Johny Hendricks deserves all of the recognition he's gotten for his tremendous win over Robbie Lawler in an instant classic title fight, but it's always nice to spread the praise to the men behind the curtain. Steven Wright is Johny's striking coach, and therefore the man to blame for Hendricks' improved defense, combination punching, and kicking game, all of which were crucial in defeating Lawler. I was lucky enough to talk to Steven about his time with Team Takedown and training the new welterweight champion.
It was a long and winding road to where he is today. Wright's story includes such names as former UFC middleweight champion Dave Menne, star trainer and former champion kickboxer Duke Roufus, Glory heavyweight champion Tyrone Spong, and the ever-controversial Mo Lawal. After this long journey, Steven says that it was coincidence that brought him to Team Takedown, where he specializes in teaching wrestlers how to kickbox.
Team Takedown, with Marc Laimon, called [King Mo] and said, "Will you work with our guys?" Mo is a huge film student, travels to get himself better--a real student of the game. [Laimon] wanted him around the Team Takedown fighters. So Mo came down, worked with the guys for a work, and then afterwards Marc goes, "Man, we really need a striking coach. . . is there any way you know of a striking coach?" And Mo said, "There's my guy Steven in Minneapolis.
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After being convinced to move from Minnesota to Arlington, Texas, Wright became the new head striking coach for Team Takedown, just before Hendricks' fight with Mike Pierce.
He trains Hendricks to beat "the best versions" of his opponents by studying their footage and picking out their absolute best performances as game-planning guides. Wright added that his upmost goal is to make opponents pay whenever they move. That, he believes, is the reason that Saturday's main event was contested at such an unusually close range and relentless pace.
There's a reason why Johny and Robbie Lawler stayed in the pocket for 25 minutes the other day: because both guys are comfortable there. But that's where I teach. That's where I want him. I feel the best guys in the world--your Jose Aldos, your Anderson Silvas--those guys can stand right in front of you. . . everything you do is wrong when you're standing in front of them.
The result of that training was an incredible fight, and a brand new belt around Hendricks' waist. Still, Wright is modest, asserting that the grit and determination Hendricks showed had nothing to do with him.
There is a place that athletes go that coaches can't follow. . . It's that place where the athletes just take over and [say]: "I am not losing today." It is the most beautiful [thing] in the combat world when someone says that.
Wright said that his response to criticism of Hendricks' striking as limited after his string of knockout wins was an emphatic "thank you." He continued, "People don't realize how good he is, so when he gets the opportunity to show it, it'll be too late. We'll be champion of the world by then."
Of course, Hendricks isn't Wright's only student. He also revealed that he trained Rashid Magomedov for the former M-1 champ's UFC debut, and sharpened up Kelvin Gastelum's striking for his impressive win over Rick Story, which seemed a sure bet for UFC 171's fight of the night before Hendricks and Lawler stole the show. Wright also trains Jared Rosholt, one of the few heavyweight prospects in the UFC, who has an upcoming fight against Daniel Omielanczuk on April 11th. Wright believes that his fighter has some distinct advantages, and promises that we'll see a happy Jared Rosholt come April.
For more interviews like this, as well as in-depth fight analysis, check out the homepage of Heavy Hands, the only podcast dedicated to the finer points of face punching.