The Ultimate Fighter
"I would like the fans to see that as long as we're fighting for - even if it's all 15 minutes - I'm all go." - Eddie Mendez
Eddie Mendez has discovered the secret to success.
“Naturally, the things I've always wanted have come the harder I've worked,” he affirms.
Hard work pays off? Yes, indeed it does. There’s simply no easy way to join the ranks of the highly-trained fighters of the UFC. If one wants in, one needs that desire to get beat up every day in the gym and the resolve to learn from it. After that comes the easy part, winning those fights in the cage. Next thing you know, you’ll be staring down an Octagon debut like Mr. Mendez.
“That sounds like that's how it should be,” says Mendez. “But when you're younger, you don't think about these things. You just want to be cool and you want to get into the UFC or PRIDE. Later on, I knew if I wanted to get into these leagues I’d have to treat it like a business. I can't be a fool on Friday and Saturday and expect to have a good week after. My life is a lot more disciplined and a lot more dedicated to this. Every moment of every day, my actions are toward making the best happen.”
Actually, the 7-1-1, 1 NC middleweight from Sun Valley, California caught the attention of the powers that be last year and was originally scheduled to debut against “The Quiet Assassin” Nick Penner at UFC on FX in December. “I ended up having this issue with my shoulder that eventually got to the point that I couldn't really put my hand behind my back,” explains Mendez, who rose up through the local ranks to earn himself a UFC shot, but caught the all too common injury bug.
The obvious decision was then made to postpone Mendez’s first scrap. The injury may have been a blessing in disguise as Mendez was offered a spot on the main card of UFC on FUEL TV 10 in Fortaleza, Brazil this Saturday against fan-favorite Daniel Sarafian.
“Earlier this year, my manager, Jason House, asked me how I felt about flying to Brazil and fighting Daniel Sarafian,” reveals Mendez. “And Daniel Sarafian was actually a guy I was pulling for in his last fight. They (the judges) felt like CB (Dollaway) did what he had to to win, and who am I to argue? But I was rooting for Daniel. He has a bounce in his step, he's a grappler like we all have to be, but he chooses to give the people what they want - striking. To me, fighting a guy like that would mean a lot more than fighting a guy like Nick Penner because I feel like we complement each other’s style. I feel like this fight is more important. A win is a win and I always strive for a win, but I would want to have a win over the more competitive fighter.”
On paper, Mendez vs. Sarafian has Fight of the Night bonus written all over it, as both like to control the center of the cage and give the crowd a show. A finalist of The Ultimate Fighter Brazil 1, Sarafian caught his countrymen’s attention with three wins on the show, including his flying knee knockout of Sergio Moraes in the semifinals. Like Mendez, the 8-3 native of Sao Paulo injured himself prior to his UFC debut, which would have been in the TUF Brazil finals against Cezar Ferreira. Eventually, Sarafian did make his first Octagon appearance in January at UFC on FX in a FOTN-awarded split decision loss to fellow TUF alum CB Dollaway.
“Daniel has kind of a karate style background,” tells Mendez. “I have seen that a lot because I come from a kickboxing gym. I naturally do a lot of kickboxing and I'm used to a lot of those movements. It's also nice to see a fighter who not only has good footwork, but has good hands, which is something that Daniel does. For this fight, I expect two fighters that are going to bring their A game. I know I'm going to bring mine. I'm sure that Daniel will bring his because he doesn't want to lose again and I don't want my first fight in the UFC to be a loss.”
In preparation for this middleweight melee, Mendez is busy blending his boxing and wrestling at House of Champions in Van Nuys. Mendez is trained under the owner and chief instructor of HOC, the well-traveled Shihan Mark Parra, who has trained with many famous kickboxers turned action stars like Pete “Sugarfoot” Cunningham and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez. For his ground game, Mendez rolls with Free Taylor, who was the first American to earn a BJJ black belt under Jean Jacques Machado and Eddie Bravo protégé Alder Hampel from 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu.
Besides his coaches, Mendez gets a lot of great work in with friend, training partner, and TUF 13 winner Tony Ferguson. Easily, the most high profile win of Mendez’s five year career was on incredibly short notice against Fernando Gonzalez in December 2011, which Mendez was in fighting shape for because of helping Ferguson for his own scrap against Yves Edwards at TUF 14’s finale. In about two weeks’ time, Mendez showed up an opponent with nearly three times as much fighting experience and walked out of the Strikeforce cage with a well-earned W.
“Fernando Gonzalez, I think he was a great opponent,” remembers Mendez. “He had over 20 professional Muay Thai fights and I think over 20 professional MMA fights. He also fought in the WEC. I was actually with one of my good friends, Tony Ferguson, in Vegas and he was going into his fight with Yves Edwards when Strikeforce called me up. I had been training with Tony for the last few months like an animal and they were like, ‘Would you like to fight this guy Fernando Gonzalez?’ I couldn't have felt more confident to say yes. I went over there two weeks later, I fought him for three fives, and the judges thought I took it. I wish I could have finished it, but I did my best.”
The following May, Mendez added another win to his record by defeating BJJ black belt Fabio Nascimento, but that wasn’t who Mendez trained the previous months for. Originally, Mendez was supposed to tangle with a brawling KO specialist in Brett Cooper, but due to an injury the opponent was switched to a completely opposite style matchup. Nevertheless, Mendez took to the cage and, again, walked out with a W or as Mendez describes it, “I got in there, I looked him in the eye, I punched him in the mouth, and it was a good fight.”
It’s been a year long layoff for Mendez since those back-to-back decision wins, but the fighter who holds hard work above all is taking it as a positive. “I did get a chance to do something that I hadn't done in a couple years, which was actually slow down, put on my gi again, put on my belt again, and really learn again,” admits Mendez who believes all the pieces are starting to finally line up for the prime of his MMA career. “I’m a better Eddie Mendez; a more ready Eddie Mendez. I just crossed into my 30s and I've been doing this since my early 20s. I feel like now I not only have the strength, but I have a little bit of everything - strength, knowledge, wherewithal, and experience.”
With an opportunity against big named competition and a chance to see the world while doing it, Mendez is getting the UFC experience hook, line, and sinker in this debut. “When May 1st came, I woke up at 1 in the morning because I couldn't sleep because I was like, 'Wow! Next month, I will be in a whole different part of the world I've never experienced before and I'll be doing what I love to do and all eyes will be on me,’” says Mendez, giddy like a kid in a candy store that he is finally making his fighting dreams come true. “This is what I got into this competition for. I wanted to go to different places all over the world and represent my little corner of it and see what I can do. I’m ecstatic.”
This Saturday in Fortaleza, Brazil, the relentless, come forward and often Mendez will look to take a win in his UFC debut against Daniel Sarafian in enemy territory. “I would like the fans to see that as long as we're fighting for - even if it's all 15 minutes - I'm all go,” affirms Mendez, who has an uphill climb ahead of him turning any boos into cheers by defeating Sarafian in an exciting fashion. “If people could describe me in one word, I would want that word to be 'tenacious'. I remember one time I went to Laughlin and I fought a guy from Vegas and, at first, I didn't get any cheers, but, by the end, they were yelling my name. I would like to earn that and do the same thing in Brazil.”
With enough hard work inside the Octagon, Mendez could earn a W, Brazilian fans, and, possibly, the nickname “Tenacious”.