As a competitor since the age of five, Chad Mendes probably saw the two-year suspension he received from USADA - after testing positive for the banned substance GHRP-6 that was found in a psoriasis cream he was using - as the athletic equivalent of a death sentence.
Or maybe not.
“It wasn’t too tough, to be honest,” said Mendes, the longtime featherweight contender who makes his first start since December 2015 on Saturday against Myles Jury.
That may seem odd, but as the 33-year-old explains, after three fights in 2015, including a pair of knockout losses to Conor McGregor and Frankie Edgar, he needed a break from the sport.
“Obviously, the way it (his layoff) happened isn’t ideal, but I had actually told everyone after that loss (to Edgar) that I was taking the year off,” Mendes said. “I let my managers know, let the UFC know. Two fights back-to-back, I got my bell rung, and I want to be able to talk when I’m 50 years old. So I said I’m gonna chill for a little bit. I’ve been competing and training balls to the wall from five years old until now, never taking a year off. My body was hurting, my head needed to be cleared up a little bit and not get hit for a little bit, and I just wanted to make sure everything was healthy and on point. Halfway through that is when all this stuff happened, and it wasn’t ideal, but the plan was to take some time off anyway, so I felt I needed it mentally and physically.”
It was a wise decision for “Money,” one of the top featherweights in the world from the time he made the move from the WEC to UFC in 2011. Mendes was so good that he participated in a pair of title fights with then-champion Jose Aldo, and then replaced Aldo on short notice for an interim title fight against McGregor in 2015. He lost those title fights and a subsequent bout to Edgar, but there was no question before the suspension that if you were talking elite 145-pounders, Mendes was on that list.
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Nearly three years later, he believes he’s still in that group.
“I’m excited to be back in the mix,” he said. “The way the division’s looking, I feel like the matchups are perfect for me. I feel like I match up really well with a lot of these top guys. Obviously, I’ve got to focus on Myles right now. He’s a tough guy and I need to get out there and stick to the game plan and do what I know I can do and do what I do best. If I get that win, hopefully I’m fighting one of these top five guys next.”
Jury is no easy mark for Mendes’ return, but while the Californian has been sidelined, it isn’t like he wasn’t in the gym. He was keeping up with his Team Alpha Male squadmates and even had the time to build his Finz and Featherz business, which ultimately allowed him to see his fighting career in a different light.
“What’s great is that I don’t feel the super pressure from competition anymore,” Mendes said. “If I lose a fight, I don’t get paid my full amount, but it’s not something I’m stressed out about now. I can go out there and have fun. This is fun for me and I love competing. I don’t have to rely solely on me winning a fight.”
And as he figures it, a year and a few months into his suspension, he started to get that itch to fight again.
“I was missing being in shape and pushing myself to the limit and testing myself on a daily basis,” he said. “That type of stuff is what I missed the most, and the competition part, just being able to test all the hard work and all the dedication and sacrifice that I put myself through during a camp against another human. That’s when I started getting that itch to want all that back. Having that hunger and wanting all that stuff is the key to being a good fighter, and when you don’t have it, you’re basically just going through the motions. And I kind of felt that right before the suspension. I was almost going through the motions. It’s not that I didn’t love fighting anymore; but my body was aching and my mind was over it.”
Now he’s back; rested, recharged, and ready to start picking off the big names of the featherweight division again.
“I feel refreshed, energized and excited to get back in there and compete, and I think an excited Chad is a scary Chad.”
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