UFC Boise: Chad Mendes actually enjoyed time away from MMA

Chad Mendes (Getty Images)

After his knockout loss to Frankie Edgar at “The Ultimate Fighter Finale” in December 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 2016, Mendes was informed that he had tested positive for the growth hormone Hexapeptide and was given a two-year suspension by U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. 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 through the grind. I started swimming before I got into wrestling at, like, 4 years old, then I wrestled from, like, 5 years old through 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 a while but neither one of us had the time. It was a blessing in disguise so I could get my dream business started and 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, and in that sense Mendes wasn’t any different.

“I’d say about a year and a couple months into it, I was like, ‘All right, 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 said. “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 the athletes apologize and even if they 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 Brian Ortega and Jeremy Stephens have arisen. Max Holloway is the champion and was scheduled to make his second title defense against Ortega at last Saturday’s UFC 226, but Holloway had to be pulled because he was suffering from concussion-like symptoms. Ortega didn’t accept an interim title fight with Stephens and was pulled from the card as well. 

“I hope Max is OK, as he’s a great guy and such a positive role model for the sport,” Mendes said. “(UFC president) Dana (White) says he isn’t going to be fighting for a while, so I hope he will be OK. 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 (pounds) 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 any time 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.” 

Mendes’ road to another championship opportunity in the talent-rich division begins with the No. 12-ranked Jury. 

“Myles is counterstriker and a tall, lanky guy cutting down from 155,” Mendes said. “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.”