Chad Mendes knows he has what it takes to be a champion.
The veteran UFC featherweight has competed for gold in the promotion on three separate occasions — twice against Jose Aldo and a third time opposite Conor McGregor on short notice — but he hasn’t had that title wrapped around his waist just yet.
Following his loss to McGregor back in 2015, Mendes probably should have taken some much needed time off considering the rigorous schedule he was keeping.
Mendes engaged in an absolute war with Aldo back in 2014 before knocking out Ricardo Lamas to put himself into position to face the outspoken Irishman on two weeks notice. Unfortunately, Mendes ran out of gas and suffered a TKO loss but he was anxious to get back into the cage to wash the bad taste of defeat from his mouth.
Sadly, Mendes’ rush to return to the win column backfired when he suffered a knockout loss to Frankie Edgar five months later.
At that point, Mendes was resigned to taking a year off from competition to finally allow his body and mind to heal after punishing himself for too long without any kind of real break in the action.
“As fighters, everybody has that mentality of just go, go, go and the same with the wrestling mentality. There were multiple times during my wrestling career where I probably should have sat out a weekend but it was always push, go, push, go. Same thing in the fight world,” Mendes explained when speaking to MMAWeekly. “You get offered a fight, you take it. Especially as big a fight as it was with Frankie [Edgar]. I had just finished the Conor [McGregor] fight, which was a huge fight and it’s just tough to turn those things down.
“I probably should have taken a little more time. Nothing I can do about it now but move forward and try to learn from those experiences.”
Mendes was flagged for a doping violation by USADA in June 2016 and ultimately suspended for two years for the infraction.
After his drug test came back positive, Mendes figured out rather quickly that a cream he was using to treat his psoriasis contained the banned substance that was flagged by USADA. Rather than make excuses or try to lie his way out of the situation, Mendes owned it and accepted the penalty for his mistake.
Of course Mendes never wants to be labeled as a cheater considering his dedication to doing things the right way his entire life, including being drug tested throughout his career as both a wrestler and a fighter. Still, Mendes is ready to put the past behind him and focus on getting his career back on track when he fights this Saturday in Boise, Idaho against Myles Jury.
“I was so frustrated with where I was, it was embarrassing as hell, I wasn’t trying to do anything, I was already taking a year off so I wasn’t even trying to fight it,” Mendes said about his punishment.
“I think because I didn’t fight it, that pissed off a lot of people, too. Ultimately, it comes down to I am innocent and that’s why I’m not fighting it. I’m admitted yes I was taking this but I didn’t know what was in it. I just want to move forward and fight hard. I’m working my ass off. I’ve been putting in the time and the work to be a champion. I’m here doing what I’m supposed to do.”
If there was a positive side to the time off it’s that Mendes has finally been able to allow his body to heal in a way he’s never experienced before.
Considering Mendes has been competing as an athlete since he was four years old and wrestling since he was just five years of age, he never really took any time off for the better part of 25 years.
That’s a lot of wear and tear to put on a body so Mendes was thankful that he was finally able to rest and recharge his batteries before preparing for his comeback this weekend.
“I’ve been able to let my body just rest and heal and recoup and it’s been great,” Mendes said. “I feel recharged and I feel excited to get back in there. I feel motivated in the gym. It’s been great.”
Perhaps the best part about the timing of Mendes’ return to action is that he’s still considered one of the top featherweights in the sport and he’s got plenty of potential matchups awaiting him in the division.
Mendes has never had the opportunity to face off with current champion Max Holloway and No. 1 ranked contender Brian Ortega was only two fights into his UFC career when the Team Alpha Male fighter last competed.
While his focus remains solely on Jury for now, Mendes can’t wait to test himself against anybody at the top of the featherweight division as he looks to reclaim his spot as the No. 1 contender in the world.
“I’m super excited to get back in there. Hopefully I win a fight or two and I’m right back where I left. I’ve got to focus on Myles right now. He’s a tough dude and that’s the task at hand,” Mendes said.
“I honestly believe a lot of these guys have their weaknesses and their weaknesses fall right into my strengths. I think it’s a perfect time for me to come back. Being able to take that time off and then coming back strong now, I think it’s just perfect timing for me. I’m just excited to start fighting these guys.”