Mendes gunning for redemption at UFC 148
Not only was Mendes bounced from the undefeated ranks last January, but he was knocked out cold in the first round with a vicious knee to the head from featherweight champion Jose Aldo. It was Mendes’ first UFC title shot and first time headlining an UFC card. What took four years and 11 straight wins to get to was ended in just four minutes, 59 seconds.
Now, a quest for a second UFC title shot begins Saturday in Las Vegas when Mendes (11-1) faces Cody McKenzie (13-2). Despite being a sizable favorite, Mendes is not taking McKenzie lightly.
“This is a fight that I trained like I’m fighting for the world title. I think that was one of the best things I came away with after that last fight [with Aldo],” Mendes told HeavyMMA.com. “I really pushed myself, because I never fought a five-round fight before. I obviously never had to push that much to the extreme. So I completely pushed myself to a new level [training for Aldo] that I didn’t know I had.
“It was great for that camp and I kind of transferred that over to this fight. I’m probably going to use that from every fight from here on out.”
A first round loss can throw a fighter off physically and mentally. Mendes put in extensive work to go five rounds with Aldo, who is widely considered one of the world’s pound-for-pound best fighters. The weeks and months of exhaustive training can feel unrewarding after a quick knockout. On top of that, the prospect of going back to the gym several more months to train for the next fight can be difficult.
Mendes is trying to follow in the footsteps of “Team Alpha Male” training partners Urijah Faber and Joseph Benevidez, who worked with Mendes in this camp. Both Faber and Benevidez have bounced back strong from losses numerous times throughout their careers and remain at the top of their games.
Mendes, 27, hopes his return to the Octagon on Saturday will help put his loss to Aldo far back in the rear view mirror.
“It sucks,” Mendes said candidly. “I think the biggest thing is I was so mentally and physically prepared for that fight. I was ready for a war, and went out there and only fought one round. At least if I was going to get knocked out, I wish it would have been later in the fight so I could’ve pushed myself and used all that hard work that I’ve done in my camp. But it’s all part of the sport and something that’s going to happen to everyone at some time.”
Mendes says he’s focused on his next target: McKenzie. Mendes’ performance Saturday night will be a good indication of whether “Money” has truly moved on from the Aldo loss. And many expect a strong outing.
The former top contender is a sizable favorite in this fight, as McKenzie has lost two of his last three contest
“Cody’s bread and butter is the guillotine choke. We all know that,” Mendes said. “He’s not very athletic but he’s kind of brawler. That’s good for me, because I train with guys who have some of the best guillotine chokes in the world in Joseph Benevidez and Urijah Faber.”
The featherweight division in the UFC is getting deep with contenders. Aldo sits at the top while Erik Koch, Chan Sung Jung and Mendes lead the list of challengers. There’s also the possibility of Frankie Edger dropping to featherweight in 2013 if he’s unsuccessful in his rematch against lightweight champion Ben Henderson.
If victorious, Mendes wants another crack at the featherweight title holder. Mendes believes he could’ve beaten Aldo had he got out of that first round. But Mendes knows he has to first beat McKenzie at UFC 148, then get in line.
“If it was up to me, I would fight whoever has the belt next. But it’s ultimately not, and whoever the UFC wants me to fight, that’s who I’m going to fight,” Mendes said. “I’m thinking it’s probably going to be a couple more fights before I’m back in title contention. The Korean Zombie has proven himself in that last fight with Dustin (Poirier). I’m pretty sure they’re giving him the fight next. Koch, I think that’s a tough fight for Aldo. Koch is a tough fighter and his standup is awkward.”
We also caught up with UFC 148's Melvin Guillard. Take a look.