“I’m training to get that belt but I’m taking it one fight at a time,” said Mendes. “I’m young and learning but I feel like I’m on the right track to get that belt.”
You can thank Cub Swanson for the jaw-dropping Chan Sung Jung vs. Leonard Garcia classic. Sort of.
The southern Californian was originally scheduled to face “The Korean Zombie” in April but was scratched due to injury. That opened the door for his go-for-broke teammate, Garcia, to step up and fight his mirror image inside of the Octagon.
Now, after a nine-month layoff – the longest of his career – Swanson returns to the cage Wednesday for a pivotal main card matchup against fast-rising featherweight Chad “Money” Mendes. The much-anticipated battle pits a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt (Swanson) against one of MMA’s top wrestlers. In terms of experience, Swanson trumps his foe six years to two. Swanson seems to have the more refined Muay Thai skills and submissions, while Mendes packs one-punch knockout power and relentless ground-and-pound. Both men benefit from outstanding camps; Swanson trains under Greg Jackson, Mendes under Urijah Faber.
“He’s a great opponent,” said Swanson, 14-3 as a pro. “He’s really fast and I’m working hard to match that speed and explosiveness. Every day here at Jackson’s is a battle so I will be ready for an all-out fight.”
Mendes is 2-0 in the WEC and 7-0 overall. But he expects Swanson to be a cut above Erik Koch and Anthony Morrison, the two men he has beaten in the WEC.
“This is definitely the toughest fight for me so far,” said the 25-year-old Mendes, who wrestled and graduated from Chuck Liddell’s alma mater, Cal-Poly. “Cub is an awesome opponent and it’s awesome to fight him. He’s been in the sport for a long time, fought some tough guys and has some big wins. He’s scrappy; the guy loves to stand up and brawl and on the ground he’s got great submissions. But I think this is going to be a great win on my record because I train with guys like Joseph Benavidez, Urijah Faber and Danny Castillo on a daily basis. Our game plan is solid and I’m going to go out there and show everybody what I came here to do.”
A key priority for Swanson, who had been sidelined so two broken hands could heal, will be negating Mendes’ wrestling. Mendes was an NCAA national runner-up just two years ago and Swanson can ill afford to let Mendes roughhouse him and dictate the action with his takedowns.
“I’ve been training with Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, Leonard Garcia, Clay Guida, Aaron Riley, Ike Valley-Flag and tons of short wrestlers,” Swanson said. “I’m hitting my stride. I always try to expand my game and keep all my old tools sharp. My fighting style can adjust to anyone, so it's not a big change for Mendes. I want another shot at (Jose) Aldo, so I am taking every step I need to take to get it.”
For the unfamiliar, Swanson lost to Aldo more than a year ago in just 8 seconds. Swanson attempted a takedown and Aldo greeted him with a flying knee that flattened Swanson and opened a massive, grotesque gash over his left eye. Aldo, of course, has since steamrolled everyone else in his path and won the WEC featherweight championship.
Like Swanson, Mendes has Aldo in his sights.
“I’m training to get that belt but I’m taking it one fight at a time,” he said. “I’m young and learning but I feel like I’m on the right track to get that belt.”
Mendes said he has grown more comfortable under the weight of expectations that surround him and his remarkable abilities.
“There was a little bit of pressure for my first fight in the WEC just because I was taking that next step into a big organization,” he said. “But once I got that behind me, it’s basically a fight just like any other fight, it’s just in a bigger organization. So I’m just training hard and doing what I do. Being a part of the WEC is a dream come true.”