Mac Engel

Mansfield fighter hungry for UFC title

Assuming you are not a fan of UFC, you likely do not know Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks, but pay attention, he is Obi-Wan Kenobi. He’s our only hope.

The little dude with a giant beard and a goofy grin is a major threat to a title and one of his sport’s second-biggest names.

On Saturday night in Las Vegas, Hendricks, who trains at an unassuming gym in Pantego, will fight Georges St. Pierre for the welterweight title in UFC 167.

Other than Anderson “Spider” Silva, there is no more established champion than the man known simply as GSP. Call me a sucker for a great story and the Little Guy over The Man, but Hendricks is going to pull off the UFC’s second-biggest upset of the year with a win Saturday night.

“Bigg Rigg” lives in Mansfield and is married with two girls, but he sounds and looks like a man who has just enough crazy to beat a man who is 24-2-0, with the losses considered one-hit wonders.

“I enjoy being punched,” Hendricks (15-1-0) said recently after a training session.

You what?

“This is fun. I fight for fun and my kids,” he said. “As soon as it starts to become anger, then it becomes a job.”

Hendricks was a two-time NCAA wrestling champion at Oklahoma State and then jumped into mixed martial arts. He is known as a brilliant wrestler with a devastating power punch.

Hendricks has slowly climbed the ladder and waited for this one chance to fight the best in his weight class, going so far as to all but beg after a recent win.

Fighting is like college football, you can’t just play the best team. Even in a league as unified as the UFC, where ostensibly pitting No. 1 vs. No. 2 should be easy, deciding who is second is always shrouded in politics and personal bias.

Hendricks realizes that if he loses, it could be a long while before he sees GSP again in the octagon. The safe bet for a man in his position is to assume this will be his only chance.

Should Bigg Rigg win, expect GSP to be his next fight. This is just the way the fight game works, be it boxing or UFC.

A life-size cutout of GSP hangs on the wall of Hendricks’ gym. This fight may not be an obsession, but it is close. When everything you’ve ever wanted professionally is right there, a little obsession is understandable.

“You’ve got a shot at the title, but if you are nervous, you lose. You don’t have a title,” he said. “This is all fun. Whenever I see Georges St. Pierre, you are going to see me grinning from ear to ear. I’m not going to be nervous. I’ve never been nervous for a fight, so why start now?”

The majority of big-time UFC fighters, from Carlos Condit to Chael Sonnen, believe Hendricks is the man to defeat the thinking-man’s fighter.

“This will be a five-round, dogfight,” UFC president Dana White told me in a phone interview this week. “He will have to be the best he’s ever been to beat GSP.”

If Hendricks wins, he will blow up as a UFC fighter. With the name (Bigg Rigg), the beard, the crazy eyes and grin, Hendricks has all the necessary attributes to become a name in a sport that, while increasingly popular, remains a niche.

Some of it is by chance, but mostly Hendricks’ success is a combination of skill and hunger. The man wants it, and he loves it.

“You don’t have to hate somebody, you go in there and fight because it is enjoyment,” he said. “I don’t want to dislike anybody I fight. I want to love every second I can take out of that fight. Some are shorter than others. For some reason, I love being in there.”

Saturday night in Las Vegas, Johny Hendricks will get his shot.

Don’t expect him to blow it.

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