If there's one fighter in the UFC featherweight division that nobody seems to want to face these days, it's former title contender Chad Mendes.
The former NCAA All-American wrestler has struggled to find top opponents in his last few fights, not including the latest incident that saw former Ultimate Fighter finalist Manny Gamburyan drop out of their bout at UFC 157 due to injury. No other fighter could be found by UFC officials to step in on two weeks notice to face Mendes.
Now Mendes finds himself off the upcoming card and waiting word on an opponent who is willing to step up to face him.
It's a tough spot for one of the division's best fighters, who was ranked No. 1 in the recent UFC fighter rankings, just below featherweight champion Jose Aldo. Mendes isn't sure why the best of the best at 145 lbs aren't willing to face him, but if recent history is any lesson, he's just not on the top of the list for any top fighter to challenge.
"We've tried to set up a few fights, my last three fights, and people have either said just straight up no or stuff has fallen through, injuries have happened, the list goes on. Who knows what's really happening, but this is our job. This is what we train to do, this is what we get paid to do. I don't know why any of these guys would not want to fight. That's how we make money," Mendes told Bleacher Report.
Mendes isn't asking for sympathy when it comes to the contender's race for the featherweight title because he got his shot a year ago and came up short against Jose Aldo at UFC 142. That doesn't mean that he doesn't want to plot a course back to the belt, but to get there it takes facing top notch competition and he's not finding many challengers to fit that bill lately.
Truth be told, Mendes loves the way he matches up with most of the top fighters vying for the gold at 145 lbs right now. The key is getting one of them to face him in the Octagon.
Is Chad Mendes simply the most dangerous featherweight not holding the belt right now?
"Not to sound cocky or over confident but I believe exactly what you just said," Mendes responded when asked that question. "Ricardo (Lamas) is a tough guy but I think stylistically I would match up just great with the guy. He doesn't have a whole lot of super dangerous stuff on his feet. He's not long overly powerful or anything and relies a lot on wrestling, which is kind of my bread and butter. I think stylistically that would be a good match-up for me.
"The Korean Zombie (Chan Sung Jung) obviously we've training together, I know a lot of stuff that the guy has and I'll just say I'm very confident going against the Zombie. He's a good guy and everything, but I feel like I am the No. 2 guy right now. Obviously it's up to the UFC where and when I'm going to fight, if I do, for the belt next. Basically my job is just to keep getting in there and beating whoever they put in front of me."
Who should Chad Mendes face next?
As of right now, Ricardo Lamas says he's locked up for a potential bout that's yet to be announced for May, and most assume it will be a fight against Chan Sung Jung. Meanwhile, UFC champion Jose Aldo is facing lightweight transfer Anthony Pettis in August.
The most logical choice for Mendes' next fight would seemingly fall to two possibilities – former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar or newly minted featherweight Clay Guida. Edgar just went five rounds with the champion in a closely contested bout, and there might not be a quicker path back to the belt for either fighter than facing off with each other.
Clay Guida has always been a top contender and a very well known fighter in the UFC, so his entry to featherweight and willingness to face tough competitors could bode well for Mendes.
Whoever it ends up being, Mendes is putting the featherweight division on notice that 2013 will be a big year for him, and when the calendar comes to a close, he hopes there's a title shot looming to start the New Year.
Damon Martin is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.