The third time was almost the charm for Chad Mendes. Taking an interim featherweight title fight on two weeks’ notice against Conor McGregor in July, the Californian had everything going his way against the Irishman. He took McGregor down, he was raining down strikes, and blood was flowing, but it wasn’t his. In his third try at the UFC’s 145-pound crown, “Money” was about to cash in.
“I was dropping giant elbows on his face, I cut him with one of them, and that’s always great to see in a fight because you know there’s always that possibility of it being stopped,” Mendes said. “And being able to get on top of a guy like Conor and just unleash with whatever you want, it just felt great. I was definitely in the moment.”
Unfortunately, that moment was fleeting, and as Mendes’ limited gas tank ran down to empty, McGregor capitalized, catching and stopping his foe at 4:57 of the second round. It was a gamble, Mendes rolled the dice, and came up snake eyes. But he would do it all over again.
“I have absolutely no regrets,” he said. “I took that fight on short notice and I knew going in that obviously that’s a huge risk, but anything can happen in this sport. Who knows? I could have went out there and caught him with an overhand right and put him to sleep in the first round and then I’m the new champ. It’s about taking risks. This is our job, this is what we do. I get the offer and I’m not gonna turn it down. We get a short time to get in there and do this, so I’m not ever going to turn down a title fight, whether it’s two weeks’ notice or I have a full training camp.”
It’s an admirable stand to take, one that’s all or nothing in the best of circumstances, but even more risky for Mendes, who had fallen short in his previous two cracks at the crown held by Jose Aldo. And of course there was always the reality of dealing with more than a little trash talk from McGregor.
“That’s a guy nobody wants to lose to,” Mendes laughs. “I knew that, but I wasn’t going to back out of it. It’s a tough situation. This is a guy that loves to talk a lot of trash and it’s tough to deal with sometimes because you just want to wring his neck, but it’s all part of the sport. It’s how fights are sold, it brings interest and Conor must have been the kid that got bullied and beat up growing up because he’s figured out how to talk a lot of crap and be good at it.”
At least it was only two weeks of it, and not eight, but what sticks with Mendes aren’t the barbs from “The Notorious” one, but what could have been.
“It was a war, I knew it was going to be a tough fight, and I brought everything I had on a two-week notice training camp,” he said. “Obviously I’d like to get in there and do it again. I got in there, I felt like I was winning the fight the entire time and just got flat-footed and he was able to catch me. I think if I’m in shape and able to move quick on my feet and cut directions, I don’t get caught and I think I win that fight.”
Maybe he’s right, maybe he’s not, but he certainly knows what it takes to find out for sure, and that’s beating Frankie Edgar are on December 11 in Las Vegas. It’s the best fight that can be made in the featherweight division outside of the Aldo-McGregor bout taking place the following night, and while it’s assumed that an Edgar win will earn “The Answer” a title shot, Mendes’ situation is a little more up in the air. He knows it too.
“That’s not anything I ever stress about too much,” he said. “Our job is to fight and entertain and perform. And that’s what I love to do. I’m a competitor, I’ve been competing my whole life, and just being able to get out there and compete for something is what I absolutely love. Those title fights are gonna keep coming if I keep winning, whether it’s now, whether it’s a year from now. I keep beating who they put in front of me, and there’s no choice but to let me fight for the title. It’s gonna come and it’s gonna happen.”
That attitude is what separates fighters from the rest of us, and Mendes from many of his peers. so if he was told that another title shot would be his if he took it this weekend on a couple days’ notice, you could expect him to jump at the chance. When told this, the 30-year-old laughs, knowing that he’s already been through this scenario and would do it again in a heartbeat.
“I don’t know if you want to call it stupidity or not. But this is our job. I’ve worked toward this my entire life and you get put in that situation and obviously it’s terrifying because you know you’re probably not as prepared as you should be. But you’ve trained for this, you built your legacy of being who you are, and you’re basically not backing down. My dad’s always taught me that you’ve got to have the mind of a champion – you never back down, you never give up.”
That belt will always be the goal, because when you’re called champion, it’s something no one can ever take away. It’s part of the appeal of fighting Edgar, a former lightweight champion, next week.
“I’ve been wanting this fight for a while,” Mendes said. “I’ve watched Frankie fight for a long time at ‘55, and I had my eye on him ever since he came down, so this is a fight that’s going to be huge for my legacy. Frankie’s a legend of the sport and to beat a guy like that is just going to bring me up there with him, so I’m excited for it.”
And for another world title fight. Will it be sweeter to get the title the next time, given all the struggles to get there?
“Probably,” he chuckles. “I obviously would have liked it a ton without having to go through all these crazy roads (Laughs), but either way it’s going to be awesome. I’ve worked for it my entire life, and that moment is going to be so sweet.”