Former UFC welterweight champion Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks lost to talented upstart Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 200 on Saturday night.
Hendricks hasn’t had the best time inside or outside of the Octagon of late. His ailing “Bigg Rigg Steakhouse” business in Midlothian, Texas, closed amid financial troubles and poor reviews. Now, his unanimous decision defeat to The Ultimate Fighter winner Gastelum means Hendricks is on his first losing streak of his MMA career, having been decimated within four minutes by Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson the fight previous.
Bigg Rigg’s fight on Saturday night was his chance for redemption and to regain his footing as one of the best welterweights in the game. But, it got off to a poor start as he failed to make weight by a quarter of a pound on Friday, despite the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) authorizing the use of early weight cuts to help fighters with natural rehydration after a draining weight cut without the use of an IV.
Every avid follower of MMA will know of Gastelum’s abilities and huge potential as a UFC welterweight. Just 24-years-old, he had already picked up wins over reputable names such as Uriah Hall, Nate Marquardt and Jake Ellenberger. But, was he ready to take on the big step up in fighting a man who was king of his weight division less than two years ago?
Hendricks certainly didn’t think so. In fact, he committed a big MMA faux pas by commenting on previous sparring sessions with Gastelum from when they had trained together in the past. "He likes to move forward,” Hendricks told Submission Radio. “That’s something that I can definitely use against him. And the way that he throws punches—I’m not gonna get into too much of the details because some of it is my gameplan—but the way that he does certain things, I have figured out, I’ve watched the footage and I think I’ve figured out how to use that against him.
“I really, really hope that he is gonna fight that way, but I’ve also prepared for a guy who knows that I can hit hard, that knows that he’s sparred me before and it didn’t go well. So what I’m thinking is that he might do a little bit of both, where he’s going to try to come out and see if he can set up himself to be a forward fighter and come forward. And once I do what I’m supposed to do and once I do all that, then he will turn into a guy that might try to throw a couple of punches and run."
Gastelum was less than impressed by the actions of his former training partner. “It’s like, c’mon man,” Gastelum told MMAjunkie Radio. “You beat me up when I was one fight removed from ‘TUF’ and you were training to be a world champion. He’s saying I come forward all the time and it’s like, duh, that’s what a fight is.”
Just like when Michael Bisping regaled stories of his sparring sessions with Luke Rockhold ahead of their first fight, Hendricks’ comments lit a fire under his opponent.
Whether you can point to the poor weight cut or not, Hendricks simply couldn’t handle the pace pushed by Gastelum, who pressured his foe and landed numerous one-two combinations to unsettle Hendricks throughout. From the first round alone, Hendricks looked visibly worn. The Texas-based welterweight caught Gastelum with a couple of big punches in the second stanza. But, in the man, Hendricks was on the retreat as his quicker, sharper opponent continued to land jabs and stinging crosses to force him on the backfoot.
It was a clear decision win for the 24-year-old TUF winner, with Gastelum earning a unanimous scoreline of 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 going in his favour. With that, Gastelum moves to 7-2 in the UFC while Hendricks falls to 12-5 during his tenure in the promotion.
However, according to ESPN’s Brett Okamoto, Hendricks inexplicably blamed the judges instated by the NSAC for his shortcomings in his post-fight interview—despite Gastelum having the better of the fight throughout. “I'm kind of over fighting in Vegas. I love the people here but man it is what it is.”
It’s a quote which perfectly encapsulates the frustrating downturn in Bigg Rigg’s fortunes. You only have to look at the tweeted replies to Okamoto’s post to see what some MMA fans think of him.
To be fair, Hendricks has endured some questionable split decision losses in Las Vegas—namely in title fights against Robbie Lawler and Georges St-Pierre. In fact, Hendricks has never won a decision in Las Vegas, losing his other three-round fight against Rick Story.
But, to blame Saturday’s loss on poor judging screams of a man looking for excuses. Hendricks’ continuous struggle to make the 170lbs welterweight limit suggests his commitment isn’t at a place it should be and what’s next for him? If Hendricks can’t make the welterweight limit, does he move up a division and become a severely undersized middleweight? In stature, he’s already a small welterweight as it is.
There have been a number of excuses made by Bigg Rigg for his recent performances and weight issues. He has hired and fired nutritionist Mike Dolce. He has changed fight camp. But, now it’s time he took some accountability himself.
Hendricks appears to have lost the desire that made him an NCAA and a UFC champion in his esteemed sporting career. In fact, in an interview with the UFC’s Megan Olivi, he seems to have come to that conclusion in a roundabout way.
“I think I’ve got to take a step back and refocus,” he told Olivi. “It might be a month, two months, three months... Hell, I don’t know—decide if I want to fight or not. I love fighting. To get in that octagon makes me so happy, but to perform like that...
“I’m an idiot in that fight, is what it really boils down to. I’m an idiot in that fight and I go out there and look like shit. Do I still want to fight? Because that fight right there shows me that I don’t—but I do. What do I have to do to get that fire back? I don’t know. It’s disappointing when I know I could’ve won, I should’ve won, and I go out there and look like a pathetic newborn. We’ll see what’s next.”
It’s a rare glimpse of humility and self-reflection from Hendricks. But, at the same time, he can’t find it in himself to admit his opponent was the better man. Can he be trusted to judge what went wrong for himself? He’s had plenty of opportunities by now.
Incredibly, despite a number of poor weight cuts, this was only the first time he was forced to give up a percentage of his purse and fight at a catchweight. But, this is only two fights removed from a weight cut so bad he was hospitalised after suffering an intestinal blockage and a kidney stone attack while trying to get ready for his fight against incumbent welterweight title contender Tyron Woodley.
As mentioned before, it was less than two years ago when Hendricks was considered a top-level welterweight. He used his supreme wrestling skills to keep the fight standing to unleash his almighty left hand with reckless abandon. It’s now seven fights since Hendricks won by knockout.
That man is still in there somewhere. But, it’s now up to Hendricks himself to tackle the issues to help coax the Bigg Rigg of old back to the Octagon.
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