Johny Hendricks (R) (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)History Lessons: Masters of the Cage XVI and the Early Johny Hendricks The MMA Corner Staff March 10, 2014 Spotlight Every fighter in the UFC, whether champion, legend or debutant, has to start somewhere. That somewhere usually isn’t the big show. Occasionally, multiple future stars end up gathered on a single regional card. At the time, this card may not seem significant, but years down the road, we can look back in hindsight and marvel at how stacked that event turned out to be. That’s exactly what we’ll do in this series, called History Lessons. So, let’s jump in the time machine and travel back. The date was Sept. 28, 2007, and the location was the Bricktown Coca-Cola Event Center in Oklahoma City. It was time for Masters of the Cage XVI: Ultimate Night of Champions. On March 15, Johny Hendricks will get another opportunity to claim UFC gold after falling just shy in his attempt to dethrone Georges St-Pierre last year. However, in 2007, Hendricks was not at the top of the MMA world. Instead, he was fresh off of four years at the top of the NCAA Division I wrestling world. He brought home two championships and one second place finish in four years of wrestling for the Oklahoma State team. Hendricks graduated from college in 2007. His next stop was a move to Las Vegas, where he was set to join Team Takedown alongside fellow standout wrestlers Jake Rosholt and Shane Roller. Hendricks quickly transitioned from the college wrestling mats to the MMA cage, and Masters of the Cage XVI hosted his pro debut. Opposite Hendricks that night was a little-known prospect named Victor Rackliff. Rackliff had debuted the year prior and already had two appearance under the MOTC banner. He had picked up submission wins in those two outings, but Hendricks’ reputation in Oklahoma and his affiliation with Team Takedown made him a clear favorite. He was in for a battle, however. In the first round, the two men spent a good portion of their time standing toe-to-toe and slinging punches at each other. Hendricks did score with some well-timed takedowns to get the upper hand, but Rackliff was never overwhelmed. The second round was all Hendricks, who dominated with his wrestling. The fighters resumed their stand-up brawl in the opening seconds of the third stanza, and Rackliff even seemed to have Hendricks rattled for a moment. Hendricks went back to his wrestling instincts for a takedown, though, and regained control of the bout. After a small dose of ground-and-pound from Hendricks and a failed armbar from Rackliff, referee John McCarthy halted the action to have the ringside physician look at a cut under Rackliff’s eye. Unfortunately, the doctor saw something he didn’t like and ruled that Rackliff could not continue. McCarthy waived off the bout, awarding the TKO victory to Hendricks. Despite a rather impressive showing in defeat, Rackliff’s career never got off the ground after that fight. He alternated wins and losses through five more bouts spanning 2008 and 2009. Rackliff went inactive for several years, but he did return for another fight in October 2013. The results were no better, as he suffered a loss to continue the trend of his previous five fights. Obviously, the story was much different for Hendricks. The win marked the launch of a very successful career for the welterweight wrestler. He scored a TKO and a submission in his next two regional circuit fights, then received a contract offer from the WEC. After two victories on the blue mat of the WEC cage, Hendricks made his way to the UFC, where he debuted just shy of two years after his victory over Rackliff. Hendricks won his first four fights inside the Octagon before tasting defeat against Rick Story. He rebounded with six more wins to earn his shot at St-Pierre, and now that St-Pierre has relinquished the welterweight crown, Hendricks is once again vying for the championship, this time against Robbie Lawler at UFC 171. Hendricks’ early career, from his debut through his time in the WEC, is closely tied to those of his Team Takedown teammates, Rosholt and Roller. At least two members of the trio could often be found competing on the same card, and all three headed to the WEC at the same time. All three fought at Masters of the Cage XVI. Roller, like Hendricks, was making his pro debut. He was fighting Jake Pruitt, a veteran with an underwhelming 3-4 mark as a pro. Roller, a Big 12 champion and three-time NCAA All-American wrestler, didn’t fare as well as his teammate. Instead, the then 28-year-old Roller lasted until the third round before suffering a TKO loss. It turned out to be the last win—and certainly the high point—of Pruitt’s career. The Georgia native was inactive for the next two and a half years, before returning in 2010 and bouncing around the regional circuit for his next six fights, the most recent of which took place in January 2013. He was stopped in each of those contests, and