As UFC 138 draws closer and the featherweight title fight between champion Jose Aldo and challenger Kenny Florian gets ready to take place, the UFC still hasn’t determined without a doubt who the next contender is.
The most obvious choice is the No. 2 ranked featherweight in the world, Chad Mendes, who picked up his 11th win at UFC 133 with a unanimous decision victory over Rani Yahya.
Still there seems to be some question if Mendes will get the next shot despite his standing in the division and his flawless record.
UFC president Dana White hasn’t committed to Mendes being the next challenger for the winner of Aldo vs. Florian, but that doesn’t mean he’s not still at the top of everybody’s list for contenders.
“I think Mendes was the guy who was in line and probably deserved it most,” said former WEC featherweight champion Mike Brown when talking about the 145-pound title picture.
A matter of timing led to Mendes taking his fight at UFC 133 after originally being rumored to face Aldo on that card. An injury pushed Aldo out of an August fight, but Mendes decided to stay busy and took a bout on the show anyway.
Most have considered Mendes the top contender in the division since his win over former Dream and Sengoku veteran Michihiro Omigawa earlier this year.
“Chad Mendes is pure determination. From his work ethic to his confidence in hitting exciting moves in battle, he keeps upping his toolbox and that is why he is the best around, and like me, undefeated,” said UFC middleweight contender Chael Sonnen when asked who he considered the top contender in the division. (Editor’s Note: Sonnen’s record actually sits at 25-11-1, for those keeping track.)
The former college wrestler suffered a slight hand injury in his fight at UFC 133 against Yahya, but x-rays following the bout revealed only a sprain and nothing broken.
A few weeks of rest and recovery and Mendes will be back in the gym preparing for his next bout. The only question at this point remains will it be a title fight against the winner of Jose Aldo and Kenny Florian?
“Chad Mendes has all the tools of becoming a champion,” UFC middleweight Mark Munoz told MMAWeekly.com. “His work ethic and mentality of success will get him to the top.”
Stylistically, Mendes would appear to create the most problems for a fighter like Aldo. A collegiate wrestler and NCAA All-American, Mendes has shown to have tremendous takedowns and has dominated his way to 11 wins in as many tries.
The only other viable candidate that appears on the radar for the featherweight title picture is Japanese transport Hatsu Hioki, who makes his Octagon debut at UFC 137 in October against George Roop.
Hioki has won his last four fights in a row and nine out of his last 10. The only problem is Hioki will be seen for the first time by many fans in the United States when he makes his debut in October, while Mendes has been in several big fights in both the WEC and UFC since moving there earlier this year.
Mendes’ coach and close friend Urijah Faber believes that his fighter is already the top contender for the belt, even if Kenny Florian is the one challenging for the belt in October.
“Chad Mendes is one of the only fighters in the world to have never really been pushed or really challenged by his opponents,” Faber told MMAWeekly.com. “I believe that he has the best takedown in MMA and at 11-0 is relatively new to the sport, and already at the top.”
Mendes has spent more time competing under the Zuffa umbrella than he did outside of their shark infested waters. He debuted with five fights to his record and has since amassed a 6-0 record between the WEC and the UFC.
Always happy to play by the rules and fight whomever the UFC tells him, Mendes is ready for the challenge of fighting for the featherweight strap. If it takes asking for a title shot to get it, Mendes is making that request.
“In my mind, I am the best featherweight in the world. Kenny Florian is not the No. 1 contender, I am,” Mendes said. “I chose not to wait and I’m happy with that decision. I want the winner. Whoever wins, I’ll be waiting for (him).”
Mendes plans on being front and center for UFC 136 in Houston when Aldo faces Florian for the featherweight title. It’s unknown at this time if Dana White will make the call for him to be named the No. 1 contender by then or not.
While there are definitely a lot of great featherweights currently vying for a top spot in the UFC’s 145-pound title race, it’s hard to deny that Chad Mendes has earned his place as the next in line.
Damon Martin is the lead staff writer and radio host for MMAWeekly.com.
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