According to Chad Mendes, he's "just like normal people."
Normal people, though, aren't number one contenders for the UFC featherweight title.
What truly garnered the attention of the fans was his UFC debut against consensus top five featherweight Michihiro Omigawa at UFC 126. The former college wrestling All-American showcased his improved striking to go along with his elite grappling to pull out a unanimous decision victory.
It's hard to believe he's only been fighting professionally for three years.
The talented title-challenger spoke with Pro MMA Radio about his upcoming shot at Aldo's belt and how quickly he's adapted to life at the top of the food chain.
"I honestly knew I'd do well in the sport," said Mendes. "Being a wrestler and seeing Urijah and knowing how well he's done in the sport and seeing him progress, I knew I'd do well. I just never thought I'd be fighting for the UFC world title in less than three years. That's awesome. (My life) really hasn't changed a whole lot. I like to consider myself a normal person. I love outdoors, hunting-fishing stuff. I like to have a cold beer on the weekends. Nothing has changed other than people coming up and saying 'hi'and wanting my picture. Life is still great, living the dream and soaking all this up. I like to think that everything's still normal."
When Mendes debuted in the WEC, he wasn't much more than a glorified wrestler. He's taken considerable steps to rectify that and as evidenced by his recent performance against Michihiro Omigawa, his striking is steadily progressing.
"I've been working on my stand-up since day one. Almost every single day we work on the stand-up. I have the wrestling background and we just work on the all-around game. That's something I have really wanted to work on the most and I was really excited to get in there and show. I felt great. That entire camp I was feeling sharp, crisp and powerful so I went in there and just had fun."
While Mendes has been in there against some of the toughest featherweights in the world like Omigawa and Javier Vazquez, he points to his second fight in the WEC against a certain Duke Roufus fighter as his toughest test to date.
"I can honestly say that Erik (Koch) was definitely my toughest fight. He's a tough dude. He's tall. He's strong and he's huge! The guy gets up to like 190 in between fights. He's a big 145-pounder and you can feel his strength in there. He's long and he's southpaw so his stand-up is really awkward. He trains with (Anthony) Pettis and Duke (Roufus) and those guys so it was definitely my toughest fight so far."
Since the merger of the WEC and the UFC, several lightweights have begun dropping down to the featherweight division. Fighters like Dustin Poirier and Kenny Florian have instantly raised their stock and become contenders for the title. When Kenny Florian asked UFC President Dana White about a potential title shot after just one bout in the division, Mendes was a bit perturbed. He made his feelings known about fighters like Florian trying to leapfrog him.
"I was a little upset (about Florian). Just because you're cutting down a weight class doesn't mean you're already thrown into title contention. I think he's got to prove himself at 145. I know he's tough but cutting that much weight is gonna be completely different than fighting at 155. I know first hand from cutting to 125 in college from 155. The idea is when you get down there that you're gonna be bigger and stronger than everyone but the reality is you can't compete because you cut too much. Taking a look back now, I think everybody has realized that he's gotta earn it too."
Mendes was an All-American in two weight classes while wrestling at California Polytechnic State University. He believes his level of grappling holds the key to defeating the current champion.
"(Striking) is definitely (Jose Aldo's) bread and butter. It's where he's strongest. I know he has a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu but he doesn't have any wrestling. Jiu-jitsu is different than wrestling. It's a whole 'nother level. I think if anybody has the best chance to beat Aldo in this division, it's gonna be me. I honestly definitely think I have the best wrestling in this division. My strength, my speed, my takedowns and my ability to just stay on top of people and grind it out is definitely the blueprint and the way somebody is gonna beat Aldo and I think that's gonna be me."
In Jose Aldo's last fight, a gritty five round title defense against Mark Hominick, he looked sluggish. There's been much speculation about the champion being sick as to why he faded so quickly in the fight. Mendes offered his own insight, stating he believes it was a combination of three factors.
"I heard he showed up Tuesday before the fight at 174 (pounds). I don't know why that happened, maybe he didn't take that weight cut serious before the fight? Who knows. I've taken antibiotics before a fight and I've taken it before training in camp and it never messed me up. Different antibiotics do different things. I don't know, I'm not a doctor but I think definitely that weight cut definitely had a lot to do with it too ... Maybe the fight transitions of having to go from standing to grappling and standing to grappling messed with him as well. That's a whole different type of conditioning and if you're not used to it, it definitely can wear you out. I think it was a combination of all three."
During his title defense, Aldo repeatedly took the challenger Mark Hominick down. Hominick is known to be a solid striker but the ground game certainly isn't his specialty. According to Mendes, Aldo wouldn't be able to work the same gameplan against him.
"I honestly don't think he takes me down with those takedowns. They were decent takedowns. He's explosive, we all know that, and he did a great job of throwing the punches before the shot but a lot of times I don't think Hominick defended very well. Aldo ran him down and Hominick just went into guard. I pride myself on my takedown defense. I love to scramble and do stuff like that. I don't see that explosive type of takedown working on me. Also I'm a lot shorter than Hominick so my stance is going to be lower and Aldo's taller than me so it would be more difficult for him to shoot. I'd love him to shoot on me. The only person that ever shot on me in my fights was (Javier) Vazquez and he only shot on me one time."
Mendes was asked about his confidence in defeating Jose Aldo from before watching the champion's performance against Mark Hominick at UFC 129 and after on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being 100% certainty that he'd win. His answer was unsurprising if you've taken the time to get to know the Alpha Male fighter.
"I have to go back and watch it again on TV. I want to see this fight over and over again. It was definitely a confidence booster for me to see him put on his back and stay there the whole time because he was tired. I didn't expect it to go to the ground so much. I expected the occasional takedowns. Everyone's thinking Aldo's not human and this just goes to show that he is ... There's no doubt in my mind. Before his fight with Hominick I was maybe at an '8' and after, I'm definitely at a '10.'"
For more on Chad Mendes as well as his breakdown of his stablemate Urijah Faber's fight with Dominick Cruz, check out the replay of MMAmania.com's exclusive presentation of Pro MMA Radio by clicking here.