Chad Mendes is in an unusual position in his impressive mixed martial arts career so far.
He’s not on a winning streak.
He began his career Sept. 26, 2008, with a win via a rear-naked choke on Giovanni Encarnacion. That started a run of 11 consecutive professional victories. But the streak ended in shocking fashion early this year, when Jose Aldo issued a knockout in the featherweight title fight in January — making Mendes a loser for the first time.
The thing is, Mendes has been here before.
This isn’t the first time that he’s felt like he needs to prove himself. At Cal Poly, the Hanford native was 30-0 during his senior wrestling campaign but unexpectedly lost to Ohio State’s J Jaggers after a third-round takedown and near fall in the 141-pound final at the 2008 NCAA Championships.
Mendes then made the transition to MMA the same year.
“It’s pretty much the same situation,” he recently said by phone from his training center in Sacramento. “It sucks. I hate losing. But it’s part of any sport you play. It’s how you come back from this, how well you’re going to do.”
His comeback begins today at 7 p.m., when Mendes (11-1-0) faces Cody McKenzie (13-2-0) in a pay-per-view fight at UFC 148 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. It’s one of the undercard bouts on the Chael Sonnen-Anderson Silva main event.
Eleven of McKenzie’s wins have come after he performed his signature guillotine chokehold.“Cody is a funky fighter,” said Mendes, who used to spar with McKenzie in Team Alpha Male training sessions. “Funky. I think there’s no other word to describe him. He likes to be in your face the whole time.”
McKenzie, a former participant on the reality TV show “The Ultimate Fighter,” told MMAjunkie.com Radio that his relationship with Mendes is strictly professional.
“We never had no problems,” McKenzie told the broadcast. “We weren’t best of friends or anything. We’ve never went on trips together or hung out. When we ran into each other, we were always civil and shook hands and (expletive). But once you sign that piece of paper to fight me, our friendship goes right out the window.”
Mendes has been preparing for the chokehold since the fight was announced in May. He said he’s ready for it. In fact, he trains with Joseph Benavidez and Urijah Faber, who have mastered the submission method, Mendes said.
Mendes knows he needs this win over McKenzie to help him get back to the top of the sport.
“It sucks to lose,” Mendes said. “I hate losing anything. I get mad when my wife beats me at Yahtzee or anything like that. Hopefully, I won’t make the same mistake again. Hopefully, I can get back out there and win. That’s what I’m here to do.”
Mendes has proven he’s a true competitor since his wrestling days at Cal Poly, where he complied a career record of 64-14. Undoubtedly, his wrestling abilities have helped dictate his pro fights.
“Cal Poly was a great experience, something I’m never going to forget,” he said. “It’s part of me.”
In his 11 MMA wins, he has recorded two knockouts/TKO, two submissions and seven decisions.
His four-year pro career reached its peak Jan. 14, when he faced Aldo. Mendes said he was winning the match until the featherweight champion delivered a devastating left knee to his face, knocking him to the ground. Aldo proceeded to land two quick punches to the head of Mendes before referee Mario Yamasaki stepped in and called the fight with one second left in the opening round.
Mendes has seen footage of the fight more than once. He said he’s learned from his mistake that resulted in the knee to the face. And he’s ready to move forward, knowing McKenzie is waiting.
“I don’t think I’m starting over,” Mendes said, “especially after a loss for the belt. That was basically the top. I think I’m two or three fights from getting back into that competition.”