Chad Mendes is an avid hunter and fisherman outside of the cage but this Saturday night he will be gunning for the only UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo with his back against the wall in his opponent’s backyard.
Mendes first caught peoples attentions on the wrestling mats, as a senior at the California Polytechnic State University he went unbeaten for an entire season going 30-0 before placing second in the NCAA Division I championships.
Because of his wrestling base and proven credentials he was quickly recruited by former #1 ranked featherweight Urijah Faber to his Team Alpha Male Gym in Sacramento, California where he remains today.
After turning pro in 2008 it took Mendes less than eight months before he made his debut in the WEC which at the time was the highest level to perform at for those in the lighter weight-classes. Mendes has continued to show off his world-class level wrestling pedigree and improving tool set defeating Erik Koch, Cub Swanson, Javier Vazquez, Michihiro Omigawa and Rani Yahya to earn his chance to vie for the title.
Looking to put a stop to the meteoric rise of Mendes is the current top-ranked featherweight in the world, Jose Aldo.
Aldo was raised in Mausus, Brazil one of the poorer parts of the country — Growing up surrounded by alcoholism and domestic violence a young Aldo found an escape in soccer idolizing Diego Maradona. Ironically, letting out his frustrations on the soccer field forced his coach to suggest he takes up Capoeira and the rest is history.
Beginning fighting in 2004 at the age of 17 the quiet Brazilian with a scar on his cheek and bruises on his face demonstrated flashes of complete violence, his spectacular arrays of offense were caught on shaky, home videos that would be spread amongst message boards over the years.
When he arrived on US soils in 2008 with hopes of making a better life for his loved ones he wasted no time catching the attention of the Zuffa management – Putting opponents on stretchers with razor-sharp elbows and vicious knees from the clinch the Brazilian created an aura of invincibility like no other in the WEC with his beat downs of Cub Swanson, Mike Brown and Urijah Faber.
That aura has somewhat disappeared since making his debut in the world-famous octagon with two less than thrilling title defenses against Mark Hominick and Kenny Florian but make no mistake Aldo is still a dangerous threat to anyone at 145-pounds.
It’s a tired cliché but its true, every fight starts on the feet and in the striking department there is a clear edge to the champion. Aldo loves to show off his brilliant muay-thai skills and collects plenty of star points when doing it with all facets of striking in his repertoire, additionally he shows great head movement and has the speed to duck in and out causing havoc to the faces of anyone in front of him.
The leg kicks of the champion were the biggest problem to Mendes’ mentor and training partner Faber who was punished with repeated leg kicks that took an insurmountable toll on him and didn’t allow him to implement his wrestling game.
Although “Money” Mendes won’t be topping lists of the world’s greatest strikers anytime soon he is competent while throwing hands. Mendes doesn’t pack the level of power of his opponent but has good boxing fundamentals being able to work his jab to keep his distance utilizing exceptional footwork.
But the challenger this weekend isn’t going to be looking to blister the champion with knees and elbows, he is going to revert back to his bread n’ butter wrestling game that has got him a long way in his career.
During his amateur wrestling career he proudly boasted a 64-14 record overall and was ranked number-one in the nation during his senior year and was named the best wrestler of the year in the Pac-10 awards – It’s safe to say the All-American wrestler has credentials for days.
Arguably the best wrestler in the division, Mendes has shown a great ability to muscle his opponents to the mat with powerful double-leg takedowns and keep them there with an aggressive top game and luckily for him maybe the only hole in the game of the Brazilian bomber is his wrestling game.
In his first UFC title defense he faced Mark Hominick in his backyard of Toronto, Canada the home-town boy took him down five times during the bout and in the final frame pounded the champion into oblivion praying for a stoppage in what would have been one of the biggest upsets of the year.
Aldo has shown improvements in his wrestling base so it is clear that he has been putting in the hard yards on the wrestling mats at Nova Unao showing takedown defense against Kenny Florian but he has never dealt with this level of wrestler who isn’t willing to trade blow-for-blow with him.
But if he is placed on his back it opens up a whole new can of worms because it will give us a chance to see the jiu-jitsu skills of the champion.
Aldo is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Andre Pederneiras and with a smorgasbord of black belts at Nova Unao for him to grapple with the challenger may very well be fencing off submission attempts left and right.
Mendes might not be as savvy of a submission grappler as Aldo but he certainly can threaten his opponents with his grappling abilities – Most recently when he faced Rani Yahya he was searching for submission attempts but he hasn’t collected a submission victory since Anthony Morrison in April of 2010.
On factor we do have to take into consideration if the cardiovascular fitness, Aldo hasn’t shown a great ability to keep up his threatening offence for the full 25-minutes especially in his last two outings but he does have the advantage of already been 5 rounds on three different occasions.
Aldo has been having issues making the weight-cut down to featherweight in recent times which many are attributing to his past two lackluster performances. The young Brazilian is only 25-years-old and still growing into his body as he becomes an adult.
Much like many believe that Jon Jones will eventually out-grow his 205-pound skin and evolve into a heavyweight this could be the case with Aldo who is growing and gaining body mass which is making the cut down to 145-pounds much more difficult.
One thing that does work in the favor of the challenger is his training alongside Faber who already fell short to the reigning champ, although “The California Kid” suffered a painful defeat to Aldo he has been faced him and brings a level of insight that you can’t pick up from watching footage on a man.
The final thing we have to consider for the main-event scrap this weekend is whether the thousands of rabid Brazilian fans screaming for his blood will take him off his game – We saw one of the wildest crowds in the promotions history this past as they saw many of their heroes competing on home soil for the first time.
Although he hasn’t insulted their country, their culture and their biggest superstars like Chael Sonnen the crowd at the HSBC Arena in Rio De Janero chanted passionately for their fellow countrymen and strongly against foreigners last August, can the 26-year-old handle that amount of pressure?
One things for certain when the door closes the fight strongly favors the challenger the longer it goes but Jose Aldo brings a level of mind numbing power that can finish any opponent if they make a mistake, especially while wearing four ounce gloves.
To read more of what goes on inside the crazy mind of Justin Faux follow him on Twitter @justinfauxmma.