No matter how stunning Johny Hendricks' 12-second knockout of Jon Fitch was in December, stopping the second best welterweight on the planet won't mean much if the southpaw can't also defeat Josh Koscheck on Saturday.
"I have to win this fight to reach that goal [of becoming UFC champion]," said Hendricks, a 28-year-old two-time NCAA champion wrestler for Oklahoma State University, whose life essentially boils down to a never-ending series of high-bar scenarios (out-of-competition weight bumps not included).
Technically speaking, Hendricks needs a win in the co-main event of UFC's third event on Fox to be eligible for a shot at fighting for the welterweight strap.
Carlos Condit is next in line, of course, and he's chosen to sit out while Georges St. Pierre recovers from major knee surgery, which won't happen fully until later this year. So, presuming he wins, Hendricks (12-1) will find himself in the midst of a hurry-up-and-wait scenario.
Having won two in a row since St. Pierre busted up his face with jabs at UFC 124, Koscheck, 34, should provide a solid test for Hendricks at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J. The former title contender has the wrestling and athletic ability to, at a minimum, neutralize Hendricks' considerable game, which manifests through a mix of technical wrestling and power punches.
"If he wants to go back to it, if he wants to turn it into a wresting match, that's fine," Hendricks said. "I've prepared myself where that's one thing I want to see: How good my takedown defense is; how good my takedowns are. If I get to see it in this fight, great. If not, that's OK, too."
Koscheck hasn't suggested what his in-cage approach will be. Hendricks claims to be fine not knowing. Yet temptation must center on a knockout similar to the one that put away Fitch. Hendricks is self-aware enough to realize that honing in on a spectacular finish is the quickest way not to be on the right side of one.
"If the knockout comes, it comes," he said. "All I want to do is hit you about 85 percent [of potential power] and as quick as possible. The knockouts are great, but they don't happen very often. There's a reason why. If you go into a fight thinking you're going to knock someone out, for one, you're not going to train very hard. You're going to be so fixed on that by the second and third round you'll have lost confidence. By that time you may have lost the fight. I'm going in with all aspects of the fight open."
As the match has been broken down, most pundits allow Koscheck an advantage in overall speed. Hendricks, it turns out, is not overly impressed by Koscheck, suggesting he’s every bit as fast as his fellow wrestler.
The pair have been relatively quiet in advance of the fight. Hendricks is not a trash talker and Koscheck hasn’t shelled out the same sort of verbal malevolence reserved for most other opponents over the years.
Still, Hendricks pointed to a pair of barbs that stood out to him.
First, Koscheck’s contention that the win over Fitch was “a lucky punch.”
Second, that Hendricks is “fat.”
On the former, Hendricks sighs. He’s been telling people he’d rather have luck than no luck at all.
And on the latter, the point is conceded.
“I am fat,” he said. “I love my food.”
Especially the “junk” variety. Not to mention a few beers from time to time. All of which leads Hendricks, a true good ol’ boy, to blow up between bouts. He weighed 215 pounds following the Fitch bout, which is typical. But he’s in shape now and, as competition nears, that’s all that matters.
Hendricks knows how to win and make good on goals. He’s managed to do both his entire life. By knocking out Fitch "people got to know who I am,” he said, which was as much a milestone in his MMA career as it was a stepping stone toward his ultimate objective. Adding Koscheck to the list would get him that much closer.