Professional fighters live very unique lives. Most of them pretty much go from the bed to the gym to the shower to the gym to the shower and back to bed with their little bit of downtime spent watching movies, playing video games and/or eating. Some of them are family people with a wife, kids and even pets to take up that time, and some are just gym rats that spend their downtime at the gym. But, not all fighters live this life.

With wrestling being such a dominant and rising background in MMA, and the fact that most wrestlers come from smaller Midwestern or coastal areas where a lot of the extracurricular activities involve the outdoors, fans are starting to see more diverse ways that fighters spend their downtime.

Guys like Brock Lesnar and Ramsey Nijem are perfect examples. Lesnar, growing up in rural Minnesota, is an avid hunter and fisherman. Nijem, having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, is an Eagle Scout and enjoys fishing, mountain biking, whitewater rafting and a wide variety of other outdoor activities to soak up his downtime when he’s not training. These are just two examples of guys that tend to steer away from the “six hours in front of the Xbox” lifestyle. Well, there’s another big name, a championship contender, who also enjoys life outside of the television.

Chad “Money” Mendes grew up in Hanford, Calif., which sits east of Interstate 5, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the area provides more than enough to do without staying cooped up inside the house.

“I’m a huge outdoorsman, and I love to hunt and fish,” said Mendes in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “Archery season just opened around my house last Saturday. I like to do a lot of bow-hunting.”

Mendes (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

To the layperson, and even the experienced rifleman, bow-hunting can seem like a tough one to learn, but given the proper training and a lot of practice, it can be a very fulfilling sport, much like MMA.

Mendes has had a ton of practice in at least one aspect of MMA—lately one of the most important aspects—for most of his life.

“Wrestling is something I’ve been doing since I was five years old, and I wrestled up through college,” Mendes said.

The California native began wrestling in grade school and continued to do so until wrestling at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, where he became an NCAA Division I All-American. Upon graduation, he took the next logical step.

Like many fighters at Urijah Faber’s Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, Mendes’ wrestling background was the perfect segue into a successful MMA career. In fact, he was so successful that he opened his pro career with an 11-0 record, over four years, with notable wins over Cub Swanson, Rani Yahya, Steven Siler, Erik Koch and many other top-level guys. Six of those fights were on the biggest stages in WEC and UFC action.

Mendes’ 11-fight winning streak earned him a shot at Jose Aldo’s UFC featherweight title in January 2012. In a shocking turn of events, the champion handed Mendes a knockout, the first loss of his career, with only one second left in the round. After going to a decision four fights in a row, this was unfamiliar territory.

“I wasn’t very comfortable with the stand-up part of it, yet, going into that fight,” admitted Mendes. “A lot of people say I took that fight too soon in my career. I mean, it’s a title fight, I’m not going to turn that down. Especially with this sport and the type of competition, you never know what’s going to happen.

“We’ve seen guys that have held off and then get beat by somebody they shouldn’t have and never get to fight for the title. I wasn’t going to turn it down, and I took the fight. Honestly, I thought I was doing great. I thought I was winning the first round, until the last few seconds.”

Well, intentional or not, the loss to Aldo knocked something loose in Mendes, and his career took a turn for the better.

Back in the ring that July, Mendes pulled off a finish that he hadn’t gotten in almost exactly three years and nine fights. He was able to TKO Cody McKenzie with a body shot at only 31 seconds into the first round of their UFC 148 contest. He followed that win with a flat-out first-round knockout of Yaotzin Meza in December 2012, and then a first-round TKO of Darren Elkins on April 20. In hindsight, whether there is an actual connection or not, it appears that the Aldo knockout was the best thing that’s ever happened to Mendes.

With three quick knockouts in a row, Mendes is not only back to his winning ways, but he’s now the second-ranked featherweight in the world and is facing one of his toughest opponents yet at UFC 164 this Saturday night.

Clay Guida is an old-school UFC fan favorite. With his signature long hair and his tough, in-your-face style, “The Carpenter” has spent six years and 16 fights under the UFC banner. In that time, he has earned eight “of the Night” honors, faced almost every major lightweight competitor, and picked up a 10-6 record to bring his total pro record to 30-13.

On Saturday night, live from BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Mendes will be presenting his friend Guida with his 44th professional appearance in a fight that was supposed to have happened earlier this year.

“Guida and I were already supposed to fight in April, but I think about six weeks before the fight, he got hurt, so they found Darren Elkins, a last-minute replacement,” explained Mendes. “It sucked, because I was pretty excited to get in there and fight Clay. Clay’s one of my buddies, and it sucks that we have to fight, but, you know, it’s business, and if I don’t beat him, he’s going to try to beat me up. We’ll probably go have a beer after and it will be cool, but once we step in that cage, it’s business time.”

The interesting thing about this fight is the way these guys run their streaks. In the past, Mendes was a decision-heavy fighter, but now he’s knocking guys out left and right. Guida’s record has been a series of either decisions or submissions clumped together in multi-fight streaks. Mendes seems to have recently found his power, whereas Guida hasn’t knocked anybody out in over five years.

