The path Johny Hendricks was traveling toward a welterweight title shot took an interesting turn on Monday night.
The Team Takedown fighter was in preparation for his upcoming bout with Jake Ellenberger at UFC 158 when news of Rory MacDonald's injury came across the news wire.
The talented young Canadian had suffered a neck injury during training and was forced out of his rematch with Carlos Condit in Montreal. This turn of events left the former interim welterweight champion without an opponent, and it was an opportunity the surging welterweight's camp wasn't about to pass up.
A phone call was made. A new bout agreement signed. And just like that, the fight between Hendricks and Condit became official.
Now "Bigg Rigg" will look to carry the momentum of a five-fight win streak into the Bell Centre against one of the division's most dangerous fighters. "The Natural Born Killer" has won five of his last six bouts, with the only loss over that stretch coming to champion Georges St-Pierre in their title unification bout at UFC 154.
Hendricks has made no secret of his hunt for a crack at the UFC welterweight title, and the former two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion believes the road to gold goes through Condit.
"Nothing against Jake Ellenberger, but Carlos Condit just came off a title fight," Hendricks told Bleacher Report. "This is his first fight back after holding the title for nine months. He was the interim champion and is coming off a fight with Georges St-Pierre. That fight is still fresh in people's minds and if I can put on a good performance against Condit, that should show everybody I'm ready for that title shot. That's what I'm looking at. If I can go out there and put on a performance where people say, 'Wait a minute...that's not how GSP did it,' then I know the next step can't be taken from me.
"Condit did well against GSP. If a couple of things change in that fight, he might have won. That being said, if he went out and put on a great performance against Rory MacDonald and ended up beating him, then they could possibly say that Carlos looked much better and let's give him another opportunity. Or that gives St-Pierre a chance to say Carlos Condit looked better than Johny and I want a rematch with him. That was my thought process. Now that I get to fight him, all the stipulations go to the end. If I lose...I lose. If I win...the next step is there."
While Hendricks was originally preparing to face a power-puncher with a strong wrestling base, his new opponent presents a different set of issues to deal with. Condit has one of the division's most diverse striking skill sets, and when his jiu-jitsu skills are factored in, the former WEC welterweight champion is easily one of the most well-rounded fighters in the 170-pound weight class.
Nevertheless, Condit has shown a weakness against wrestling in the past. But despite having one of the best wresting pedigrees in mixed martial arts, Hendricks is looking to test Condit in all areas of the fight game. The former wrestling standout from Oklahoma State University is looking to prove he deserves a title shot and believes this new matchup with Condit will solidify his place.
"Both Ellenberger and Condit present their problems, but what this fight boils down to is that Condit had the interim belt," Hendricks said. "Jake Ellenberger was going to be just another fight for me to hold my position. But this fight is different. If I go out there and I win against Carlos, then that is just going to skyrocket me because what he did last year was pretty big.
"He went out there and fought GSP closer than GSP wanted it to happen. If I can go out there and do the same thing, fight to that caliber, then I prove a lot. I think that is what people are trying to use to justify why they think I don't deserve a title shot. Just because I've been going out there and knocking guys out in 12 or 40 seconds, whatever it is, people don't think that I have an all-around game.
"One thing I've realized is that in some fights you don't need it. Take the Kampmann fight for example. I knew if I wanted to take him down I could, but I also felt I was just as good of a striker as he was. That is a reason people haven't seen a lot of my game. If you are the best on your feet, well, I want to test myself. If you are going against a solid wrestler like Jon Fitch, I wanted to test my wrestling against him. That's my goal and how I keep myself driven every day. That's how I keep the drive to keep getting better and better. Wherever you are the best at, that is where I want to attack you."
After scoring a first-round knockout over Martin Kampmann at UFC 154, Hendricks appeared to be on the doorstep of his long-awaited title shot. But after champion Georges St-Pierre told UFC president Dana White he wanted to settle his grudge with Nick Diaz, the Oklahoma native was pushed aside.
Hendricks thought his impressive win on the same card that St-Pierre earned a unanimous-decision victory over Condit would have sent the message loud and clear. But since it obviously hasn't been heard, Hendricks has every intention of making another statement at UFC 158.
"It's a pretty sweet set up because I get to do it again in front of him," Hendricks said about fighting on the same card as GSP. "That is exactly what I want to do. Last time at UFC 154, I felt like I was able to steal the show and that is what I want to do again this time around. I don't care how it goes. I know Carlos is tough and I respect him. After our fights at UFC 154, we talked a little bit and ate pizza in the locker room. I like Carlos and I know that we are going to put on a very good fight.
"I know he's coming to fight and that's the only way to do it. You have to come there saying, 'Let's put some leather on each other and see who is still standing.' There is nothing more exciting in my opinion. For some strange reason, nothing makes me feel more alive than getting hit. I don't know why, but it's true. A couple of times in the past I've been hit and remember thinking that it felt good. It brings out the inner-animal."
When the news of the St-Pierre vs. Diaz matchup was announced, the typically reserved Hendricks immediately went public with his frustration. Having won five consecutive bouts and knocking off three legit contenders in the process, Hendricks believed it was his time to face the pound-for-pound great. It wasn't the way Hendricks wanted to go, but with the UFC title as the ultimate goal, the 29-year-old will do whatever it takes to get there.
"I don't like that having to do that," Hendricks said about calling out the champion. "I thought my work would speak for itself, but I maybe I did my job a little too well. The striking part of my game does put fear in some people. Knowing that I don't have to catch you flush or hit you that hard, but if it does hit you are going down makes some people afraid.
"Even if I throw it 80 percent and it doesn't hit you flush—you still go out. We've seen it a couple of times now. That is something right there that puts fear in some people. That's great because guess what...if they are worried about that then I can get the rest of my game working. My wrestling is my best attribute, and I'm telling you right now, my jiu-jitsu is better than my striking. I just haven't really had the opportunity to showcase it."
In less than a month's time, Hendricks will step into the Octagon at the Bell Centre in Montreal, looking to make the final push toward earning a title shot. Once the cage door closes, all the talk and debating whether or not Hendricks deserves a chance to fight for championship gold will go away, and the time to show and prove will come front and center.
Holding a UFC title is the motivation that drives Hendricks forward, and he has every intention of making his dream a reality.
"Nothing else matters but that title and my goal is to get that belt," Hendricks said. "Nothing else matters except for that belt. It doesn't matter who has it when I step in there, but I need it. I want to be the champion. That is what I want and all I dream about. I want to have it at my house and showcase it to my kids as they grow older."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.