Chad Mendes will get his first taste of the big leagues on Saturday, March 6.
The former 2-time All-American wrestler at Cal Poly will make his WEC debut against Erik Koch at the WEC 47 event in Columbus, OH.
Since college he has called the Ultimate Fitness gym in Sacramento, CA, home alongside fellow Team Alpha Male members Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez and Danny Castillo.
The 24-year-old Mendes accumulated a perfect 5 - 0 record fighting regionally before getting the call to join the already stacked WEC featherweight division.
"Money Shot" took some time out of his schedule to discuss crossing paths with Chuck Liddell, living up to high expectations and the possibility of fighting Urijah one day.
Check it out:
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): You wrestled at Cal Poly where you were one of the best in the country. Why make the transition to mixed martial arts?
Chad Mendes: I've known Urijah (Faber) since high school through wrestling. My wrestling coach from college had a wrestling camp up in Tahoe every summer. We worked on the staff for all these younger kids. Urijah was one of the guys who would come up and help my coach out. He was one of the staff members too.
Then my freshman year in college Urijah had just started fighting. I think he had like three fights or something like that. He was doing some jiu-jitsu and none of the other guys would roll with him because he was hurting everybody. I was like, "I'll try it out." I started rolling with him and kind of fell in love with it. From there, I decided I wanted to do it after my wrestling career. After college if you don't do the Olympics you're pretty much done. I wanted to get in the sport. I wasn't done competing.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): I have heard Joe Rogan say on numerous occasions that he believes wrestling is the best base to have coming into MMA. Would you agree with that statement, and if so, why is that the case?
Chad Mendes: Oh yeah, I'm a wrestler. I have to say that, right?
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Of course you do.
Chad Mendes: No, honestly I do think that wrestling is the best base. There is a lot of stuff you gain from wrestling. When you do it for years and years there is a lot of stuff you can pick up without being taught. For instance, when you get into scrambles you can't really teach where to go. You kind of have to just figure it out on your own. A lot of it is just how you react. That all goes with being a good MMA fighter as well. I'm not saying that it has been good for everybody though. I've seen some pretty good wrestlers have some trouble with the stand-up part of it. I feel like I've been learning it pretty good. I am picking it up pretty well. I guess I was just one of the lucky guys.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Chuck Liddell went to Cal Poly too and has trained in that area his entire career. Have you crossed paths with him at any point?
Chad Mendes: Yes, he used to come into the gym and workout with us when he had fights coming up. I'd hangout with him a lot, going out and stuff. He's a really nice guy. I was thinking about staying down by him after college and training for a little while, but I thought the camp up here (in Sacramento) was so much better. There are so many good workout partners my size. In San Luis (Obispo) there aren't that many people my size to workout with.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): You are becoming synonymous with your teammates Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez. What has working with those guys on a daily basis meant to your development as a fighter?
Chad Mendes: It is awesome working with those guys. They're great. They're pretty much like brothers to me. Joe is a very skilled fighter. He's very explosive. He can scramble really well. Our styles are really good working out together. We help each other a lot. His stand-up is really, really good. I can work with him on wrestling and he works with me on stand-up. He's super creative when it comes to that kind of stuff.
And Faber, what can I say about that guy. He's a phenomenal fighter. He's a great guy. He took me under his wing when I first moved up here. He gave me a room to stay in at his house. He's a great mentor. He helps me out as much as he possibly can. He has a lot on his plate. He's doing a lot of stuff with his clothing line and endorsements so he's around as much as he can. I just try to soak it all up.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): When you got the call that the WEC wanted to offer you a contract what was that day like for you?
Chad Mendes: It was a great day. I kind of knew my manager was working on it, but the day they told me it was official it was exciting. That has been my number one goal since I decided I wanted to start fighting. I called my parents and my family and let everyone know. Everybody was really pumped.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): You've been featured in some magazines recently and you're doing a lot more press now. You're getting that "hot prospect" label. Is there any added pressure for you to live up to high expectations?
Chad Mendes: I've been wrestling since I was five years old. I've been competing my entire life. This isn't anything new to me. When I hear that I don't really think about it too much. I don't take it to heart. It's all good. It builds my confidence. It doesn't put pressure on me.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): I'm sure you've been asked this question 100 times before but let me go ahead and ask it again. What if the WEC comes to you one day and says they need you to fight Urijah?
Chad Mendes: You're right. A lot of people have asked that. We'll cross that bridge when we get there. It's all business. I love Faber. I wouldn't hate him before and I wouldn't hate him after. If that is what has to happen for a title shot then who knows, maybe.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Urijah is fighting for the title against Jose Aldo at WEC 48. Aldo has been rolling through everyone. How does Urijah win that fight?
Chad Mendes: We haven't really seen Aldo off his back or on the ground too much. I know he's a black belt in jiu-jitsu, but still. I think Faber is just as quick and just as explosive as Aldo. I think the old school Faber can ground and pound with those elbows. I think that will be his ticket to win that fight.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): We see Urijah in interviews and on fight night only. You've known the guy a long time. Tell me something about him that nobody knows or something that may surprise us? I'm putting you on the spot.
Chad Mendes: The guy is on Twitter 24/7 so everyone pretty much knows everything about that guy.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): (laughs) Good point. I won't force you to come up with anything else. I like that answer better.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Besides your teammates who are some fighters out there you really enjoy watching?
Chad Mendes: Anderson Silva is a guy I like to watch fight. He's really creative. Urijah and Joseph as well. They are guys I really like to watch. Obviously they are my teammates but their styles are similar to the way I'd like to fight. It's great for me to watch those guys and pick stuff off of them. Another great guy is Danny Castillo who is also my teammate. Danny is a really good wrestler. I like watching him also.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Erik Koch is your upcoming opponent on March 6. How would you describe his style and overall skill set to me?
Chad Mendes: Erik is about 5'10". He is a tall and lanky guy. He's a southpaw. He likes to throw a lot of body kicks and head kicks. He comes from a good kickboxing camp but most of his wins are by submission. He actually likes to wrestle a lot, which is really beneficial for me. The guy looks tough. He's undefeated. I think he's 9 - 0 right now. He hasn't tasted defeat so he doesn't know what that feels like. He's going to come in there banging and ready to fight just like I am.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Do you have an official prediction for the fight?
Chad Mendes: I am going to knock him out.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Round?
Chad Mendes: Second.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): We are just a few days away from fight night. How are you feeling right now? What is going through your head?
Chad Mendes: At this point I'm really, really anxious. I don't really get too nervous. The waiting game is the hardest part. I'm like a little kid waiting for Christmas to come. The whole camp I busted my ass and now it's almost here. It's a great feeling.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Any sponsors you want to thank before we go?
Chad Mendes: I want to thank my sponsors Warrior Wear, Amp Energy, Silver Star, my management MMA Inc., and to my family, love you Mom and Dad. If you guys want to check me out follow me on Twitter at @ChadMendes. And thank you guys for having me here.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): No, thank you for doing the interview. We appreciate it. Best of luck on fight night.
Chad Mendes: Thank you.
Derek Bolender is a frequent MMAmania.com contributor. He is also a syndicated writer to FoxSports.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/DerekMMAwriter.