Johny Hendricks fought in a new weight class for the first time in his UFC career on Sunday night and it's clear he felt better than ever before.
Hendricks had suffered through some brutal weight cuts in recent years to continue competing at 170-pounds, but when his biggest fight ended up against the scale rather than his opponents, he knew it was time for a change.
So Hendricks ventured up to 185-pounds where he was immediately matched up with heavy hitting slugger Hector Lombard at UFC Fight Night in Halifax.
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Hendricks definitely had something to prove after his recent slide, but Lombard wasn't far behind after an up and down career at 170-pounds in the UFC followed by a stunning knockout loss to Dan Henderson last July.
Poor conditioning has hurt Lombard in the past so he made it a point to pace himself against Hendricks rather than storming out of the gates looking for the knockout in the first few seconds of the fight.
The plan worked early as Lombard countered Hendricks several times when the former welterweight champion kept throwing low kicks that resulted in a takedown while also trapping him against the cage.
Lombard did open up with a flurry of punches in the opening round, but Hendricks played solid defense before escaping back to the center of the Octagon.
With his corner instructing him to open up with his offense more in round two, Hendricks started finding a home with his overhand left as well as several hard knees as he timed Lombard ducking his head down, possibly anticipating the takedown from the former NCAA champion wrestler.
Lombard didn't back down while cracking Hendricks with a couple hard right hands that landed flush on the former champion, but his chin held up well in the face of some serious punching power from his opponent.
As the third round got underway, Hendricks looked light on his feet as he continued to pop Lombard with punches every time he over pursued with an offensive attack moving forward.
While Hendricks used constant movement to set up his strikes, Lombard struggled to find a home for his best punches while staying flat footed as he plodded forward. Hendricks made effective use of his striking at distance while never engaging in a fire fight against a well known knockout striker like Hendricks.
When it was over, Hendricks celebrated as he earned the unanimous decision victory while starting a new career as a middleweight in the UFC.
"The sky's the limit," Hendricks said after getting his hand raised. "I have energy. I can't wait to see what I can do in the future."