When you’re fighting on the streets, there are no big paydays awaiting you. There aren’t media appearances, weigh-ins and referees to jump in when one of the participants can no longer defend themselves, and the only bright lights you’re certain to see are those that flash red and blue. Debuting UFC fighter Eddie Mendez knows all about that life.

“I was kind of a troubled kid,” Mendez told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “I got in some trouble. I did a lot of hell-raising as a kid. I went to a place called the California Youth Authorities from the age of 15 to the age of 20, and when I got out, I needed some kind of direction, some kind of discipline in my life, because I was just so self-destructive at the moment, to be quite honest with you.”

What Mendez needed was a guiding influence. He needed someone or something that could steer him away from the bad path his life was taking and provide him with a purpose. Fortunately, Mendez found that influence.

Mendez (R) throws a right hand (Esther Lin/All Elbows)

“I ended up meeting a gentleman by the name of Mark Parra, and he owns a place called House of Champions, and he saw something in me,” Mendez explained. “I don’t know what it was, but he had me kind of work off my gym dues and put in some fights, and he actually took the time to train me, which meant the world to me. This gentleman has trained with countless world champions, from Benny “The Jet” [Urquidez] to Peter Cunningham, and a couple of people in between, and he saw something special in me and decided to invest in me.”

Parra’s hunch paid off. In a way, he rescued Mendez from the streets and gave him the focus he needed.

“Here I am, not even eight years later—I’m making a living doing the same things I was getting in trouble for,” Mendez said. “I didn’t know what the word ‘discipline’ meant. I wasn’t aware of what sacrifice was, you know what I mean? And just adding those things into my life because of the way that I went, it totally was a complete change-around.”

“Now I’m going to get to go to Brazil. In a couple of months, I’m going to go to Germany after that, so I’m so proud of my life and the way it’s heading. I’ve worked too hard for this goal.”

Mendez began his MMA career with a TKO win at Total Fighting Alliance 12 in Long Beach, Calif., and racked up three finishes, one majority draw and one no-contest (due to a scoring error) before losing to Joe Williams in April 2011. Mendez rebounded from that setback with a win just eight months later and scored a unanimous decision over Fabio Nascimento before getting the call from the UFC to fight Nick Penner. However, his shoulder kept him from facing Penner.

Nonetheless, he did get the chance to rehabilitate, which led him to the night he watched UFC on FX 7, where C.B. Dollaway met Daniel Sarafian in the night’s co-headliner. At the time, Mendez did not think he would stand across the cage from either Sarafian or Dollaway. Fast forward five months, and now Mendez gets to fight Daniel Sarafian in Sarafian’s home country on the main card of UFC on Fuel TV 10 this Saturday in Fortaleza, Ceara, Brazil.

“I’ll tell you the truth, it’s really ironic because I don’t know a lot about C.B. Dollaway and I don’t know a lot about Daniel Sarafian, but in that fight, I kind of started pulling for Sarafian just because I like the way he can strike,” Mendez revealed. “I was actually pulling for him. So here we are, [five months] from that fight, and here I am about to fight the same guy I was rooting for, not even a year around here. Only in the UFC is that possible.”

Mendez (L) connects with a right hand (Esther Lin/All Elbows)

Though Sarafian brings a solid ground game and an explosiveness like no other middleweight, Mendez welcomes that challenge.

“The only thing I fear is the airplane trip because I get a little airsick sometimes,” Mendez confessed. “But other than that, I already think I’ve made some fans that were very happy to meet me, and I can’t wait to meet them. It’s such a beautiful country. My wife is from Chile and my family’s from Costa Rica, so we’re going to get to see one of the countries that’s in between.”

Mendez will always look back and remember how he fought to get where he stands right now. Regardless of what lies ahead, Mendez will always remain grateful for the chance to do what he excels at, and he will aim to deliver a show for one of the most passionate crowds in the world come Saturday night.

“I’m going to apply myself in every single way in that fight,” Mendez said. “I’m just honored to have fought a good fighter. A win over Daniel would mean the world to me. It would let me know that I’m definitely [headed] in the right direction, and I know the direction I chose was the right one.

“It’s going to be an honor to perform for you guys, so let me go out there and do what I do best and perform.”

Eddie would like to thank everybody at Reign MMA, House of Champions and everybody that has helped him with his training camp.

Top Photo: Eddie Mendez (Esther Lin/All Elbows)