UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo successfully defended his title against 145-pound number one contender Mark Hominick in the co-main event at UFC 129: "St. Pierre vs. Shields" last Saturday night (April 30) in Toronto, Canada.
So why is his next opponent, Chad Mendes, feeling so confident?
Despite the Brazilian's insistence he was healthy for the first time in years, his performance in Ontario, while still dominant, began to fade as the rounds wore on. In fact, by round five, he was so completely spent he could barely defend from his back while "The Machine" rained down blow-after-blow to close out the fight.
It was a jarring sight from an athlete who considers himself one of the division's top jiu-jitsu fighters and a performance that Mendes (via ESPN.com) feels exposed a glaring hole in the Brazilian's ground game:
"The weight cut might have been part of it but I’m sticking with it’s a completely different kind of conditioning when you’re on the ground. His wrestling and grappling conditioning is not the same as his stand-up conditioning. Being explosive on the feet is different than grappling, with the squeezing and pushing and pulling. It’s different on your muscles. We haven’t seen him on the ground a lot and I think that played a part in how tired he looked. I just remember thinking, ‘Wow. This isn’t what I thought it was going to be.' Honestly, it’s what I wanted to see, though. We haven’t seen anybody get on top of him or him do much grappling. That’s really the only place I wanted to see this guy and getting to see it was a huge confidence booster for me."
To his credit, Aldo made no excuses for his performance and never alluded to a bad weight cut or possible illness, though it was later revealed that he complained to his coaches post-fight regarding the decision not to take antibiotics in the days leading up to his featherweight title fight.
While he may have been under the weather, Mendes is firm in his belief that it's Aldo's conditioning that needs to be nursed back to health and not some mystery illness or increased muscle mass.
Can the undefeated challenger put his "Money" where his mouth is? Or will "Junior" be mint when they hook 'em up at UFC 133 on Aug. 6 in Philadelphia?