Joe Hendry collaborating with...Chael Sonnen? It happened.
ROH star Joe Hendry isn't exactly a stranger to the combat sports world, although it certainly seemed like it a few years ago. With good reason -- he WAS a stranger to it a few years ago. However, after surveying the depth of the talent pool in amateur wrestling, he decided to dive in, and even call out then-UFC Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker. As it turns out, the reason stemmed from inspiration from a surprising source -- "The American Gangster," Chael Sonnen.
"I only started amateur wrestling at age of 27. So, because I said to myself, compared to the US, “How many people do amateur in the UK? How many people are heavyweight in the UK?” Then I figured out there was only really like five top talent wrestlers that had to get through and in any competition how many of them are you gonna run into? Don’t get me wrong, there’s one of the guys training [that’s fifth in the world, not in that weight class, but we do have great talent. At that particular time I saw an opportunity in the weight class. So, I thought, “To hell with it, let’s try it.” I won a couple of British championships and I went to the Commonwealth games. I’m really proud of that. So, I DM’d Chael Sonnen and I said, “Chael, I need your advice. I’ve qualified for the Commonwealth games. Robert Whittaker is in my weight class. I know he’ll kick my ass, but do I just call him out?” He said, “Yeah, of course, and here’s your problem…” So, Chael actually wrote what I said," Hendry revealed in an exclusive interview to Fightful
Hendry went to great lengths to make a relationship work, even conjuring up a merchandise deal to get everything on the table. The lengths Hendry went to were also matched by that of Sonnen himself, who was dedicated, even in dark times.
"He’s my hero and he’s just such a classy human being. We’ve spoke many times in the past and actually gets me emotional thinking about it because, without going into details, he went through some really tough times. Some really tough situations a few years ago. I was actually, at the time, had a t-shirt out that was selling pretty well and I have this thing where I just decided I wanted to work Kurt Angle. So, I make it happen. I decided I wanted to work with Chael Sonnen. He had this Bad Guy Inc. t-shirt brand and I wanna put our my t-shirt in America rhrough that. So, I put out this tweet and said I’d never put out a t-shirt in America, but who would buy this in America? For the type it got a lot of likes that I was used to. So, I sent it to Chael, and I was like, “I’d really be interested in releasing this through Bad Guy brand.” I’m sure he would have offered me a basic royalty or whatever, but all I really wanted in return was some advice. Some mentorship, basically. So, I got talking to him and his manager and Chael was awesome. So, he started going through some of those difficult times, and I didn’t know this at the time, so I sent him something about that even while that was going on he took the time to go, “Listen, this is what’s happening. I’m going through some stuff,” and I thought, “Man, for when someone is going through all that and to be so polite to take the time to let me know that’s why he’s not gonna in touch for a while,” and my heart went out to him," Hendry noted.
Hendry, who has clearly been influenced by mixed martial arts and amateur wrestling, might seem like an unlikely Sonnen fan. As it turns out, the "American Gangster's" work transcended the country and even the continent. Hendry was able to take somene he admired and gained a wealth of knowledge from them, and credits Sonnen professionally and personally.
"I have a few people who I would say are my heroes, but Chael is one of them. I’d say his advice from his podcast are the reason why I was able to become British Champion in amateur wrestling because he was basically talking about the higher the weight class you go, the lower the skill level. I realize that’s just the truth. So, that’s why I had my plan of attack. I could have gone down to 86 kilos easily. But, I chose to compete at 97 because I was like I figured if I focused on strength that I can overcome strength and athleticism at this weight class could overcome experience and technique. It was based on his advice. I don’t feel he’ll ever hear this, but the guy, he’s genuinely one of my heroes and a top quality human being," Hendry said.
Sonnen has discussed crossing over into pro wrestling in the past, but has never made the move. He's retired from MMA now, and still trains, but seems content with the world of broadcasting. Hendry knows that Sonnen doesn't want to disrespect a form of entertainment he respects, but thinks that Chael could thrive in the pro wrestling scene.
"The other day I was asked if Ring of Honor could sign anyone, who would it be? I genuinely think Chael Sonnen is the greatest wrestler to never—I won’t say never lace up a pair of boots, because I know he was in the Power Plant. But, I think Chael Sonnen could be the World Heavyweight Champion in any, ANY professional wrestling organization he chose to. I just think, I don’t know this, when I say I know him, like I’ve spoke to him a few times in DM, right? I don’t know the guy. But, from hearing him talk about it in interviews, I think there’s a barrier where he’s put wrestling a pedestal that he thinks he can do it at the highest level and I think that he could be the greatest pro wrestler of all time. I know it’s weird, but if Ring of Honor could sign anyone, we need to get this guy," said Hendry "Actually, when I was in ICW, I asked [Mark] Dallas if we could try to bring him in. He couldn’t at the time because he was doing Global Force [Wrestling] and stuff like that. See, when I have it in my head that I wanna work with somebody I just start thinking of all the possibilities. I just feel like there’s unfinished business with him and pro wrestling. Thing is he wouldn’t need to have super long matches. Why couldn’t he just have Goldberg length matches. If he came in as a heel, double legged somebody in a very “unexciting match,” ground and pound, finish and just keep going and going and going and going. To me, I think that when I say unexciting I just mean if he’s the heel feeding into that wrestler, take them down, beat the hell out of them, move on. I think that would be cool."
You can see our full interview with Joe Hendry at the top of the page. When wrestling gets started up again, you'll be able to catch him on ROH HonorClub, but for now you can see him on Youtube, as well as social media.