Chad Mendes has been training for most of his life.
Regardless of whether he was on a wrestling mat or in a cage, he believes that all along he has been preparing for his Jan. 14 featherweight title shot against Jose Aldo at UFC 142.
“I’m just pumped that this time is finally here,” Mendes told the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Savage Dog Show.” “I feel like I’ve been training for this one moment my entire life. I started wrestling when I was five and I never took a year off. This is all just the payoff from starting that young and all that dedication and hard work that I’ve put in. It’s time for me to get out there and show the world who I am and what I’m here to do.”
Mendes’ rise in MMA has been quick. He’s only been fighting professionally since September 2008. However, before fighting he was a standout wrestler at Cal Poly who lost just once his senior year -- in the NCAA championship.
“At that time, nothing was more important to me than winning that NCAA title,” Mendes said. “I had tunnel vision. That’s all I cared about and that’s all I trained for and that’s all I wanted. I came up short. It’s a heartbreaker. It’s something that I’ll always think about and always remember, but … all that work was basically in preparation for what I’m doing now. Now I have tunnel vision for this. This is what I train my hardest for. I’m in here every day busting my butt. It’s tunnel vision for that belt, and that’s the new thing.”
To take the belt, Mendes will have to find a way to beat Aldo. The Brazilian has been dominant in his four title defenses, one of which came against Mendes’ friend and training partner Urijah Faber. Faber did go the 25-minute distance with Aldo, though, and of course he has discussed what he learned from the bout with Mendes.
“[Faber] knows [Aldo’s] strengths,” Mendes said. “He knows his weaknesses. He knows where I’m going to be strong and areas where I need to work.”
In particular, Mendes has focused on his cardio in training. He wants to push the pace in the fight and also dictate where it takes place.
“I’ve got to break him down,” he said. “We’ve all seen that when Aldo gets pushed, his cardio’s kind of suspect. For me, that’s one thing that I’m working on most in this camp, is getting my cardio top-notch and just keeping the pace high. I’ve got to be all over him. I’ve got to get my hands on him. I need to wear him down and break him with that wrestling mentality. That’s key, I think, for beating a guy like Jose.”
If Mendes can pull it off, he’ll walk out of the Octagon a UFC champion. Leaving with the belt, in fact, is something he’s already imagined.
“It’s something that gives me the chills every time I think about it,” Mendes said. “This is the newest chapter in my life. It’s what I’ve trained for. It’s my goal. The belt is the light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s what I’m working and busting my butt for every day. I think about it all the time.”
Listen to the full interview (beginning at 1:42:22).