Nursing a knee injury that forced him to pull out of his Light Heavyweight Championship opportunity against Jon Jones just before the controversial UFC 151 was scrapped, Hendo is currently visiting Singapore to lend his experience to Evolve MMA’s fighters. Playing down his rumoured number one contendership bout against Lyoto Machia at the end of the year, he insists that his knee is still far from a hundred percent.
Written and photographed by Andre Frois
How’s Singapore been to you so far?
It’s very hot here, much hotter than where I came from. No, it’s more humid than hot.
Who's your favourite training partner?
I train with quite a lot of guys and everybody gives me something different. I do like training with (Tarec) Saffiedine. When we go into training camps, we bring even more guys in to train with us.
Are there any promising young fighters coming out of Team Quest that we should be keeping an eye on?
Well, Saffiedine definitely has a big future ahead of him and is the most talented. We do also have a couple of young guys in our gym who are showing great potential.
How did it feel to knock out the legendary Fedor Emelianenko?
It felt good! Fedor had been in the business a long time and was definitely one of the best, but I took the fight because, in my mind, nobody is invincible. He’s a great striker, hits very hard and is very tough, so I didn’t think that I would knock him out. I was surprised that I managed to control him in the cage.
Was that your most memorable win?
I also find some of my other fights pretty memorable, like my win over Wanderlei (Silva) for my second Pride (Middleweight) belt. The fight against Bisping (which won Henderson Knockout of the Year 2009) is also another one that the fans definitely remember.
What was your toughest defeat to come back from?
I had a couple of losses in Pride. The loss to Anderson (Silva) was definitely something. My loss to Rampage (Quinton Jackson, just prior to losing to Anderson) was devastating too.
Do you think Anderson Silva will ever be beaten during the rest of his fight career?
Anderson is definitely a tough guy. He’s very experienced, he’s got a very unique style and he’s somebody who’s not afraid to strike or go for takedowns. I thought Chael (Sonnen) stood the best chance of beating him, but Chael fought very differently the second time round and seemed almost apprehensive, which you can’t be against an opponent like Anderson.
Do you think Stephan Bonnar believed he stood a chance against Anderson Silva?
I wouldn’t know, but I didn’t give him much of a chance against Anderson. Bonnar didn’t have the right style to go up against Anderson, plus he’s not exactly the best wrestler.
Do you believe that Jon Jones has loopholes in his game?
I think Jones is a bit sloppy on his feet. He definitely has openings in his game, but it’s hard to get to those openings because of the distance that he likes to keep during a fight. The key to fighting Jones is to pressure him and not wait for opportunities. Any fighter who’s in the cage against Jones needs to be offensive.
Talk us through your injury and the events that led to you pulling out of UFC 151?
I hurt my knee defending a takedown. I popped it, but didn’t think that I’d hurt it real bad. It was wobbly and I tried to rehab it, but I went to see the doctors and they told me that it was more serious than I’d thought.
Was the sequence of events leading to the cancellation of UFC 151 emotional for you?
It was the first time that I had to pull out of a fight in my 15 years! I didn’t expect the entire card to be cancelled though. I’d think they would at least be able to find somebody to fight Jones. Jones was in shape so I was surprised that the event didn’t go through.
What are your thoughts on Lyoto Machida as a possible opponent for number one contendership of the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship?
Lyoto’s tough. He definitely has a different style from the average guy. You can’t let him run around and have to corner him, but Shogun (Mauricio Rua) showed that he can be knocked out.
You’re going to control him in the clinch, right? And work on stuffing his takedowns and defending against his jiu-jitsu and ground ’n’ pound?
I’m not afraid to be on the ground with him. I’m not going to let him run around and score some points. I’m not afraid of his power either, though I’m looking out for his speed. He can be very quick, especially with that lead left. I’m definitely going to watch lots of videos of him.
How’s your knee doing at the moment? Are you disappointed that you might not get Jon Jones straight away when your knee is fully healed?
My knee is still healing slowly and I’m not back in training yet. Well, if I have to fight Machida first, I will.
Who’s your money on if the super-fight between Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre goes through?
GSP has been quite gun-shy since he got knocked out by Matt Serra. He has decent striking and is very good at getting people on their backs, but I don’t see him being able to get on the inside of Silva (Silva’s striking guard). Then again, I could be wrong.
Cain Velasquez or Junior Dos Santos?
I like how he fights, but when he last went up against Dos Santos, he pretty much forgot all his wrestling. This time round, I think he needs to put Dos Santos on his back to get an advantage. He has to not be afraid to mix it up. I don’t think he’d win a striking war with Dos Santos, but he’s definitely smarter after getting knocked out by him once.
Obama or Romney?
(laughs) I think we probably... definitely need a change.
Which weight classes in the UFC do you find the most exciting?
Probably the top three weight classes? 185? 205?
What’s your secret to having such a malleable weight?
I think achieving a desired weight is mostly mental, though some people can’t because they feel weak or feel small at a certain point.
Now that you’re competiting at a comfortable 205 pounds, what are your favourite junk foods to indulge in?
I definitely have a sweet tooth. I like sushi – I eat everything! I especially like ice cream too.
Looking back, how have you evolved as a martial artist since your days as an Olympic wrestler?
I’ve grown with the sport, back when mixed martial arts consisted of all sort of martial artists like wrestlers and kick-boxers. I learned along the way and always kept an open mind. As a wrestler, I didn’t learn many new things, so it got boring after a while. It was natural or me to transition to MMA, where there are always new skills to learn.
How might your classmates remember you?
I was always quiet in school. They probably remember me as the wrestler, as I was always wrestling all throughout school.
Do any particular fighters get on your nerves?
Yeah, guys that are a bit cocky. I pretty much respect everybody, except when someone proves not to be worthy of that respect. Some guys also don’t represent the sport very well.
What do you think of Jason "Mayhem" Miller’s recent antics?
I haven’t been following ever since the getting naked in a church thing.
He thrashed Ariel Helwani’s talk show set then walked off.
Ah, he probably got off his meds. I couldn’t tell you why he would do that, but maybe he needs to change his meds.
What about Chael?
Chael and I have been good friends for a long time! He’s funny!
Do you think trash talking is sometimes part of the business and part of building up a fight?
To some guys, yes, trash talking is part of their thing. For me, I rather let my actions do the speaking than say something and have to back it up. The fans seem to quite like trash talk, but for certain, the better man always wins.
What’s behind a solid punch?
For me, it kinda came naturally, but I had to slowly learn where to put it and kind of find the right places, as well as work on the right timing. I really just work on it by sparring with mitts. I use my whole body when I punch. A good hook uses the upper body, with the turning hips, and is driven by the legs. It’s the dynamics of it all. Spar more, train more, work on your technique more. There are definitely mechanics behind it, but some natural ability is also required.
Who’s a tough striker to go up against?
Fedor hit harder than I’d imagined and is a little bigger than I thought too. Shogun could take a good punch. Every time I hit him, he didn’t let up.
What’s the secret to your stamina and longevity?
I have to be smart with training and careful not to beat my body up too bad. I keep track of my heart rate. I’m very religious with my cross training. When I go into a training camp, I tell myself that I need to do better than in the previous camp. I put everything into my repetitions and cardio. These two things are important because a lot of fighters lack endurance and can get tired, especially against guys like Shogun. Rest is just as important, as well as keeping a good diet.
What do you think about MMA in Asia?
It’s exciting, what’s going on here. The sport is slowly picking up steam, as well as throughout the whole world. MMA in Asia is still behind the U.S. in terms of popularity, kinda like how MMA in the U.S. was five or six years ago, but it’s definitely growing faster here than in the States.