TORONTO - It’s no secret Chad Mendes’ game plan involves taking Jose Aldo down.
The former NCAA Division I wrestler has made a career of getting opponents to the mat and keeping them there. Though seven of his 11 victories have gone to the judges’ scorecards, no one has been able to stop Mendes from doing what he does best.
But saying you’re going to take Aldo down and actually doing it are two completely different animals. Even Mendes’ training partner, Urijah Faber, learned that the hard way, losing a unanimous decision to Aldo almost two years ago.
But Mendes isn’t going to let that stop him. He said he will succeed where other wrestlers have failed.
“I think Jose’s takedown defence is great, especially up against the cage,” Mendes said during a recent UFC conference call. “But the difference with guys like Urijah and Mike Brown is neither of those guys have an explosive shot. Especially Urijah. A lot of his takedowns are snap singles. And Brown just kind of bullies you up against the cage and works for the takedown from there.
“I think Jose is really good at defending both of those, but my style of shot is more of an explosive, blast-you-off-your-feet takedown. A lot of the time, those are harder to defend. We won’t know until we get in there.”
Mendes will get to test his theory when he challenges Aldo for the featherweight championship at UFC 142 in Rio de Janeiro Saturday. The card will also feature a co-main event between Vitor Belfort and Anthony Johnson.
Though he’s a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt, Aldo prefers the stand-up game, with 12 of his 20 victories coming by some form of knockout. Knowing that Mendes will look to put him flat on his back, Aldo enlisted the services of UFC lightweight Gray Maynard to help sharpen his wrestling skills.
“It was a great pleasure having Gray down here in Rio,” Aldo said through his translator Derek Lee. “I’ve been training wrestling for some time, but I needed a well-versed guy who has been training wrestling his whole life to kind of clear up things.
“Having Gray come down the last two weeks has helped me out a lot for this fight, where I’m facing a wrestler.”
Mendes said with or without Maynard’s help, Aldo’s wrestling won’t be good enough to stop his shot.
“I don’t care who he trains with,” Mendes said. “I train with some of the best guys in the world. I’ve been wrestling since I was five years old. It’s what I’ve done my entire life. I haven’t taken a year off ever.
“I don’t care who he works with. He can work with the best wrestlers in the entire world in his camp and his wrestling isn’t going to be anywhere near as good as mine.”
One of the deciding factors in the bout could be Aldo’s leg kicks. If Mendes is able to time them, he could use them against the Brazilian to get takedowns. But should he get tagged a number of times, his explosive takedown power will gradually diminish.
Mendes said having Faber in his corner has helped prepare him for Aldo’s vicious kicks.
“Going into (Faber’s fight with Aldo), we knew Jose had leg kicks, but it wasn’t something that was a red flag,” Mendes said. “So the game plan was a little off.
“Talking to Urijah about his experience being in there with Jose, we’ve been able to highlight strengths and weaknesses.
“I don’t see Jose as having any holes or cracks in his game. I think, if anything, he has some areas that aren’t quite as strong as others. I feel the same about my game. I’m still young in the sport, but I’m learning fast and I feel great about every part of my game.”
Mendes will be one of eight foreign fighters facing Brazilian opponents at UFC 142. That number also includes Canadians Sam Stout and Antonio Carvalho. Last August, Brazilian fighters went 7-1 in this same scenario.
Mendes, a California native, said he expects to be Rocky Balboa to Aldo’s Ivan Drago.
“(Brazil) is the birthplace of MMA,” Mendes said. “Going over there and beating a champion — for me, there’s no better way to prove I’m the best 145-pound fighter.”