The way ex-UFC welterweight champ Johny Hendricks sees it, it’s only fair to work his way back to another fight with Robbie Lawler, the man who took his belt.
“It is a risk, but I know that when I was injured, Robbie went out there and he fought, and that’s what I’m going to do,” Hendricks told MMAjunkie Radio on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the UFC announced a change in plans to its schedule and bounced Lawler (25-10 MMA, 10-4 UFC) from a scheduled trilogy fight with Hendricks (16-3 MMA, 11-3 UFC), who will now face Matt Brown (19-12 MMA, 12-6 UFC) at UFC 185, which takes place March 14 at Dallas’ American Airlines Center.
Lawler’s rep on Tuesday told MMAjunkie the champion’s busy schedule in 2014 prompted the need for time off before his first title defense. That leaves Hendricks with the unenviable task of fighting an opponent who could take him out of immediate contention for the title.
This past March, Hendricks and Lawler engaged in an all-out slugfest for the welterweight title left vacant by now-retired champ Georges St-Pierre. After five rounds, Hendricks won via unanimous decision. Lawler then worked his way back into the title picture with wins over Brown and Jake Ellenberger, and this past month, he earned a split-call win over Hendricks to avenge his loss and win the belt.
Now, Lawler, who fought four times this past year, is stepping on the brakes. But that’s no bother to Hendricks, who admired his two-time opponent’s grit after their first meeting.
“(Brown and Lawler) had an exciting, tough fight, and Robbie won, and boom – he got a title shot again,” he said. “(Lawler) surpassed those same guys, and that’s what I’m going to try to do.
“He wants to take a little break? Then guess what: I’ll earn my way back, hopefully get through Matt Brown, and when that happens, it’s me and Robbie. If he wants me to work to it, I will do that.”
Of course, there are a lot of things that could go wrong with Hendricks’ plan. For one, he’s not the only welterweight who could potentially claim the next title shot. Canadian standout Rory MacDonald (18-2 MMA, 9-2 UFC) was promised a title shot against the winner of Hendricks vs. Lawler 2, only to see the UFC change its mind and book the rubber match.
MacDonald is now scheduled to fight Hector Lombard (35-4-1 MMA, 4-2 UFC) in April at UFC 186, and if he’s successful, and more importantly impressive, he could steal Hendricks’ opportunity.
“You’re always worried about that,” Hendricks said. “I was worried about that; I had to do the same thing (when working my way to a title shot).
“Don’t get me wrong. After this fight, hopefully I have solidified myself ahead of (MacDonald). And that’s what it’s all about. You’re only as good as your last fight, and I’ve got to go out there and make sure I put on a good fight, and I’ve got to make sure I get my hand raised.”