Mendes (second from left) poses with his team (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

“I think the match-up is pretty good for me,” Mendes admitted. “He wins a lot of fights by grinding out decisions, because of his wrestling. I don’t think he’s very dangerous on the feet. He doesn’t have any real one powerful shot or one powerful move. He uses a lot of footwork and movement. He kind of pitter-patters around and scores points, and then he’ll look for takedowns and grind guys out.

“One thing that helps him is his cardio, so that’s definitely something we’ve been focusing on in this camp, and I feel like my cardio’s on point. Hopefully, it stays that way for the fight and I get in there and I feel great.”

Team Alpha Male guys are notorious for their deep gas tanks, as is Guida, so what more could Mendes be doing to deepen his seemingly bottomless gas tank?

“It’s top secret,” Mendes joked.

“I’m just kidding,” he continued. “A buddy of mine helped me out and I got a nice road bike. That’s something we really implemented in this camp a lot, just putting in a lot of miles on the bike. That’s something that’s been helping me out. I’m doing a lot of sprint work on it. It’s really been supplementing the stuff we do in the gym. I feel like my cardio’s always pretty heavy. I’m definitely not changing a lot of things. There’s just some things we kind of added, and the cycling is one of them.”

Cycling may be one of the differences in his cardio training, but the real killer arrow in his quiver is not necessarily in his training regimen, but in his new head coach.

Earlier this year, UFC veteran and kickboxing champ Duane “Bang” Ludwig left Denver for the land where the water flows west and became the new—and really, the first—head coach of Team Alpha Male. Since the move, the boys in Sac-town have had tremendous success. Mendes, Faber, Joseph Benavidez, Danny Castillo and T.J. Dillashaw have all gone undefeated since bringing Ludwig into their mix.

“One thing that’s really helped me and helped our team a lot with Duane Ludwig in there is having him as a coach,” Mendes explained. “It’s been huge for our team. For me, it’s been great to have that head coach in there to trust in him, believe in our system, and know what they’re telling me, what they’re coaching me through, is right and what I need to be doing in that camp. It’s huge for my confidence.

“He’s very good at getting me pumped up right before a fight. Before he was there, we never really had anyone like that. Master Thong was kind of a stand-up coach, but couldn’t really speak English, and the language barrier kind of messed with a lot of things. I think it’s been huge having Duane there, and I think, overall, I’m really starting to find myself as a fighter and getting comfortable.”

With the addition of a cycling routine and a new head coach, Mendes is sure to bring his best game ever to his bout with Guida. However, what Guida will Mendes get?

In his last couple fights, “The Carpenter” has left fans feeling a little disappointed. The crazy-haired, grinding animal that fans had become accustomed to sort of fell off the map, and the new Guida leaves little to be desired. Call it a product of Greg Jackson’s coaching or maybe just his miles in the cage, but Guida has been awfully cautious in his last few bouts. However, Mendes knows the real Clay is still in there.

“I’m just not sure what Clay Guida I’m going to see,” said Mendes. “The Clay Guida that’s been around lately has just been more of a point fighter, just trying to survive and win each round. The old-school Guida used to just stay there in the pocket and bang and really try to finish his opponent, all over him and in his face the entire time. We’re definitely prepared for both Guidas. We just don’t know which one is going to show up. I’m going to be ready for either one.”

With the past relationships between Jackson’s in Albuquerque and Ludwig’s former camps in Denver, one can be sure that these two have crossed paths in the gym several times. Having that sort of insight can only benefit Mendes going into this fight.

Make no mistake, Mendes knows he’s the No. 1 contender for Aldo’s belt, and he is not going to look past Guida to get that shot, which, in light of Aldo’s recent injury, will likely take place next year.

“Well, I feel like if I go in there and beat Guida, I should be next in line for the title, but we’ve seen what Guida can do,” said Mendes. “I mean, he’s been in this sport a long time, and I’m not overlooking this fight. I’m expecting this to be a war. We saw what happened with him and [Anthony] Pettis. He’s not joking around when he’s in there. He shows up and he’s trying to win, so I’m definitely not taking him lightly. If I go out there and destroy him, I should be next in line for a title.”

Saturday night, Mendes will have the opportunity to cement his place in the division. He will certainly be searching for another finish. A decision is just too risky at this point in his career, and Guida’s head will be the prey of choice on this hunt. Channeling his bow and arrows into his hands and feet,  Mendes is ready to send this one right to the taxidermy. After that, fans should already know what he will be doing until he gets that title call from UFC matchmaker Joe Silva.

“The next day, I fly home, and the day after that, I drive straight to Utah. I’m going to be doing some mule deer hunting with my dad and some of my buddies.”

No Xbox. No couch time. Chad Mendes will keep on hunting until he gets his prize.

Mendes would like to thank: his managers at MMA Inc., his sponsors VA Mortgage Leader, Torque1.net, and the Patino Diet, and all of his coaches and training partners at Team Alpha Male.  Follow Chad on Twitter: @ChadMendes

Top Photo: Chad Mendes (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Dan Kuhl
Interview Coordinator