always in the first round. Roller turned things around for a while after his disappointing debut. He won three in a row and joined the WEC along with his Team Takedown teammates. In the WEC, he went an impressive 6-2, with his only losses coming to two future UFC champions, Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis. Following a victory over Jamie Varner at the final WEC event, Roller joined the roster of talent that migrated to the UFC. Inside the Octagon, Roller won his debut, but lost four of his next five. He retired from the sport following his loss to Jacob Volkmann in October 2012. The trio’s least successful member thus far is Jake Rosholt. Rosholt wrestled alongside Hendricks at Oklahoma State and captured three national championships of his own. He already had one win in his pro MMA career when he took to the cage at Masters of the Cage XVI. Unlike his Team Takedown teammates, Rosholt was fighting for gold that night. Rosholt squared off with Christopher Clark, a debuting fighter, for the light heavyweight championship. Rosholt finished Clark with punches in the third round for the TKO victory. He went on to win the High Roller Productions light heavyweight crown in his next fight and picked up one more win before joining his teammates in the WEC. Rosholt won his lone WEC appearance, then transitioned to the UFC, where he went a disappointing 1-2, with his only win coming against Chris Leben. He was back on the regional circuit by 2010. He went 6-1 with one no-contest over his next eight fights, but then suffered back-to-back losses to Matt Thompson and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson in 2012. He hasn’t been back in action since the loss to Johnson. The list of elite wrestlers at Masters of the Cage XVI doesn’t end with Team Takedown. The card also hosted NCAA Division I All-American Paul Bradley. Bradley would go on to appear on The Ultimate Fighter 7, where a skin condition forced him out of the competition. But in 2007, Bradley was just a prospect with an undefeated record through five fights. His opponent that night was a veteran journeyman named Mike Van Meer. “Mini Van” had a long, inconsistent career already in the books, but he was enjoying his longest string of success with a six-fight winning streak. Bradley put an end to the streak with a third-round TKO. Van Meer won eight of his next 10 before hitting another rough patch. Bradley, meanwhile, continued to pile up wins until he was 11-0. He suffered his first career loss to Mike Pierce, who punched his own ticket to the Octagon with the win over Bradley. Bradley rebounded with another win and headed to Strikeforce, where he won one fight before losing to Luke Rockhold. He bounced around the regional circuit for the next couple of years before entering the UFC in 2011. Inside the Octagon, Bradley lost two fights, including a rematch against Pierce. Since departing the promotion, he has gone 3-1. His most recent win against Karl Amoussou in Bellator earned him a spot in the upcoming Bellator season-10 welterweight tourney as a replacement for one of a trio of fighters who withdrew from the bracket. Rounding out the list of future UFC fighters on the card that night, James Head was fighting for the middleweight title. Head was a 2-0 prospect and was still nearly four years away from his UFC debut. He was fighting a fellow upstart in Eric Bradley. Head won the title with a second-round TKO and won four of his next five fights to earn entry into the UFC. Head hasn’t found much success inside the Octagon, however, with just two wins in five fights. Bradley, meanwhile, has not lost since fighting Head, but the EliteXC veteran had just four fights over the next four years, spent time in jail and has not competed since April 2012. Bradley did appear on Bellator’s Fight Master series, though. Not all of the championship affairs featured future UFC fighters. IFL veteran and future Strikeforce and Bellator fighter Wayne Cole was able to capture heavyweight gold with a one-minute TKO victory over Heath Johnson. Both men now sport losing records. Cody Senseney was set to meet future UFC fighter T.J. Waldburger, but instead captured the welterweight title with a 55-second submission win over Warren Walker. Senseney is now 6-1, but he hasn’t fought since 2010. The remaining championship fights saw Tim Estes defeat Marcus Lanier for the lightweight strap and future WEC fighter Cole Province pick up the featherweight crown with a fourth-round submission of Aaron Williams. The other non-title contest on the card featured future Bellator fighter Jared Hess, who picked up his second pro win with a first-round TKO of Dominic Brown. The large contingent of future WEC, Bellator and Strikeforce fighters on the card makes Masters of the Cage XVI a significant event, but its role in launching the career of top UFC welterweight Johny Hendricks is what truly makes this an important event in the history of mixed martial arts.