Rated Next: Is Chad Mendes the Next Featherweight Champion?

Chad Mendes

Chad Mendes

Mendes headlines crop of bright young featherweights

The Rated Next series kicked off with Michael McDonald representing the bantamweight division. The talented 20-year-old has all the markings of a future star and potential champion, the epitome of the type of competitor this series aims to shine a spotlight on.

Featherweight is next on the list, and we’ve gotten here at just the right time, as the competitor I like to carry the division in the coming years could have the title wrapped around his waist by the end of the summer.

Rated Next: Chad Mendes (10-0)

Prior to his fight with Michihiro Omigawa at UFC 126, I wouldn’t have been backing Mendes as the guy who could become a superstar in the 145-pound division.

A two-time All-American during his time at Cal Poly SLO, Mendes was coming off consecutive decision wins that spent a great deal of time on the ground. His wins over Cub Swanson and Javier Vazquez either exhibited the Team Alpha Male member’s superior top control game or a return to the days of lay-and-pray, depending on what kind of spin you want to put on the results.

Either way, Mendes looked like a guy who had solid potential, but lacked dimension. All that changed in his meeting with Omigawa.

For starters, the Japanese judoka was the first serious challenge of his young career, and Mendes aced the test and probably earned a bonus mark or two. Omigawa was a consensus top 10 competitor (still is), but he was unable to find any kind of rhythm during the bout, as Mendes controlled the pace, the space and everything else on the way to sweeping the scorecards.

As much as he still utilized his impressive wrestling, it was the development of his hands that moved Mendes into this position for me. He looked much more comfortable standing than he had in the past, and confidently threw his hands, connect with quality shots on numerous occasions.

Perhaps some of that stems from being unafraid of what his opponent brought to the table in the striking department, but regardless of the reasoning, Mendes showed that he’s working on adding a new dimension to his offensive arsenal. Adding a solid striking game to the division’s best wrestling will make defending against the shot even harder.

Mendes is expected to square off with featherweight champ Jose Aldo at UFC 133 this August in Philadelphia. While Aldo won four out of five rounds against Mark Hominick at UFC 129 last month, he didn’t look good when the Canadian put him on his back during the fifth round.

If Aldo is as disinterested on his back against Mendes as he was against Hominick, we could have a new featherweight champion. Hominick was able to do some damage after absorbing four rounds of abuse, and you can be sure that Mendes will be looking to take the fight to the floor long before the final frame begins.

His speed/power combination is different from anything Aldo has dealt with before, and though Aldo will rightfully be the favorite heading into the bout, Mendes has the tools to pull the upset. Having teammate Urijah Faber to turn to for advice helps Mendes’ chances as well; Aldo chopped Faber down over five rounds in his final bout in the 145-pound weight class.

Mendes is already regarded as one of the top featherweights in the sport, and he has the potential to remain there for quite some time; the only question is whether he can reach the very top.

Lucky for us, we get to find out the answer later this summer.

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