After his knockout loss to Frankie Edgar at “The Ultimate Fighter Finale” in Dec. 2015, Chad Mendes knew he needed a break from MMA. He had lost three of his last four fights, with two of those coming in title fights against Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor, respectively, and the Edgar fight. Mendes planned on taking a year off to recharge his batteries considering that he had been competing in sports his entire life and wanted to see what life was like outside of competition.
In June of 2016, Mendes had been informed that he tested positive for the growth hormone, Hexapeptide, and was given a two-year suspension by USADA. Mendes said the substance was from a cream he used to take care of psoriasis. With the suspension behind him, the 33-year-old can now come back to work. In front of him this weekend is a featherweight tilt against Myles Jury on the main card of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night.
“For me it was actually pretty enjoyable (time away),” Mendes told Sporting News. “That was the first time in about 25 years that I got to take time away from competing, redlining my body and going thru through the grind. I started swimming before I got into wrestling at like four years old. Then I wrestled from like five years old thru college, graduated and then the next day, I headed to Sacramento to begin professional training.
“I trained for three months and then I had my first fight and I didn’t stop. Being able to unplug and step away for a bit, it was great. I started a business with a buddy that we had dreamt about for awhile and really wanted to do for awhile, but neither one of us had the time. It was a blessing in disguise so I could get my dream business started and been doing that the last two years has been amazing.”
Naturally, there comes a point you start to miss what you to love to do after doing it for so long. Mendes wasn’t any different in that sense.
“I’d say about a year and a couple months into it, I was like, ‘Alright, I’m ready to do this. I’m starting to get a dad-bod and I’m not even a dad. I need to get shape’,” Mendes explained. “I was training and doing stuff in the gym the entire time, but it’s a different type of shape when you are in the grind and working out a couple times a day, I missed that. I missed everything about it.”
Mendes accepted fault and took his suspension on the chin. Whenever an athlete fails a drug test, everyone assumes they have always cheated and say that person has gotten to that point of their career because of performance enhancing drugs. More often than not, reputations are tarnished forever regardless of how often you apologize and even if you achieve higher success.
“I’m sure to some people it is,” Mendes said about his reputation being tarnished in the eyes of some fans. “I think that the people who really know me and understand me as a person, I don’t think so because they understood the situation and know it wasn’t anything I was trying to do. All in all, I hope not. I don’t want it to be something I’m known for. I’m a hard worker my entire life. It sucks and it was embarrassing, so I hope not.”
A lot has changed in the division while the former three-time title challenger was away. Jose Aldo is gone from the title picture and new contenders have arose in Brian Ortega and Jeremy Stephens. Max Holloway is the champion and was scheduled to make his second title defense against Ortega at last Saturday’s UFC 226. Holloway had to be pulled due to suffering from concussion-like symptoms. Ortega didn’t accept an interim title fight with Stephens and got pulled from the card as well.
“I hope Max is okay, as he’s a great guy and such a positive role model for the sport,” Mendes said. “Dana says he isn’t going to be fighting for awhile, so I hope he will be okay. He’s a huge featherweight, who cuts a lot of weight. I saw something about water-poisoning and water loading, but ultimately that comes down to him cutting too much weight. I don’t know if that means he will have to come down to 155 or not.
“I think it was smart of Ortega to wait. Anything can happen in this sport. He had his opportunity to fight for the title and I know that pisses fans off whenever guys wait like that. Anybody at anytime can get knocked out in this sport. Why take the risk when you are already right there? If you don’t need the money and are not hurting, just wait.”
The road to another championship opportunity in the talent-rich division for Mendes begins with the No. 12-ranked Jury.
“Myles is counterstriker and a tall, lanky guy cutting down from 155,” Mendes stated. “He likes using kicks to keep guys at range and keep the pace at his own. He’s got some wrestling background, as he trains with (Dominick) Cruz, which is definitely to my advantage. I think all-in-all, I match up great with him. My speed, power and athleticism, I don’t think he’s faced someone like that yet. I’m excited to get back in there and go get that win.”