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Chad Mendes - The Hardest Lessons are The Best Ones

"I’ve been training just as hard as I was for Aldo, and I want to get in there and finish him. Coming off that loss, I want to prove a point, and I think finishing Cody will make that point." - Chad Mendes

UFC featherweight Chad MendesThe answer was so honest that it came off as shocking. In speaking of his January loss to UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes didn’t go searching for an excuse – real or imagined – for the first defeat of his professional career. He chalked it up to a tactical mistake and moved on. Simple as that.

“It (the loss) sucks, just because I trained so hard for that fight and went through such a gruesome camp and I felt so great,” said the classy Mendes. “Honestly, that was the best I’ve felt for any of my fights and it sucks that I didn’t get to finish the first round even. At least if I was gonna get knocked out, I would have rather it been in the later rounds, so at least I could have fought more.”

What a novel concept, taking responsibility for a defeat without taking credit away from your opponent. It’s so rare that you have to make a point of acknowledging it, but at the same time, don’t think for a minute that the 27-year old contender brushed the Aldo fight off.

“I was real down on myself,” he said of the aftermath. “I was trying to stay as positive as I could, but there’s definitely that kind of a little bit of doubt almost, whether or not this was something that I really should have done or whether I want to keep doing it. Obviously that’s gone and out of my head now, because this is what I love and I want to do, but it’s definitely something that crosses your mind. This is my passion though, and it’s awesome to be able to just train and work out with all your buddies and be in good shape for a living. So getting in there and putting your skills that you’ve practiced throughout a whole training camp and your entire life up against another person is just something that you’re never really going to be able to do anywhere else. It’s basically the rawest form of any kind of competition in martial arts, so it’s cool.”

This Saturday night on the UFC 148 card in Las Vegas, Mendes returns to the Octagon to face Cody McKenzie. He’s confident and eager to get back to work, and you can hear it in his voice. But as he alluded to earlier, coming back from a loss isn’t the easiest task to undertake. Some fighters are never the same, while others use it as fuel for future greatness. Mendes, a standout wrestler at Cal-Poly who isn’t used to being the one without his hand raised, has opted for the latter route, taking the lessons he picked up in Brazil to make him a better fighter. And considering that he’s only been fighting professionally since 2008, there’s plenty of room for him to grow.

“It’s a tough thing to deal with at first, but I understand that it’s a part of the sport, and something that happens in every sport,” he said. “You’re gonna lose sometime, and for me, I haven’t lost at anything for a long time and I hate losing, but I looked at my mistake, and I saw what I did wrong. I had the back for a very, very short time, I should have kept the pressure going forward instead of backing up and trying to shoot. But what can you do now? You just look back, learn from it, and try not to make that same mistake ever again.”

And let’s face it, Mendes got caught late in the first round with a perfect knee to the head that he didn’t see coming, and was finished with one second remaining on the clock. He didn’t take a five round thrashing or get outclassed by one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. It’s little things like that which he can take as positives into the McKenzie fight and beyond.

“Aldo is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, and in my mind, I was winning that fight all the way up until those last few seconds,” said Mendes. “In the first round, that’s when he’s gonna be the strongest anyways. We were seeing fights in the past where his cardio was starting to go downhill after the first two rounds, and that was the gameplan – win those early rounds because it’s gonna be a lot easier to win the later rounds, and I just got caught. But it’s a confidence booster just going in there and knowing that I was hanging with or beating one of the best pound-for-pound fighters.”

He also did it in Brazil, Aldo’s home country, yet despite being the “black hat” against the local hero, Mendes came away with a positive impression from his first bout outside of the United States.

“It was pretty tough going to Brazil, his backyard, and fighting, but the hardest part was the traveling,” he said. “Honestly, the fans were great. I had a lot more fans than I thought I was going to have, people coming up to me and asking for pictures and autographs. There were a couple of times, like at the weigh ins, where they were chanting ‘you’re gonna die’ in Portuguese, but other than that, it was pretty cool. (Laughs) The overall experience was great. The open workout was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It was on the beach, there were airplanes with banners with the UFC logo and our names pulling behind it, they had some DJs, and there were all these people on the beach and this nice weather, and it was pretty awesome.”

Six months later, Mendes meets McKenzie, who spent some time working with “Money” and his Team Alpha Male squadmates a while back, though the Hanford, California native never had the opportunity to get a test run in the former Ultimate Fighter competitor’s trademark McKenzietine.

“Some of the other guys have rolled with him and trained with him doing MMA stuff and jiu-jitsu, but I only got to do boxing sparring,” said Mendes. “I think the best way to describe Cody is, he’s funky. He’s just awkward. He’s one of those guys where you’re sparring him and you’re getting hurt because he’ll throw a punch and hit an elbow, you come in to throw a punch and you stub your toe on his toe. (Laughs) Body parts are everywhere at all times and he’s southpaw and tall too, so it makes it even more awkward. So I’m definitely not taking this fight lightly. I’ve been training just as hard as I was for Aldo, and I want to get in there and finish him. Coming off that loss, I want to prove a point, and I think finishing Cody will make that point. That’s the plan, I’m gonna get in there and go after it.”

And with the Alpha Male boys also getting a subtitle as “Team Guillotine,” Mendes has had his neck in a vice more than a few times over the years.

“From the beginning I’ve been training with guys like Joseph Benavidez and Urijah Faber, who have the best guillotines in the world, I’d say,” he said. “They can catch anybody at anytime with them, and it’s something I’ve had to deal with since Day One. I can’t count how many guillotines I got caught in the first week I was here training, and it’s definitely something that we’re focused on because we know it’s Cody’s go to move. It’s his power move and it’s probably what he’s banking on to win this fight.”

Mendes is planning on taking that guillotine and everything else away from McKenzie though, making a statement in the process. And with the ranks of contenders getting more and more jumbled every day, as Chan Sung Jung and Ricardo Lamas emerged with their upset wins over Dustin Poirier and Hatsu Hioki, respectively, and Erik Koch’s challenge of Aldo at UFC 149 got put on hold due to an injury to the champ, Mendes is in the perfect position to get back in the mix with a couple big wins. Add in the fact that three of his former victims - Koch, Cub Swanson, and Steven Siler – are putting together solid UFC win streaks, and he is looking better and better by the minute. So don’t weep for Chad Mendes. He hopes to be knocking on Aldo’s door again sooner rather than later.

“That’s what I’m seeing and that’s why I want to go out there and finish this fight,” he said. “I think maybe one or two after that, if I’m winning them, I should be right there back in line. Ultimately, that’s up to the matchmakers, but hopefully, that’s where it will put me and that’s what I’m hoping for.”