(Each week leading up to major MMA events, I choose one fighter on the main card to spotlight. This will include taking a look at that particular fighter’s life and career, his past, his present, and his future. For this spotlight, for the upcoming WEC 52 card, I have chosen to spotlight Chad Mendes.)
WEC 52 will be a realization of the future- the WEC will be no more come December 17. As one of the final shows, it’s time to look into the future of what will become of its fighters. Will they live to fight another day in the UFC, or will they be looking at having to dig their journey back through the independent leagues for a chance to get another shot at glory?
For Chad "Money" Mendes, it’s a culmination of a journey for a team.
Mendes, along with his Team Alpha Male teammates Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez, are destined to be a large part of the featherweight and bantamweight divisions when they move into the UFC. They’ve been a large part of the WEC, especially Faber, and now they will get the chance to shine in the bright lights and on the big stage in the UFC, something these guys rightfully have earned and deserve.
And the 25-year old Mendes gets his chance to shine at WEC 52 when he takes on veteran Javier Vasquez in a fight that was recently promoted to co-main event status.
A look back at the progression of Mendes’ career will show that he was destined to earn his shot at glory.
Mendes started out as a collegiate wrestler, and uses his wrestling as his background in fights. In high school, he was a standout. In 2001, he finished 8th in the state of California in the 103 pound class, followed by a 5th in 2002 at 114 pounds, and a 3rd in 2003 at 121 pounds, all while receiving honors for being a Cadet All-American.
Success in high school wrestling led to more success at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California. Future teammate Faber tried to recruit Mendes to UC Davis, but it was ultimately unsuccessful, although they kept in touch. Mendes finished his college career with an overall record of 64-14, going 30-1 in his senior year, and finishing 2nd in the NCAA at 141 pounds. During his senior year, he was ranked #1 in the nation for most of the year, receiving Pac-10 Wrestler of the Year honors.
Following the conclusion of his NCAA collegiate wrestling career, Mendes hooked back up with Faber and began training mixed martial arts in Sacramento, California with the rest of the Team Alpha Male crew.
In September 2008, Mendes made his MMA debut for the Palace Fighting Championships, a well-known regional promotion based in Lemoore, California, against Giovanni Encarnacion. In that fight Mendes took Encarnacion down quickly, and dodged a few upkick attempts, until he was able to take Encarnacion’s back and sink in a rear naked choke at the 2:06 mark of the 1st round to gain his first career victory.
Mendes returned for his second fight in February 2009, again for the Palace Fighting Championships, this time facing Leland Gridley. Early in that fight Mendes was actually taken down before getting right back up, showing off his wrestling defense. He then took Gridley down and maintained top control, even attempting a heel hook, to take the 1st round. Mendes then came out immediately with a takedown in round 2 and controlled the top again before finishing Gridley with punches for his second career victory, and his first by way of TKO.
Mendes then continued his career in the Palace Fighting Championships, and its subsequent spin-off promotion, Tachi Palace Fights, racking up three more wins over Art Arciniega (by decision), Steven Siler (by KO) and Mike Joy (by decision) to improve his record to 5-0.
The 5-0 start prompted the WEC to sign Mendes to a multi-fight contract in October 2009.
Mendes’ first fight in his WEC career came in March of this year at WEC 47 in Columbus, Ohio, against Eric Koch, who came into the fight undefeated as well, at 9-0, and off of a win over Jameel Massouh at WEC 45. Mendes used his superior wrestling to get Koch to the ground over all three rounds, controlling the top, fighting off some strikes from bottom from Koch, and surviving a nasty cut outside his left eye, to win the one-sided fight by unanimous decision on straight 30-27 scores, and earn his first victory in the WEC.
Mendes then made a quick return as an injury replacement on the next WEC show, WEC 48 in April, in Sacramento, where he lives and trains, to face Anthony Morrison on two weeks notice. Mendes again used his wrestling to wrestle Morrison to the ground, but this time, instead of riding it out for a decision, Mendes quickly locked in a guillotine choke, forcing Morrison to tap out at the 2:13 mark of the first round. It was Mendes’ first WEC victory by submission, and was later featured during the Spike TV prelim broadcast and the pay-per-view broadcast of the show.
The win over Morrison led to Mendes’ first official appearance on a WEC main card at WEC 50 in August, when he took on WEC veteran Cub Swanson. Going into the fight, Mendes declared that it was going to be his coming out party. The fight ended up like most of Mendes' previous fights. Mendes used his superior wrestling to continually take Swanson down. Swanson hit Mendes with a couple of shots, but Mendes was able to get Swanson down every time, and won a unanimous decision to continue his winning streak.
Now sitting at 8-0 to start his MMA career, Mendes enters Thursday's WEC 52 event with a lot of confidence, but will be going up against his toughest challenge to date in veteran and jiu-jitsu black belt Javier Vazquez in the night's co-main event.
In an interview with MMA Weekly Radio, Mendes talked of his excitement of this match-up. "I think this is a great match-up for me. Javi is really, really good at jiu-jitsu, but I’m really good at wrestling. A lot of the time, those things clash, but I’m really looking to showcase more of my stand-up," said Mendes.
Another win could bring Mendes next in line for a shot of the newly minted UFC Featherweight Title. But Mendes certainly isn't looking past Vazquez.
"I only have eight fights, and I’ve only been doing this for about two years. People are already looking at me like I’m ready for a title shot. It definitely is a compliment. But I am taking it one fight at a time and I’m not looking past anybody. Javier is a tough opponent," Mendes said during the MMA Weekly Radio appearance.
Two years and eight fights into his career, Mendes is entering the upper echelon of the world's featherweight fighters. With an opportunity in the UFC waiting and a title shot possible in the near future, Mendes is certainly a fighter to watch develop over the coming years.
"I learned something each fight. Even if it doesn’t show in the fight, I learn a lot stuff from each fight. Coming into this fight, I’m more confident than the last one."