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UFC 167: Oklahoma State's Johny Hendricks took a chance, and it paid off

Former Cowboy wrestling star has shot up the MMA ranks, and faces Georges St-Pierre Saturday night for the UFC welterweight championship.
by Trent Shadid Published: November 13, 2013
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Six years ago, Johny Hendricks decided he needed a change.

A two-time national champion wrestler at Oklahoma State, Hendricks was burned out on the sport he'd become known for.

So fresh off receiving his college degree in 2007, he signed with Team TakeDown, moved from Oklahoma to Las Vegas and began his career as a mixed martial arts fighter.

“I just took a chance,” Hendricks said. “I think it's a dying thing these days, taking a chance. People don't always do it because they have comfort. And, you know, there might be something else out there you can do that makes you happier than the situation you're in.”

Little did Hendricks know, fighting would be a perfect fit for him.

He's compiled a 15-1 record while making a quick ascent through the UFC welterweight ranks.

Now the division's No. 1 contender, Hendricks will enter the octagon on Saturday night to fight for the UFC welterweight championship against longtime titleholder Georges St-Pierre.

“I always thought I could be pretty good, and it turns out fighting has made me happy,” Hendricks said. “But you don't know the future. It's always about how much pride and how much energy you're going to put into something.”

One source of pride for Hendricks is his Oklahoma roots.

Although he now fights out of Dallas, where he has built quite a fan base since Team TakeDown relocated there in 2010, Hendricks says he'll always feel a strong connection to his home state.

“To be a world champion from Oklahoma is something that really pushes me,” said Hendricks, who graduated from Edmond Memorial in 2002. “I live in Texas now, and I really appreciate all my fans there, so I claim both of them. But my heart is always in Oklahoma.”

A bond built on championships

Leaving behind a chance at Olympic wrestling for an MMA career wasn't the first time Hendricks had struck gold with a life-changing decision.

The same happened for him when he accepted a scholarship to wrestle at powerhouse Oklahoma State.

“When we recruited Johny, I'm not sure his first choice was us,” OSU coach John Smith recalled. “But by the end we were able to swing him our way, and that's always meant a lot to me. I knew we were getting a good kid, and I didn't know what he was capable of doing at the time, but it was a real joy to work with him from the beginning.”

While at OSU, Hendricks became a four-time All-American and two-time national champion. The Cowboys also thrived as a team, winning four national titles.

“He really bought into our program and made a big difference in it,” Smith said. “His time here as a starter, we won four straight championships, and a lot that was because of his leadership.”

Hendricks and Smith remain close.

“He's the type of guy that's the reason you coach,” Smith said. “Not because of his ability or his skill level, but because of his passion for being the best. Through our time here, we built a lot of trust in each other and we won a lot. For that reason, we've got a lifelong bond and share some great memories together.”

Hendricks returns to Stillwater frequently while preparing for fights. For him, the opportunity to work out with some of the best college wrestlers in the country is a valuable training asset.

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by Trent Shadid
Copy Editor
Trent Shadid is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He was born and raised in Weatherford, Okla., and attended Weatherford High School. Before joining The Oklahoman, he spent two seasons as an assistant wrestling coach at Weatherford High...
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UFC 167

Main event: Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks for the UFC welterweight title.

When: 9 p.m. Saturday

Where: Las Vegas

TV: Pay-per-vew

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