Johny Hendricks wasn’t supposed to be the headliner at UFC Fight Night 82 this Saturday, but it’s a role he has no problem filling. Hendricks, the former welterweight champion, will fight five-time kickboxing world champion Stephen Thompson.
The main event was supposed to be a heavyweight championship rematch between champion Fabricio Werdum and former two-time champion Cain Velasquez, but Velasquez withdrew from the fight due to a back injury. He was replaced by Stipe Miocic, but Werdum pulled out of the fight as well, saying he is dealing with injuries of his own.
In any event, all eyes will be on Hendricks and Thompson, who will square off at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on national television the night before Super Bowl 50.
“I hate that Cain got hurt and that Werdum backed out, but I’m happy to take the main stage,” Hendricks said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “It’s Fox Sports 1, and when it’s Fox Sports 1, more people are going to pay attention. So what is it? A million viewers? You might not get that on Pay-Per-View. Now you’re going to (get that). Everybody’s going to get refocused.”
Indeed, not every UFC fan can afford a Pay-Per-View event, while other simply don’t want to pay the money. Having the fight on FS1 makes the event – and the sport – more inclusive.
“That’s exactly right,” Hendricks said. “That’s why I’m okay headlining one. You’re reaching more people, and the more people you can reach, the better off it is. Every day for me, I have to build my brand as well. And how do I build my brand? I get out there and use the UFC to try to push my brand. That’s really what I’m focusing on is how do I piggy-back off the UFC? Well, this is a perfect example.”
Hendricks (17-3) has lost two of his last four fights – both to quality opponents, both via split decisions. He lost to Robbie Lawler at UFC 181 and Georges St. Pierre at UFC 167. Thompson (11-1), meanwhile, has won five straight.
Both fighters are 32 years old. Neither has been knocked out in their MMA career.
“I really want to make sure that I go in there, I push my pace, I do what I need to do,” Hendricks said. “We know what he can do, but then again, you just have to sit there and say, ‘Can he handle what I’m going to throw at him?’ I know what he’s got to do to defeat me, but I know what I can do to defeat him.”