Sherdog Prospect Watch: Chad Mendes

By Jason Probst Mar 24, 2009
Chad Mendes may be one of the least-experienced members of Team Alpha Male, but given the reports from the camp and his credentials, he might be one of the new faces to watch in the featherweight division. With teammate Urijah Faber as the sole star of the bunch, Mendes is one of those fighters looking for an opportunity. And he’s confident in his ability to capitalize on it, given the level of people with whom he trains.

Now 2-0 in mixed marital arts, Mendes was rolling along in his senior year in 2008, unbeaten heading into the NCAA tournament before losing in the finals. In a match most wrestling fans thought he would win, Mendes lost, taking second in the nation at 141 pounds. It motivates him still.

“Some people look at it as choking. I was undefeated rest of season, it was my last year, I was having a great time, and there wasn’t a lot of pressure in my mind,” said Mendes, who competed for Cal Poly San Luis-Obispo after a standout high school career in Hanford, Calif. “What was gonna happen was gonna happen. It went great all way up to the finals, and I kind of got a crappy call -- a couple points that would’ve turned the match in the other direction. I never reached the top. It was at my fingertips, so I still have that drive and hunger.”

Like Faber, Mendes’ college wrestling background gave him a helpful base to get into the sport. The former World Extreme Cagefighting champion recruited Mendes to attend UC Davis, unsuccessfully it turned out, but the two kept in touch through the revolving-door wrestling world of tournaments and clinics. While Faber failed to get Mendes to attend his alma mater, he was eager to get Mendes into the professional world as soon as his college career ended. Mendes’ wrestling style was everything you’d expect from a top-level college grappler -- hard-nosed, technically tight and physically imposing.

“I always talked to him, even when he was in college, about coming and training when he was done because he was such a tough kid,” Faber said. “I told him to get it done coming into his final year.”


Full Fight: Chad Mendes vs. Leland Gridley.
Faber did not want Mendes to endure what he did as a smallish college grappler looking to break into MMA. While Faber turned pro a mere five years ago, opportunities were scarce for anyone under 155 pounds. The few big-money opportunities that existed were largely in Japan, and the WEC was not on television getting the promotional push that’s seen it become a programming staple of airwaves. You had to fight in small shows, stateside, and there were few gyms in the Sacramento, Calif., area (or anywhere else for that matter) that truly embraced the kind of MMA training a fighter needs.

“I basically worked and traveled all around and had a rough time finding training,” said Faber, who served as an assistant coach at UC Davis during the early years of his career. “I wanted to make it easy for him, and I knew what he could do. He’s a better wrestler than I was in college. I’ll tell you what. People always mistake us for each other, same body types. Even in the face a little bit. He’s just got all the ingredients. If you wouldn’t have taught him one thing other than wrestling, he’s a tough fight for anybody in the world. He’s just improved so fast; he’s already a really tough fight for me.”

Mendes likes the sessions as much as Faber does. For a fighter with two matches under his belt, it’s the kind of stuff that makes the fights easier. Mendes is still a ways from landing with a big promotion -- manager Mike Roberts indicated they will take whatever right offer comes when the time is right.

“We really go at it. Our wrestling styles are really similar,” Mendes said. “We just bang the hell out of each other. A lot of the guys in the room don’t know what it’s about. They’re like, ‘Holy [expletive]. They’re banging the crap out of each other’s heads.’ It’s so awesome working with Urijah. He’s at the top. I’m just starting out, and it’s a great place to gauge where I’m at. We’re the exact same size. It’s a great way for me to train.

“Urijah’s been a great guy, taken me into his home,” Mendes added. “I haven’t had to pay rent; the only thing I’m paying for is my food. I do get sponsors, and it’s enough to just squeak by on right now. Hopefully, I get a few fights under my belt when I move to something televised.”

Mendes adds that the camaraderie and group focus of Team Alpha Male -- several members of which live in a string of five houses in Sacramento -- is key to his progress. In his first two fights, he’s taken down opponents and physically punished them, scoring a rear-naked choke and a tapout due to strikes.

“I train six days a week, probably about five to six hours per day of actual training; I’m at the gym all day. I’m not working out the entire time, but sometimes I do three or four workouts a day,” he said. “It’s a super-hard grind. Urijah was talking to me, and I think he’s talked to Roberts a little bit, too; they want three or four fights under my belt [before a big-name fight]. I don’t want to rush into this. I’ve heard from a lot of people that’s one of the biggest mistakes in MMA.”

Roberts believes Mendes is more advanced than Faber was at this point in his career. He wants time for Mendes to develop more experience. His two victories have totaled a little more than four minutes.

“We're just giving him experience. He doesn't want to fight chumps,” Roberts said. “It’s a tough go in a grappling match between them, because Chad’s an even better wrestler than Urijah. He gives him everything he can handle. And he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Right now, Chad just has to work on his stand-up striking and defense, just get used to getting punched. He's more advanced there than Urijah was at this point.”

In addition to Faber and WEC bantamweight Joseph Benavidez, Mendes can train with a host of talent around him on Team Alpha Male, including Dustin Akbari, who’s been with Faber longer than any of them.

“Dustin is mainly a jiu-jitsu guy, but the guy’s been training MMA with Urijah when he first started,” Mendes said. “He’s been wrestling with all top NCAA wrestlers; he’s got great jiu-jitsu, and he’s also been working with professional boxers in his gym. His hands are becoming amazing.”

Faber admits the situation is a lot better than when he turned pro. Back then, training was hard to find, and facilities were threadbare compared to consistent home-cooking he enjoys today at Ultimate Fitness.

“All my friends were getting jobs and getting married, and the only guy I could find was a 15-year old named Dustin,” Faber said. “He‘s been my main training partner since he was 15.”

Still, there’s gym time, and then there’s real fighting. And if the recent results from the team are any indication -- whether it’s Faber knocking down Jens Pulver with a Mexican-style liver shot or Benavidez delivering in an impressive WEC debut in November against Danny Martinez -- Team Alpha Male members are going to keep pushing each other on a daily basis. The results will shake themselves out.

“It’s such a mentality thing,” Faber said. “Fighting is a scary thing for the general public. When you have a family-type setting, like-minded people around you, it eases a lot of that. Chad has been in the finals of the NCAAs. We’ve got Master Tong, who is a kickboxing specialist; he’s coached like seven world champions in boxing and muay Thai.

“We’ve got a ton of talent to pull from, and I’ve got guys coming in to help out,” he added. “Kyacey Uscola … he’s getting ready to come off a year off. There’s guys all over the place getting on the bandwagon. Our team is really is gonna be a force to be reckoned with.”

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