Johny Hendricks is counting the days to a fight that could make him the most distinctive face of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
If he takes a fight-week break to ease the pressure by pursuing nighttime hunting of coyotes and hogs in Texas, well, that’s simply the skilled wrestler with the devastating left hand and distinctive bushy beard being himself.
Hendricks’ bout against veteran Robbie Lawler on March 15 in Dallas is for the UFC’s welterweight title left vacant by Georges St-Pierre.
In November, St-Pierre escaped with a narrow decision over Hendricks, who beat up St-Pierre in the better part of two rounds, pounding the champion and later insisting he won the fight.
St-Pierre a month later took an indefinite hiatus, citing personal reasons and later airing disagreement with the UFC over the way the drug-testing program is run.
Hendricks (15-2) said he feels like the champion even if the belt isn’t his yet.
“It does, I just fought a five-round fight, and this is another one … it’s like my title defense,” Hendricks said. “There’s so much I’m going to learn from this turnaround before how soon I can fight again. Three-round fights are a little easier … ”
He said the St-Pierre fight “took nothing” from him, calling St-Pierre’s hiatus a blessing in disguise, because now he can fight sooner and land a fight in his hometown.
Hendricks assesses his punishment of St-Pierre “had a little bit to do,” with the extended layoff. “He was hurt. But who knows. He doesn’t explain much. He said he needed a little break.
“Or, if I lose, he might just come back. It’s all speculation. There’s a part of me that wants to think I had something to do with it.”
Lawler (22-9) gained the title shot by beating top-five welterweight Rory MacDonald of Canada, who responded Feb. 22 with an impressive victory over submission specialist Demian Maia in Las Vegas.
Hendricks said he’s reviewed about a dozen of Lawler’s fights and said he’s aiming for a finish because of his edge in wrestling.
The card being in Dallas is setting up as a coronation for the former Oklahoma State champion wrestler.
“It’ll be nice, being so close to my home and family,” he said. “I’ll have my own vehicle there, and if I want to go hunt one night, hog or coyote, I can. It’s an option for being home.”
Hendricks said he plans “everything by the seat of my pants … but if I feel good and have some down time Tuesday or Wednesday night, yeah, I’ll,” go hunting. “You have to do this and that fight week. If I have a chance, I might say, ‘I’ve got an hour, let’s go shoot some hogs.’ ”
Coyotes, said Hendricks, are overrunning areas of Texas and becoming a big nuisance, killing family pets. One locale is Paris, Texas.
“They’ve very smart animals, that’s why it’s such a treat to hunt them,” Hendricks said.
While hogs can become trophies, what becomes of a dead coyote?
“I’ll try to skin it, that way I can get a couple of fur mounts,” Hendricks said. “I want to make a blanket out of them. I’ll take it to someone. They’re pretty, very soft.”
Hendricks was asked whether he could Tweet out a photo of himself cuddled in a coyote blanket.
“After this fight, I’m all set up to go coyote hunting, to enter a couple of tournaments, definitely,” he said.
In regard to the octagon, should Hendricks get the belt by beating Lawler, he’ll probably next fight the March 15 Carlos Condit-Tyron Woodley winner.
And with the void of St-Pierre and former champion Anderson Silva, the new face of the UFC beckons.
“Anytime you can be the face of the UFC is so huge, a great honor, and I would do everything I could to keep it that way,” Hendricks said.