Johny Hendricks is learning there is more than one way to prepare grilled chicken -- which might be the key to reclaiming a UFC title.
Hendricks (16-3) returns to the Octagon on Saturday for the first time since losing his UFC welterweight title to Robbie Lawler in December. He will meet Matt Brown (19-12) on a UFC 185 pay-per-view event at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
There has been one significant difference in Hendricks' preparation for this fight as opposed to all the others: his weight. Whereas he typically balloons to 215 pounds between bouts, Hendricks hasn't weighed more than 195 since his loss to Lawler.
For a man long accustomed to eating whatever he wants, Hendricks says keeping the weight down hasn't been easy. But he's discovered a new and exciting world of chicken rubs and seasonings, and that's helped him through it.
"My wife has found a way to make it fun," Hendricks told ESPN.com. "Every Sunday, we have a cookout and all we do is food preps for the week. You can season chicken in a lot of different ways that only adds 10 calories. There are so many different seasonings. So you can eat chicken for every meal, but they'll be different because of those seasonings."
All of this might sound trivial if you're unfamiliar with Hendricks' career, but it could be huge. The 31-year-old has struggled with recent weight cuts, and in five-round title fights against top opponents, it's contributed to the times he's come up short.
In March 2014, he initially missed weight prior to a title fight against Lawler at UFC 171, but ultimately hit the 170-pound limit in dramatic last-minute fashion. He went on to defeat Lawler via unanimous decision.
In his next appearance, Hendricks again battled through an extremely difficult weight cut ahead of a rematch against Lawler at UFC 181 in Las Vegas. He looked sluggish late in that fight and lost a split decision. Hendricks gives Lawler full credit for winning their December fight, but there's no way around it: The bad weight cut had a negative effect on Hendricks during that loss.
"It's a crapshoot," Hendricks said. "You're playing craps. That's exactly what you're doing. You might get lucky and roll a seven right off the bat, but you just don't know. You might show up 100 percent or you might show up 50 percent.
"This fight ... I never got over 195. I've been waking up [a week before the fight] at 189 pounds. That's usually what I've weighed on Wednesday, three days before a fight."
One might think, with his extensive background in wrestling, Hendricks would be used to the process of cutting weight -- but according to the two-time NCAA champion, making the 165-pound limit he used to wrestle at was very different.
"One thing that's nice about wrestling, that a lot of people don't understand, is you lose 10 pounds in practice," Hendricks said. "I would come in from offseason at 205 pounds, take two months to get to 175, and you would have to eat really bad, which I did, to not make weight. I ate bad, bad, and I could still keep my weight at 170, 175 pounds. In MMA, you make weight and then you can have six months before you have to make it again."
Beyond the weight issue, there don't seem to be many reasons to bet against Hendricks reclaiming a belt.
Brown, who is coming off an eight-month layoff due to a hand injury, says it's hard to speculate about the kind of fight he and Hendricks will have because the former champ is so capable of doing everything well.
"When you're fighting Johny, one of his best attributes is that he just knows how to win," Brown said. "He's got options to put it wherever he wants it, so you have to take that away from him.
"I know how to fight. I firmly believe if I fight any man in an unlimited, no-rules match, I'm going to destroy him. But when you have rules, a cage, judges, this and that, then it becomes more of a game, and he knows how to play that game very well."
Hendricks, who fights out of Arlington, Texas, turned down an option to wait for a UFC title fight against Lawler in July, opting to fight in Dallas instead. He did so thinking there was a chance he could do both (fight Brown in March and then for the title), but the UFC has since booked Lawler to a defense against Rory MacDonald on July 11.
Hendricks said that if he defeats Brown on Saturday, he would wait for his shot against the winner of Lawler-MacDonald.
"That's definitely the plan at this point," Hendricks said. "We took a fight and we lost the title bout in July, which is fine. Matt Brown is a tough dude and I have to focus on him. After this fight, if I win, then yes, I need to make sure I let my body do everything it needs to -- get my weight a little bit better under control -- and move forward from there."