Mendes knows he’ll be the foe in Rio

Urijah Faber was doubling as a wrestling coach at the University of California-Davis as well as fighting in mixed martial arts, and he knew full well of Chad Mendes’ talent.

Faber recruited Mendes out of high school, but Mendes opted to go to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he was undefeated his senior year until the NCAA Finals, when he lost the championship match by a point.

Faber and Mendes had also trained briefly together briefly in MMA at a wrestling camp Faber held in Lake Tahoe.

But when Mendes got to Faber’s Ultimate Fitness Gym in Sacramento, Calif., in 2008, eager to start an MMA career, Faber was, nonetheless, in for a surprise.

Unbeaten Chad Mendes doesn't duck from challenges, which is good since he has a big one coming up against Jose Aldo Jr.
(Getty Images)

Faber was the World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight champion and known for his ability to dictate where fights were fought. If Faber wanted to stand, generally, the match turned into a striking battle. If he wanted it to the ground, more often than not, his fights went to the ground.

But when he worked out with Mendes in the gym, something occurred that Faber believes will play a major role in Mendes’ challenge for the UFC featherweight belt Saturday in Rio de Janeiro against champion Jose Aldo Jr., at UFC 142.

“He’s got tremendous explosivity and it’s hard to be prepared for that,” Faber said. “He’s like a ball of muscle and he’s extremely explosive.”

Aldo is one of the most deadly strikers in MMA. His kicks destroyed Faber and left him virtually unable to walk when they met at WEC 48 in 2010. Aldo is 20-1 and with 12 knockouts and two submissions.

One veteran UFC fighter said of Aldo, “There aren’t too many guys begging to fight him.”

Aldo would be an imposing – and intimidating – challenge even if he agreed to fight someone in their backyard. But in the main event of the second UFC card in Brazil in 14 years, it can’t be a particularly comforting feeling.

Mendes (11-0) is hardly rattled by the challenge, however. The last thing that will happen to Mendes is to be awed by the moment.

“Aw, man, there’s no chance of that,” Faber said. “That I can guarantee you.”

Mendes said he’s prepared for a torrent of boos and taunts as he walks to the cage to face the man ranked fifth in the Yahoo! Sports poll, but he expects it to be a lot quieter when he leaves the cage.

He has, he insisted, all the respect in the world for Aldo’s ability and what he’s accomplished, but he made the 14-hour trip with one intention in mind: Winning.

“This is something I’ve dreamed of and prepared for for such a long time,” Mendes said. “I’ve watched him for a long time. I was supposed to fight him a while back, and it didn’t happen, so I’ve paid attention to what he’s been doing. I have respect for him, but this isn’t about respect. I respect him now, and I’ll respect him after, but I’m going there to win.”

It would seem on the surface that Mendes’ path to victory is simple. Use the explosiveness that put Faber and so many others flat on their backs to get Aldo to the ground, and then work for a finish on the ground.

Mendes is an extraordinary athlete who, when attempting to pass Javier Vazquez’s guard in a fight, did a somersault from a standing position to get away from Vazquez’s legs and into side control.

That’s the kind of athleticism it is going to take to defeat Aldo, who hasn’t lost since he was submitted in 2005. Subsequently, Aldo has reeled off 13 wins in a row, finishing seven.

As good as Aldo is, though, Mendes believes there are areas in which he can excel. Aldo has no weaknesses, Mendes said, but that doesn’t mean he’s invincible.

“He doesn’t have what you could call holes in his game, but he has areas of his game that are stronger than others,” Mendes said. “My plan is to put him in those areas where he’s not as strong and focus on those. He’s a great champion, and he’s always dangerous, but it’s not like he doesn’t have some areas there that can be exploited.”

Aldo brought in former UFC lightweight title challenger Gray Maynard to work on his wrestling, clearly indicating he knows Mendes will be looking to take him off his feet.

Maynard raised Mendes’ ire with comments that indicated Aldo would have no problem dealing with his wrestling.

“I think that’s completely wrong,” Mendes said of Maynard’s comments. “Just because you’re a wrestler, it doesn’t mean you’re the same as me. I think our styles are completely different. In MMA, he doesn’t really use a whole lot of wrestling anymore. He likes to stand and bang.

“When he does wrestle, he’s more of the bully. He’s a slower, not very explosive [wrestler]. He gets you up against the cage and works for takedown from there. My style of wrestling is more explosive from the open. Blast a double, take-you-off-your-feet-kind of wrestling.”

Faber has been on the receiving end of one of those takedowns. It’s like trying to stop a speeding car barreling at you.

For Faber, who is going to rematch bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz for the title later this year, there is little doubt that Mendes is prepared to win.

“Jose Aldo has a long winning streak and he’s done a lot of great things,” Faber said. “But Chad is a totally different guy than what he’s seen. People who are doubting Chad are in for a big surprise.”

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Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Jan 12, 2012