular MMA camp. As for the rest, you’ll have to wait and see; Hendricks said he can’t give away all his secrets.
“One of my first coaches, he was a bare-knuckle world champ in Thailand,” Hendricks said. “He taught me a lot of ways to build my strength up when I first got into MMA. Looking back, I started using them, and now I’m continuing to use them.”
Hendricks said the lack of gloves doesn’t actually change much.
“It’s not that much different than a four-ounce glove,” Hendricks said. “The only difference is with a glove, you can throw harder, because you have that inch of padding. That inch of glove doesn’t do much, I promise you that. It’s almost identical to MMA, except we can’t do takedowns and we can’t do kicks. But I wanted to work on my hands, I wanted to focus on that. This has given me a reason to do that.”
However, Hendricks did bring up one difference: how much more careful fighters have to be without gloves on. He said the most important thing once he steps into the ring on Friday is being accurate — otherwise, he might end up with a broken hand … or two.
“In MMA, if you misjudge and hit the top of his head, you have the inch of padding to protect you. Well, guess what — in this, if you’re not very accurate, bink, broken hand, bink, broken hand. You gotta try to fight through two broken hands. And I’ve been there, done that.”
WBKFF 1 takes place at Capser Events Center in Casper, Wyoming. In the co-headliner, Chris Leben meets Phil Baroni for the light heavyweight title.