Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight wrestle-boxers Chad Mendes and Alexander Volkanovski will duel this Saturday (Dec. 29, 2018) at UFC 232 inside The Forum in Inglewood, California (no longer T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada).
Mendes returned after a long layoff this summer to brutally stop Myles Jury in the opening round, re-asserting himself as a top-ranked contender. To continue his latest title run, however, Mendes has to continue his winning ways against another quality young fighter. Opposite Mendes will be one of Featherweight’s premiere prospects, an Australian bruiser who has won 15 straight fights. Volkanovski is very much the real deal, but this is a major step up in competition for “The Hulk.”
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Ricardo Lamas (UFC Fight Night 63), Cub Swanson (WEC 50), Nik Lentz (UFC on FOX 9), Clay Guida (UFC 164), Myles Jury (UFC Fight Night 133)
Key Losses: Frankie Edgar (TUF 22 Finale), Jose Aldo (UFC 142, UFC 179), Conor McGregor (UFC 189)
Keys to Victory: One of the division’s best athletes, Mendes is a ferocious power puncher with an incredible double-leg takedown. A three-time title challenger, Mendes has pretty much seen it all inside the Octagon. Interestingly, Volkanovski is perhaps the most similar fighter to himself who Mendes has ever faced: a physical talent with a mean right hand and quality wrestling. Luckily, Mendes is a bit faster and more powerful, as well as the more experienced fighter in general.
Against Volkanovski, I’d like to see Mendes deny the pocket with lateral movement. Volkvanovski does not fight at range, he crashes forward — that’s the bulk of his game. At range, Mendes’ heavy low kicks and ability to suddenly close distance like few others should keep him at advantage.
Since Volkanovski is a rather aggressive fighter, it probably won’t be long until the Aussie really commits to chasing his foe. Once that happens, Mendes’ counter right hand and reactive double-leg are both elite and should allow him to do major damage on his advancing foe.
Key Wins: Darren Elkins (UFC Fight Night 133), Jeremy Kennedy (UFC 221), Mizuto Hirota (UFC Fight Night 110)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Volkanovski is a mauler. He and Mendes may share some similarities, but Volkanovski is much more straightforward with his brand of violence: he pressures hard, looks to crush foes with the overhand, and then immediately commits to chain wrestling. If able to gain top position, Volkanovski’s ground striking is to be feared.
Opposite Mendes, Volkanovski’s best strategy is to immediately set a high pace. It’s true that pushing forward will leave him at risk of absorbing that brutal counter right hand, but really, I cannot think of anyone who managed to fight Mendes for long without eating his right at least once. Given Mendes’ speed, it’s simply going to happen.
Luckily, Volkanovski is a proven tough customer. Assuming he can survive a few big shots, Volkanovski throws in combination more often than his foe and generally pushes a more grinding pace. Mendes is a great example of an explode and recover type athlete — his conditioning is great, but he has to take breaks to maintain that athleticism. If Volkanovski never gives his foe that chance to rest, it should present him more chances to land and limit Mendes’ offense.
Bottom Line: These powerful Featherweights are going to drop hammers on each other.
Mendes is right back in the immediate title mix with a victory here. He called for a rematch with Frankie Edgar after his last fight, but that match up is distinctly more possible with another victory here. Beyond Edgar, Mendes also remains an intriguing match up for division champion, Max Holloway, even if he would need at least one more victory before that happens.
As for Volkanovski, “The Great” is hunting for the biggest win of his professional career. Last time out, he excelled in a step up against Darren Elkins, earning him a second consecutive opportunity to prove himself at a higher level. Mendes has only ever lost to champions and former champions, so for Volkanovski to add his name to that list would go a long way in securing him a title eliminator next time out.
At UFC 232, Chad Mendes and Alexander Volkanovski will open the main card with a Featherweight war. Which man will remain standing when the dust settles?