People Issue

Johny Hendricks Just Might Be the Man to Dethrone the UFC's Reigning Welterweight Champ

In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 30 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Stanton Stephens. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here .

Johny Hendricks picked an odd time to decide he would make a career out of fighting: the moment he woke up after getting knocked out cold.

Hendricks won national wrestling titles at Oklahoma State University in 2005 and 2006, but he lost the last match of his senior year. He'd always planned to try out for the Olympics and make a career of coaching. But the defeat shook his confidence. A devout Christian, he prayed over what to do with his life. As if in answer, Team Takedown, a company that recruits wrestlers for mixed martial arts, approached him.

"I laughed about it," he says. "I said, 'There's no way I'd be any good at it.'"

Team Takedown disagreed. They flew him to Las Vegas to train. He didn't like it and returned home to Stillwater. Two weeks later, though, they invited him back. For some reason, he agreed -- and was rewarded with being on the wrong end of a K.O.

"Once I got knocked out, I was like, 'That's the worst possible thing that can happen,'" he says. "'You know what? It's not that bad.'"

He scrapped in a few regional promotions before signing with Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2009. After he knocked out Amir Sadollah in his UFC debut, he was so elated he ran around the cage with a triumphant smile, endearing him to UFC fans and earning him the nickname "Happy Beard Guy." The next year, he moved to Mansfield, where he and his wife are raising two daughters with a third due any day now.

Supplementing his grappling prowess with a legendary southpaw punch, Hendricks quickly amassed a 15-1 record. He's now next in line to challenge welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre, who has successfully defended his title eight times since 2008. The two will meet November 16 at UFC 167. St-Pierre's boxing coach, Freddie Roach, has dismissed the 29-year-old Hendricks as a one-note fighter -- that left cross -- and mocked the former wrestler for not taking to the mat enough.

Which hardly bothers Hendricks. He likes keeping an opponent on edge with the uncertainty of whether he'll go for a takedown or a haymaker. That, and he knows his role: He's an entertainer. He wants the crowd engaged. "If I can keep the audience on edge, I can keep my opponent on edge," he says.

Anyway, who needs more than a devastating left?

"In college, there were only a couple moves that I hit," he says. "But I hit them good enough that even though you know I'm going to take you down with that, doesn't mean you're going to stop it."