This Saturday night (Dec. 14, 2013) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweights Chad Mendes and Nik Lentz will meet in a pivotal bout on the main card of UFC on FOX 9 from Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California.
Number one-ranked "Money" Mendes is on a roll with four straight knockout victories. The Team Alpha Male-trained product was last seen destroying Clay Guida at August's UFC 164 event in Milwaukee. His "Knockout of the Night" made him the first man to ever earn a striking stoppage over "The Carpenter."
Mendes holds only one loss on his mixed martial arts (MMA) record, a 2012 knockout against divisional champion Jose Aldo at UFC 142. He'll be looking to claw his way back toward another shot at "Junior" with a win over number eight-ranked Lentz.
Lentz sits with an undefeated 3-0 record since cutting down to featherweight following an early 2012 loss to Evan Dunham. "Carny" last fought in May, defeating Hacran Dias via decision at UFC on FX 8. Lentz is operating as a quiet contender in a stacked division.
But the steamrolling Mendes is undoubtedly his toughest test. This fight is going to show whether or not Lentz is ready to face the true best of the best in UFC.
Both fighters are talented wrestlers who push the pace with excellent striking, so this one could quickly turn into a war. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Chad Mendes vs. Nik Lentz:
Record: 15-1 overall, 6-1 UFC
Key Losses: Jose Aldo (UFC 142)
Keys to Victory: Mendes has become an absolute bulldozer at 145 pounds thanks to his time spent under Team Alpha Male head coach Duane "Bang" Ludwig. He always had a strong wrestling base dating back to his college days as a 2006 and 2008 NCAA All-American at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California.
Now he has a striking game to match.
That's what has made him so lethal since his loss to Aldo. Mendes has shown a disregard for his opponents' skills in his last four fights, blasting through defenses with a seemingly unstoppable barrage of power striking.
He's a big and powerful featherweight who most likely cuts several pounds to make the division's weight limit. That may not be as much of an advantage against Lentz, who fought at 155 pounds as recently as 2012.
Lentz also wrestled in college, receiving a scholarship to attend the University of Minnesota. "Carny" wasn't nearly as decorated a competitor as Mendes, but his experience could make the wrestling game a closely-contested affair.
For that reason, it's probable that Mendes won't deviate from his current strategy for success. He's going to push forward with a varied offense of strikes with the intent of knocking Lentz out.
"Carny" won't be put away easily, as he's only been finished three times in 32 fights, but that won't matter one bit to Mendes.
His striking has risen to a new level. With his team's pride on the line at UFC on FOX 9, "Money" will be looking to turn out the lights.
Record: 24-5-2 (1) overall, 8-2-1 (1) UFC
Key Wins: Hacran Dias (UFC on FX 8), Diego Nunes (UFC on FX 7)
Key Losses: Evan Dunham (UFC on FOX 2), Mark Bocek (UFC 140)
Keys to Victory: "Carny" has his hands full with top contender Mendes. The Minnesota native is a gritty combatant who mixes up his game well, evident by his balance of seven knockouts and nine submission victories.
To add another finish to his record at UFC on FOX 9, Lentz is going to have to show up in the best fighting shape of his career.
He's looked effective if not spectacular during his current run at featherweight. Three straight victories have him ranked in the top 10 and on the cusp of legitimate title contention if he can get past his toughest opponent yet in Mendes. Lentz has only finished one fight since 2011 and fighting safe won't suffice here.
Mendes has become one the most aggressive fighters in UFC right now. Lentz needs to have top-shelf striking for him to have any chance of winning. He has the wrestling to defend takedown attempts and he may even be able to score a few of his own.
If he can get the fight to the ground, opportunities to score points will arise. Lentz can go far in neutralizing his opponent's striking by making this fight ugly and pushing "Money" up against the cage. It won't gain him any new fans and he'll most likely get booed, but at least he'll still have his faculties intact.
Looking to engage in a slugfest has a small chance of Lentz coming out on top. That doesn't mean he won't look to prove he can strike with Team Alpha Male's surging 145 pounder.
It just isn't his best option.
Lentz has a decent amount of grappling skill but Mendes has never tapped out. A submission is on the outer realm of possibilities for this fight. However, anything could happen.
"Carny's" strategy should be to slow the pace of this fight down to a crawl. If it starts fast and stays that way it will begin to favor Mendes exponentially. Lentz has a grinding style and he's never needed it more than he does for this fight.
Bottom Line from Sacramento: The bottom line for this fight is that it features two of the best featherweights in the world. Aside from their top 10 rankings Mendes and Lentz haven't gotten all that much publicity in a division populated by stars like Aldo, Frankie Edgar, Cub Swanson, and Ricardo Lamas.
It's a stacked division to be sure, but Mendes can cement himself as the true number one contender if he adds Lentz to his growing list of knockout victims.
The Sacramento crowd is going to be in full support of their hometown hero Mendes. Team Alpha Male has a golden opportunity to shine on Saturday night so Mendes needs to harness that energy rather than let it get to him.
He's been competing at a high level in wrestling since he was a young man, so the pressure shouldn't affect the surging Mendes.
Lentz has quietly become a dangerous force at 145 pounds but he hasn't exactly done it against the best competition. The same could have been said about Mendes until his defining knockout of the notoriously tough Guida.
Overall, this is a make-or-break party for Lentz.
He usually enjoys a size and strength advantage over his opponents. He won't have that luxury against Mendes.
"Carny" can shock the world and earn a spot in the top five if he can get an improbable win over "Money." He'll definitely have to put forth the best performance of his UFC career to do so. The deck is stacked against him so he needs to find a way to turn the tables in his favor.
Slowing down his opponent's volume and power is the only way to achieve that goal.
If this fight turns into a slow, grinding affair, Lentz will feel at home. Mendes is no slouch in that arena either; he's just preferred to let his power end fights in devastating fashion as of late.
You can't argue with his results.
Mendes is one of the hottest fighters in MMA right now and Lentz is tasked with derailing that momentum. This bout will be instrumental in predicting the title picture at featherweight. Will Lentz shake things up in a big way?
Chad Mendes and Nik Lentz will go to war at UFC on FOX 9 with massive rankings' implications on the line. Does "Carny" have what it takes to end Mendes' brutal string of knockouts?