Two vastly different featherweights will meet in the cage this Saturday night (July 7, 2012) as recent 145 pound title challenger Chad Mendes takes on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 12 veteran Cody McKenzie on the UFC 148 main card in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Mendes is coming off the first loss of his career, a devastating knee from champion Jose Aldo at UFC 142 in Brazil. He is not used to defeat, having dominated in both wrestling and both his amateur and professional MMA career prior to that. Now he's more motivated than ever to get out there and make a statement.
Cody McKenzie is long, lanky and one of the more unique fighters in the UFC. He's coming off a first round guillotine choke against prospect Marcus LeVasseur very recently and decided to drop down to 145 pounds. Now, he's getting the opportunity of a lifetime against one of the best 145-ers in the promotion.
Will Mendes make a statement on McKenzie's face? Can McKenzie rise to the occasion and wrap him up in his patented "McKenzietine?" What's the key to victory for both men on Saturday night?
Let's find out:Chad Mendes
Record: 11-1 overall, 2-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Jose Aldo (UFC 142)
How he got here: Chad Mendes has been wrestling for a very long time. He was a two time All-American collegiate wrestler before teaming up with Urijah Faber at his Alpha Male gym in Sacramento. Just 14 months into his professional fighting career, "Money" Mendes was 5-0 and had earned an invite to compete in the WEC featherweight division.
He made his debut against fellow prospect and current top contender Erik Koch, handing him the only professional loss of his career. He would fight three more times in 2010, defeating all opponents handily and progressing in his skill-set.
Mendes made his UFC debut against Japanese star Michihiro Omigawa last February and handled the veteran with ease, out striking and definitely outwrestling him to win a dominant unanimous decision. He would forgo a title shot and proceeded to put up a strong showing against submission specialist Rani Yahya seven months later to again be crowned the number one contender for Jose Aldo's belt.
Unfortunately for Mendes,he couldn't score a takedown and couldn't keep Aldo on the ground, eventually eating a brutal knee from the champ to end his undefeated streak. Now, he's looking to take out his frustration on McKenzie.
How he gets it done: The biggest key for Mendes is extremely obvious. He needs to take McKenzie down with his wrestling and keep him there. If McKenzie tries to stand and bang, Mendes needs to immediately close the distance and dump him straight on his back.
Once on the ground, Mendes needs to try and make a statement. I expect to see a much more aggressive Chad Mendes in this fight. He'll be looking to pass McKenzie's guard, drop elbows and punches and just put a serious hurting on "The AK Kid."
If McKenzie is hurting from punches, Mendes should look to attack with submissions as well. McKenzie has been submitted twice already in the UFC so it's not out of the realm of possibility.
Regardless, he doesn't just need to win, he needs to win convincingly.
Record: 13-2 overall, 2-2 in the UFC
Key Wins: Marcus LeVasseur (UFC on Fuel TV 3), Aaron Wilkinson (TUF 12 Finale)
How he got here: Cody McKenzie is not your typical mixed martial artist. A native of Alaska, he spent a lot of time working as a fisherman. He got started in mixed martial arts and discovered that his lanky frame was perfect for the guillotine choke.
He won nine straight bouts via guillotine before earning a shot on season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter. On the show, despite being an underdog, he won his first two bouts via guillotine, even tapping out Josh Koscheck's number one pick Mark Stevens within seconds.
He would lose to Nam Phan in the later rounds, but he bounced back with a guillotine choke finish against Aaron Wilkinson in the show's finale. McKenzie had issues dealing with some of the superior grappling and experience of his opponents in his next two fights, losing via submission to both Vagner Rocha and Yves Edwards, but he bounced back again with a surprise first round submission of top wrestling prospect Marcus LeVasseur in his next fight.
Now, McKenzie announced a drop to featherweight and will getting a seriously stern test in his 145 pound debut.
How he gets it done: McKenzie is an awkward fighter and he needs to stay awkward if he wants to pose some problems to Chad Mendes. He has a major reach and height advantage so he should try to use them. On the feet, he doesn't have a ton of power, but his stand-up is developing and if he can somehow keep Mendes at a distance with his jab, he should go for it.
If and when Mendes shoots and takes him to the ground, McKenzie should be at the ready to immediately cinch in that guillotine choke.The major thing to look out for is if he doesn't have it, he can't afford to keep desperately hanging on and gassing himself out.
If he can't score a choke, he needs to get back to his feet and try to land jabs and straight punches from the distance. He does not want to be stuck on his back for up to 15 minutes or he's going to have a bad time.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be that Chad Mendes trains with a team of elite guillotine specialists at Team Alpha Male. Those guys eat, breathe and sleep guillotine chokes. That means Mendes should be as prepared for McKenzie's attack as anyone in MMA.
The only question is if Mendes is overconfident. McKenzie doesn't utilize a traditional guillotine choke. He instead uses his lanky arms to wrap around the neck and choke you out from both sides of the neck. If Mendes gets cocky and thinks he can waltz right through McKenzie's guillotine, perhaps he could get caught by surprise.
Bottom Line: Cody McKenzie is an awkward, yet entertaining fighter. He should be bringing it from start to finish, especially now that he started working with Nick and Nate Diaz. Perhaps a bit of that Stockton swagger could give him a little bit of gusto here. That being said, this is Chad Mendes' fight to lose. He's better in all areas except reach and in guillotine choke use. We might see a different side of Mendes, a more motivated and lethal "Money" than before. If so, that could be pretty entertaining. I have high expectations for this bout.
Who will come out on top at UFC 148? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!