Heavy MMA caught up with WEC featherweight prospect Chad Mendes as he prepares to fight Anthony Morrison at WEC 48 on April 24 in his adopted hometown of Sacramento.
Heavy MMA: What’s it like training with the guys at Team Alpha Male?
Chad Mendes: I definitely think it gives me an edge. These guys are animals here. We have a lot of guys from a lot of different backgrounds. We have a lot of guys here that are strong wrestlers too. I’ve been wrestling since I was 5-years-old and I think that’s one of the strongest bases for MMA, so having guys here that are strong in that area keeps my wrestling sharp. I think that’s one of the things that helps the top fighters do so well is just that body awareness, that strength and that positioning. It’s a great, great opportunity for me to come out here and train with these guys. It’s like a big family here. Everybody helps each other out.
Heavy MMA: Talk about your relationship with Urijah Faber and what he has meant to your career.
Chad Mendes: I’ve known Urijah since my junior year in high school. It was all through the wrestling circuit. The wresting world is a small world. We would see each other at so many different tournaments. Urijah went to Cal-Davis and he was actually recruiting me to go there. I ended up going to Cal-Poly but we kept in touch. Every summer my coach at Cal-Poly would hold a wrestling camp for six weeks. Me, Urijah and all the wrestlers from Cal-Davis and Cal-Poly would work as counselors. When I was a freshman in college, Urijah first starting fighting and he came up to Cal-Poly to train. He was doing some Jiu-Jitsu on the mats and no one wanted to roll with him and I was like, “I’ll try it.” I started rolling with him and he was killing me, but I fell in love with MMA right there. He always told me that after I graduated college that I had a place up here at Team Alpha Male. Actually the day after I graduated I packed all my stuff up, took him up on his offer and moved up here. He’s just been a great mentor and a great person for me to look up to.
Heavy MMA: Did you have your eye on getting into MMA when you were wrestling in college?
Chad Mendes: I kind of made the decision my junior year in college. Growing up I always wanted to do the Olympics but seeing how hard it was for these guys to get into the Olympics kind of changed my mind. It’s a lot of training and sometimes you never even get your chance. A lot of these guys struggle with money and things like that. I made my mind up during my junior year that I wanted to still compete after college so I took Urijah up on that offer. I came up here, started training and just fell in love with it.
Heavy MMA: As a senior in college you were undefeated at 141 pounds but lost in the NCAA finals. What was that loss like and does it still motivate you now?
Chad Mendes: Yes, it definitely still motivates me. That loss in itself was the stamping decision for me to get into MMA. Like I said, I knew I wanted to do this, but after losing that match there was no doubt in my mind I was going to still compete in something after college. It was tough, I still think about it lying in bed at night. I’ll catch myself all tensed up and I’ll have to tell myself to relax. It’s something I still think about and it definitely motivates me to keep competing. My new goal now is getting that belt. I never reached my goal of becoming NCAA champion. That can never happen now so getting that belt is the new goal.
Heavy MMA: What if Urijah is the featherweight champion when you get your title shot?
Chad Mendes: (Laughing) Lots of people have asked us that and I always say we will cross that bridge when we come to it. We’re great friends, like brothers, we’re training partners but this is a business and if it comes down to it and the money is right then, well, I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
Heavy MMA: You won your WEC debut over Eric Koch despite suffering a bad cut over your eye late in that fight. Can you tell us the challenges of what it’s like to fight when you know you have a cut so bad the bout can be stopped at any time?
Chad Mendes: Lucky for me there was only like 3:00 left in the final round when the cut happened, so I didn’t have to fight the whole fight like that. It’s scary, especially when you think you’re winning the fight and something like that happens. You get the thought in the back of your mind that the fight could be over right now. I felt the hit and I felt the blood drip down my eye, it was a scary thought. I think he came after me and tried to finish me because of the cut so I was able to take him down pretty easily. I was lucky that it happened later in the fight and they let it continue and I pulled out the win.
Heavy MMA: You are currently 6-0 and will face Anthony Morrison at WEC 48. Do you think this will be your toughest fight to date?
Chad Mendes: Honestly, I don’t think so. I think Eric Koch was pretty damn tough. He was long, he was strong, and he was a big guy. He was quick too. I honestly think Koch is going to be tougher than this guy. But Anthony Morrison is a very, very tough guy. I’ve watched a lot of tape on him. I got the call for the fight just a couple weeks ago and I haven’t had a lot of time to prepare, but as soon as I found out I’ve done nothing but study that guy and train my butt off. Anthony is a tough guy, he’s a well-rounded fighter but honestly I think Eric Koch was probably tougher.
Heavy MMA: You took this fight on short notice when Mackens Semerzier was forced to back out. What went into the decision to take the fight and how much of a disadvantage is it to start training for an opponent this late?
Chad Mendes: I don’t think it’s necessarily a disadvantage for me. I just fought in March so I’m coming off the momentum of that last fight. I don’t ever really get out of shape. I took about three weeks off where I just trained twice a week. Now I feel rested and I’ve been training hard. I’m healthy and I’ve been able to pick the cardio back up pretty quick since it’s so close to my last fight. Two weeks notice, yeah it’s short, but I honestly think I will be ready for this fight.
Heavy MMA: Was there any hesitation at all about taking this fight on short notice?
Chad Mendes: The only hesitation was getting my cut cleared. I got a 30-day suspension after my last fight and they were cutting it close so we had to go to the doctor. He looked it over and everything was good. That was our only concern but once we got the cut cleared it was a green light.
Heavy MMA: I read where Urijah wanted to bring you along slowly so you didn’t have to overcome some of the challenges he had to early in his career. If you defeat Anthony Morrison at WEC 48, do you feel you are ready to take on some of the top contenders at 145?
Chad Mendes: I like to take it one fight at a time. Obviously it would be great to move up in the rankings and start fighting some of these tougher opponents. I’m 6-0, I’m really young in the sport still and I’m not in any hurry. Whatever the WEC wants me to do, I’m down for. But like I said, I’m not in any hurry.
Heavy MMA: Give us your take on what is going to happen when Urijah Faber meets Jose Aldo at WEC 48?
Chad Mendes: It’s going to be a barnburner. (Laughing) I’m so excited for that fight. Honestly, I can’t wait to get my fight over so I can watch that one. I think it’s going to be a super, super high pace, very fast and explosive fight. Both guys are super athletic and super fast and both are very talented in the sport. I think what Urijah needs to do is keep Aldo up against the cage as much as possible and not let him get those crazy knees in. Work on keeping him up against the cage, maybe throwing him and getting him on the ground. Then he can unleash those vicious elbows and that vicious ground and pound. That’s where I think he’s going to beat Aldo.