As a high-level wrestler, former NCAA Division I wrestling national champion Johny Hendricks has cut weight for competition for years. The elite UFC welterweight is also the type of fighter that places a lot of confidence in his power and strength.
So, the former 170-pound king has never been afraid to balloon up in weight due to heavy weight lifting and eating in between fights. Once training camp time came around, Hendricks would diet down, work out hard, and then, finally, dehydrate himself to the extreme to shed enough water weight to make the mark on the scales.
He’d had great difficulty making weight, before, after particularly brutal weight cuts, but he thought he had it all under control. That is until the lead-up to UFC 192, this past fall.
Hendricks went through his usual routine and thought he was on pace to make weight before facing his old college rival Tyron Woodley. Instead, Hendricks developed a kidney stone — perhaps at least partially attributable to years of repeated, intentional and extreme dehydration to make weight — was hospitalized and forced out of the fight.
Hendricks lost a chance to fight for the world title he so badly wants back, and was told by the UFC that he either needed to get a new nutrition coach or that he would be headed up to middleweight. For the 5-foot-8 Hendricks, the middleweight class would be a land of giants, and he decided to get serious about his nutrition and health, year-round.
To help him, Bigg Rigg hired Lou Giordano, who oversaw Eddie "Truck" Gordon’s physical and health transformation. The nutrition and exercise expert brought a markedly different approach to weight than most fighters, including Hendricks, are used to, but meeting Hendricks at such a low point helped make the fighter more receptive to Giordano’s approach.
Instead of coming up with a plan to "cut" weight — that is, to dehydrate and rehydrate a fighter immediately before and after weigh-ins — Giordano’s philosophy is to maintain a low, healthy weight, every day of the year so that stepping on the scales isn’t so arduous, and so someone like Hendricks can fight with full energy.
"Meeting Johny when I did absolutely made a difference," Giordano told FOX Sports, this week.
"I feel that the best time to listen is when what you think has always worked, stopped working. He worked with a nutrition coach before, he did it on his own. Everyone is guilty sometimes of trying something and if it works, not thinking too much about it, afterwards. Heading into the Woodley fight, he probably thought, ‘this worked a few months ago, so I don’t have to worry.’ But there could have been a lot of changes that happened since then.
"So, he was hospitalized, and I think that light and bell went off in Johny’s head. He was very receptive to my way."
Lou’s way included getting rid of the long-ingrained idea that a fighter should try to walk into the cage as big as possible, despite being sucked down the day prior at weigh-ins. "My approach actually is a contradiction to what most fighters do, yes. And one of my biggest hurdles in talking to fighters has been to get them to understand that there is no advantage to going in to the fight so big.
"I’m not a fan of dehydration at all. The plan is to keep fighters as hydrated as possible. So, even though we might use a sauna, tub, all of that, we go into them fully hydrated. If you go in smaller than your opponent, but at 100 percent because you didn’t dehydrate yourself and you ate well the whole way in, and your opponent is bigger but is only at, say, 60 percent, you have the advantage."
To get his point across, Giordano needed to first listen to Hendricks, but then to speak to him frankly. "I’m never going to sugarcoat things," he said.
"Johny told me that he was walking around at about 205 pounds in between fights. We talked about how we don’t ever need to be more than 185 pounds, walking around. He agreed. That’s the beauty of it — Johny realized that he didn’t know everything, and that he needed to re-learn some things. And, for my part, I have to admit that it is going to take me a little longer to get familiar with his body."
Hendricks fights next at UFC 196 in Las Vegas against fellow top contender Stephen Thompson. The pay-per-view card co-main event will likely decide which welterweight takes a huge step up towards a championship fight.
Giordano is heading out soon from his East Coast home to visit Hendricks in Texas for two weeks. Then, the nutrition coach will stay with Team Hendricks during fight week.
There’s a lot of work yet to do, but everything Giordano has seen and heard from Hendricks’ camp is encouraging, thus far. "Everybody is different. But he’s committed, he’s taking responsibility for himself, and I’ve begun teaching him how to do things for himself," he continued.
"Johny stays in good contact with me, sending me photos of everything he’s eating. And, from what his two main coaches tell me, his energy levels are great, his speed is a little better. And, we’re not even down to 170 pounds, yet. He’s only going to get faster and better."