The UFC is notoriously ruthless when it comes to matchmaking for ex-champions on the decline, preferring to let up-and-coming prospects put them out to pasture and build their resume. Couple that with the recent crackdown on fighters that fail to make the appropriate weight when it comes time to step on the scales and you’ve got one fighter in a very, very difficult position indeed.
Johny Hendricks has racked up five losses in his seven fights since capturing Welterweight gold in an instant classic opposite Robbie Lawler back in early 2014 and has managed to miss weight in three of those fights, in two different weight-classes (alongside a cancelled fight due to weight cut-related issues). His only victories since were both decisions against a 34 year-old Matt Brown who hasn’t looked “Immortal” for a little while now and a 39 year-old Hector Lombard who was already on a two-fight losing streak. That is without doubt one of the quickest and harshest falls from grace in recent memory.It was hard to watch Hendricks crumbling under the pressure of Tim Boetsch’s relentless uppercuts this weekend and remember that this was the same man who terrorised the welterweight division for 5 years with NCAA Division 1 wrestling skills and a lethal left hook. It was hard to remember that this was the same man who crushed Jon Fitch in twelve seconds and retired Georges St.Pierre after a fight that the majority of analysts agreed he should have won.
The only explanation for his steep decline is that the four wars he had with Carlos Condit, GSP and Lawler each took a piece of his soul away. He went through a combined hour and a half of pure hell with these three men in the space of a little under two years and those fights no doubt put a lot of mileage on him. That isn’t to say he’s finished and should be cut from the roster, he’s just got to be very careful about his next move in a new, cost-cutting version of the UFC.
Hendricks’ first choice will probably be what weight class to choose and despite coming in 3lbs over, Middleweight is still going to be the logical choice for someone clearly not capable of making 170lbs any more and far too small to compete at light-heavyweight. Hendricks is still a well-known name in MMA circles regardless of his recent struggles and should be matched up with someone in a similar boat as the curtain-jerker for Demetrious Johnson’s record-breaking title defense later in the year.
Give him one last chance against Rashad Evans, he’s coming off a loss in his middleweight debut and two losses prior to that. Seeing as Hendricks has discussed retirement before and Evans is finding it harder to pass a medical, both men will see this as a winnable fight and the loser would most likely hang up their gloves in their post-fight interview.
This, along with a co-main event with title implications somewhere, would give us something the UFC has routinely failed to deliver, an interesting undercard for a Mighty Mouse fight. These two fighters going toe-to-toe will help draw a few eyes to a fighter in desperate need of attention and a post-fight retirement speech always generates a feel-good moment for any event. Given their recent records, both men will know that another loss would probably give them a pink-slip anyway.
If Hendricks wins, it’s unlikely he’s going to make a big impact on a stacked division like middleweight but he could earn one last chance to reinvent himself at 185. However, He’s been vocal about considering retirement for some time now so it’s possible he might choose to go out on a high note and call it a day anyway. If he manages to miss weight again then regardless of the outcome of the fight, he’ll most likely be sent packing and rightly so.
All in all, Hendricks doesn’t have a lot of options left these days and perhaps the best one would be to try and end his career on his own terms. A fight with Rashad Evans would give him the chance to do so while still being a marketable, competitive fight and serving a greater purpose for the UFC. Everyone’s a winner, except of course the loser.