Chad Mendes isn't one to complain, but even he admits the past year has been a bit frustrating. And with opponent after opponent dropping out of planned fights with him, Mendes hopes the UFC brass is going to cut him a little slack.
"I couldn't catch a break," Mendes told MMAjunkie.com (UFC blog for UFC news, UFC rumors, fighter interviews and event previews/recaps
). "I don't know what these guys are doing to get injured or what is going on, but it's just frustrating."
Fifteen months ago, Mendes earned a title shot against UFC featherweight champ Jose Aldo. Things didn't go Mendes' way, and a pinpoint-accurate knee strike earned Aldo a first-round knockout win. Still, the 27-year-old Mendes has remained at the top of the division, and he's currently ranked No. 3 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie.com MMA featherweight rankings. So after the loss, Mendes went about working himself into position for a championship rematch.
First was a bout with "The Ultimate Fighter 12" winner Cody McKenzie. That lasted all of 31 seconds, which prompted no less than UFC President Dana White to call for a "better fight" for Mendes.
That's when things got downright maddening.
First Mendes was slated to fight Nova Uniao standout Hacran Dias. However, the Brazilian was forced to withdraw due to an injury, and Mendes was left to welcome newcomer Yaotzin Meza to the UFC. A first-round knockout followed, and Mendes tried to stay positive about his performance in the two mismatches.
"My last two fights, I'm happy with them," he said. "They weren't Top 10 guys, by any means, but every fight is a tough fight, especially in the UFC. So getting in there, getting the experience, getting the two finishes, it's something that's helped me with my confidence a lot."
Mendes then was set to face Manny Gamburyan in February at UFC 157 event. Gamburyan also withdrew from the fight, and with a suitable replacement impossible to find on short notice, the bout was scratched. Mendes was then booked for a UFC on FOX 7 matchup with perennial fan favorite Clay Guida, who was also – you guessed it – forced to withdraw after suffering an injury.
"Basically, I've been through three back-to-back-to-back camps now, which sucks," Mendes said. "I go through a camp, and I spend my own money. I'll go $6,000 or $7,000 or even $10,000 in, and then right before the fight it falls through. I don't get that money back, so that in itself is frustrating, let alone having to kill myself for nothing.
"It just sucks expecting to fight and getting prepared and going through all the hard work, and then it falling out. When it happened with Gamburyan, I was pretty pissed. Then another one right after that with Guida. I thought this was some kind of sick joke or something."
Fortunately for Mendes (13-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC), a qualified competitor was willing to replace Guida on just one month's notice: Darren Elkins (16-2 MMA, 6-1 UFC). The pair now meets on the FX-broadcast prelims of Saturday's UFC on FOX 7 event in San Jose, Calif. The contests precede the evening's FOX-televised main card.
"A lot of people don't know who Darren is, but in my mind he's a Top 10 fighter for sure," Mendes said. "He's a tough guy. He's 5-0 since he's dropped down to featherweight. When it comes to the wrestling part, he's a grinder. He's got a tough chin, and the guy is not afraid to get in there and box. That seems to be his favorite stuff: boxing and wrestling and just grinding people out.
"I think I'm good at all the same things he's good at. I just think I'm a little bit better. I'm more of an athlete. I have higher-level wrestling. I think I'm going to be faster and more powerful than he is on the feet, so I think overall, I'm just going to be better in every spot. But I think this is going to be a tough fight. I'm expecting a war. He has no quit in his game."
But where would a win leave Mendes? That's the ultimate question. Mendes isn't afraid to admit he's eyeing a rematch with Aldo, who's currently set to face Anthony Pettis in August. It appears the winner of a July matchup between Ricardo Lamas and Chan Sung Jung may have the inside track to the winner of that title fight, but Mendes hopes he's not too far behind.
Timing may require him to fight one more time before earning a second crack at the title, but he doesn't think it should take much more than that. After all, while victories over McKenzie and Meza wouldn't normally be enough to earn someone a title shot, Mendes hopes the UFC considers the circumstances.