Johny Hendricks vs. Paulo Costa: Back the young gun to halt ‘Bigg Rigg’ at UFC 217

Johny Hendricks vs. Paulo Costa: Back the young gun to halt ‘Bigg Rigg’ at UFC 217 article feature image

Former UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks is the betting underdog against Brazilian Paulo Costa for good reason.

The American, known to the MMA world as "Bigg Rigg," was renowned for his knockout power – a man who UFC commentator Joe Rogan once described as “sending people flying across the octagon like he’s got magic in his hands."

Sadly, that magic seems to have disappeared, and Hendricks, once one of the most feared 170-pound fighters on the planet, has had to move up in weight and now looks a pale shadow of his former self.

Is ‘Bigg Rigg’ out of gas?

Hendricks hasn’t finished an opponent since he knocked out Martin Kampmann in 2012 (below), and while he went on to earn a host of hard-fought decision wins at the highest level, his form has dropped off noticeably over the last three years.


Since his defeat to Robbie Lawler at UFC 181 saw him lose his welterweight title, "Bigg Rigg" hasn’t been able to bounce back.

A win over Matt Brown was followed by three consecutive losses – to Stephen Thompson (by TKO), Kelvin Gastelum and Neil Magny (both by decision). And those defeats, coupled with his problems making weight, forced him to move up to the UFC’s 185lb division, where he’s a decidedly small middleweight.

Fortunately for Hendricks, his middleweight debut came against an even smaller middleweight, and he outpointed Cuban judoka Hector Lombard, but pitched in with Tim Boetsch in his recent contest he fell to his second TKO stoppage in 18 months.

© Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Sadly for Hendricks, it looks like his days of being a concussive puncher and championship contender may have been left behind in the welterweight division.

And now he faces a destructive young finisher looking to extend his perfect run of stoppage victories.

Is a finish on the cards?

Costa has a remarkable record. Ten fights, 10 wins, nine by knockout and one by submission. No opponent has taken him the distance, let alone won, and his last opponent, Oluwale Bamgbose, is the only fighter to take him out of the first round.

In short, he’s a very dangerous man.

We’re not 100 percent sure of how far he’ll go at the highest level, as he hasn’t faced ranked opposition yet, but in Hendricks he’ll face the highest-caliber opponent of his career.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out Costa’s main weapon. His punch power has accounted for at least seven of his 10 victims, and he showed against fellow heavy-hitter Bamgbose that he can take a shot as well as he can give one.

© Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

That’s bad news for Hendricks, whose only route to victory would appear to be via his wrestling roots. If Hendricks can lean on his wrestling game, secure regular takedowns and achieve dominance on the mat, then he has a chance.

But with three-inch height and reach deficits to his opponent, Hendricks is up against it. He’ll have to work his way inside Costa’s reach, and that means running the gauntlet of the Brazilian’s powerful strikes.

And, with Hendricks showing signs of diminished punch resistance in his losses to Thompson and Boetsch, that doesn’t bode well for his chances.

Experience is no advantage at the bookies

Despite Hendricks’ world championship career, there’s an unavoidable concern that the younger, bigger, stronger, more powerful man will hold all the aces on fight night.

Costa is a scary prospect looking to make his name in the UFC, and a stoppage win over a former world champion will certainly help.

Costa is the bookies’ favorite, best-priced at -200 for the win compared to +180 for Hendricks.

There will be a little (but not much) more value on taking the Brazilian to win by knockout if you can find the odds (they’re not currently available here in the UK), but the over/under markets could give you a better shot at value.

The best price we could find was -110 on the bout not reaching the halfway stage, and we reckon that’s probably the best value bet you’ll find for this particular matchup.

PICKS: Costa to win / Under 1.5 Rounds


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[Main image credit: © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports / Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports]

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