When it comes to mixed martial artists, one would be hard-pressed to find a fighter more at peace before a high-profile bout than Johny Hendricks.
The former Oklahoma State University wrestling All-American isn’t one to get involved in verbal tit-for-tats with upcoming opponents. But heading into his Saturday night bout against Martin Kampmann, a UFC welterweight title eliminator, Hendricks is revealing a little hostility.
Hendricks’ hard feelings stem from Kampmann's vowing to knock him out and their days training together at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. Hendricks says that time became a source of his confidence.
“I’ve worked hard and I’ve beaten some tough dudes to get my title shot, and right now Johny Hendricks is in my way -- and I’m going to knock his a-- out to get it,” Kampmann said in a UFC 154 promotional clip.
“Hendricks punches with a lot of power and his punches come from different angles, but his biggest strength is his wrestling. I used to train with him in Vegas. I still feel I’m a lot slicker than him. My wrestling has come a long way, so I reckon I can beat his a-- and defend the takedown.”
Hendricks doesn’t hesitate to admit that Kampmann often got the better of him in sparring when they trained together at Xtreme Couture from 2007 until 2008. But that’s when Hendricks was a very raw fighter, an infant in MMA.
Hendricks' peaceful nature dissipates when he reflects on his experience training with Kampmann.
“I trained with him for about a year and a half,” Hendricks told ESPN.com. “The thing is that about the last half of the year he didn’t want to train with me anymore. That’s why I transferred over to Striking Unlimited.
“Once I got to a point where I could somewhat compete with these guys, they didn’t want to train with me anymore. They wanted to learn from me, learn my wrestling, but once I got to where I could learn from them, to strike with them, they didn’t give back like I thought they would.
“They stopped working out with me, and that’s when I went to Striking Unlimited, which was a blessing in disguise.”
When Hendricks entered MMA, striking was a glaring hole in his game. He took his share of lumps from more seasoned strikers -- Phil Baroni once knocked him out during a sparring session.
But at the new gym, Hendricks never felt anyone was out to take advantage of him. He’d dispense his wrestling knowledge while learning valuable stand-up techniques from teammates.
And Hendricks proved to be a quick learner. He absorbed everything -- from always being in the proper stance, to moving his head side to side and keeping his hands high, to accurately moving his feet.
These days Hendricks is as dangerous a fighter standing as he is wrestling. His ability to sit on his punches has made him one of the most feared strikers in the 170-pound division.
“When I started in MMA, I knew that I had to get people scared of me, scared of my hands,” Hendricks said. “I really needed to work on my stand-up; that way, people would start really fearing my hands. That would make the takedowns much easier.
“Now my stand-up has gotten to the point where I can choose which way I want to go -- standing or taking a fight to the ground. That’s a huge confidence builder.”
Hendricks will take a ton of confidence into his fight with Kampmann. And like his opponent, a large chunk of that confidence can be attributed to their days at Xtreme Couture.
Kampmann is a solid fighter, and Hendricks is aware of it. He has experienced Kampmann’s skills firsthand. But it’s that experience with Kampmann in the gym -- while observing his progress over the past few years -- that has Hendricks salivating when thoughts of their fight at Bell Centre in Montreal enter his mind.
“Kampmann’s at his peak,” Hendricks said. “When we trained together, he already knew everything about striking; he was already in the UFC fighting at 185. He’s added a few things, but not much. Once you hit your peak, it’s hard to add new stuff. But he is durable and he is tough.
“I was there with him when he started cutting down to 170; I’ve known this guy for a while. For him to sit there and say that I haven’t developed is just nonsense. I’m not the fighter I was two years ago or a year ago; I’m so much more advanced.”
Hendricks wants it known that his growth as a mixed martial artist isn’t limited to wrestling and striking. He is very confident in his submission game and would be overjoyed if he gets to show it off Saturday night, if the opportunity presents itself.
“I go to New York City and train with [Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt] Marcelo Garcia after every fight, and sometimes during training camp,” Hendricks said. “My jiu-jitsu is actually better than my stand-up. It’s just that so far I haven’t had the opportunity to show it.
“I want to show more of my [grappling] game, so that people know that I’m more than just a wrestler. I have a strong ground game and feel more comfortable with it. I’m improving constantly. I’m constantly learning all aspects. I haven’t hit my peak yet.”