It seems like eons ago when Chad Mendes lost his only bid to win the UFC featherweight title when he was knocked out by champion Jose Aldo at UFC 142.
Technically, the time span was less than two years ago, but the Mendes that's been competing lately looks like Bruce Banner compared to The Hulk, when talking about his imposing nature in fights.
Prior to the Aldo fight, Mendes was an undefeated prospect at 145 pounds, with five out of his six bouts in the UFC and WEC going to decision. Since losing to Aldo in January 2012, Mendes has finished three straight opponents, while spending less than a total of five minutes inside the cage.
A former NCAA All-American wrestler, Mendes was always known as a grappler who could take any fight to the ground, but he's added a boxing and overall striking game that's put him ranked as the No. 1 featherweight in the world behind Aldo and is right back in the title hunt.
So what's been the secret to Mendes' new-found success lately?
"Bringing Duane (Ludwig) in has been huge for us," Mendes told MMA's Great Debate Radio. "It's so great to have the head coach figure, somebody everybody can trust in and believe in. His system is unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it. I don't think anyone on the team really has, and it's something we've all really fallen into. He's a great coach.
"That was kind of the missing key, the missing link, and I think we finally found it. You guys have seen how we've been doing in the last few fights, and the huge gains we've made in the short amount of time that he's been here so I'm just excited to keep going with it."
Since Ludwig took over as the head coach for Team Alpha Male where Mendes trains, the entire squad has taken on new life. Fighters such as Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez and T.J. Dillashaw haven't tasted defeat since he came on board, and the recent performances by the entire team have been nothing short of spectacular.
The recent success that Mendes has felt, along with the confidence instilled with the addition of Ludwig in his corner, has him believing more than ever that he's ready for a second shot at Aldo.
"That first fight, I still really hadn't found myself when it came to the stand-up game, I was still kind of finding it, I wasn't 100-percent comfortable in there on the feet and really just relied a lot on wrestling still," Mendes said. "I still do a lot of wrestling, I have that in my back pocket, but with Duane here the amount of drilling, the critiquing he's done for the stand-up and the fine tuning, let alone the cool combos and stuff we've gone over, it's completely opened my eyes to a whole new world of MMA."
Mendes can go back and watch his fight with Aldo and see exactly where things went wrong and how he can do better. It's always tough to watch a loss like that, but Mendes used it as a tool to get sharper, and lately he's looked like a razor that could split a hair in two.
"I think the first two rounds are his most dangerous and we've seen in past fights where he kind of fades out from then on out," Mendes said about Aldo. "We went into that fight knowing that, and it was something we felt, but I felt like I was winning the fight. I obviously made a mistake and I've seen what happened, and I've seen the thing where I went wrong."
Mendes knows that if he keeps winning fights there's no way he can be denied a second shot at Aldo down the road. He's already ranked No. 1 in the world, and if he can continue to put on blistering performances like the ones he's had lately, he will get the call for another title shot.
This time, Mendes promises much different results.
"I'm excited to get in there and fight for that belt again," Mendes said. "I think I'm the guy, the one that's going to beat Jose Aldo."
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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