The greatest of all time (G.O.A.T.) debates within mixed martial arts (MMA) divisions will never be settled.
Former two-time Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and one-time World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) champion, Jose Aldo, was inducted into UFC’s Hall of Fame this past month (July 7, 2023). Still largely considered Featherweight’s best by those in the community, Aldo took his rightful spot in the hall and leaves a lasting legacy behind after retiring from MMA in 2022 off the heels of a brief run at Bantamweight.
One of Aldo’s most famous rivalries came opposite Team Alpha Male’s Chad Mendes, who battled it out twice with the iconic Brazilian, delivering an all-time classic in their rematch at UFC 179 in Oct. 2014. Mendes — an all-time great Featherweight in his own right — never managed to get his hands on gold, but went toe-to-toe with every 145-pound UFC champion aside from Max Holloway. In 2023, Aldo and Holloway are common picks in the Featherweight G.O.A.T. conversation while Alexander Volkanovski currently continues to extend his reign with nothing but impressive title defenses.
“It’s so hard to deny Volkanovski, man,” Mendes told MMA Mania. “The guy is on a tear. That’s one of those guys I have a lot of respect for, he’s a cool dude. Going into that fight, I don’t want to say I overlooked him but I’ve done this multiple times and I’m guilty of it, but I’ve underestimated him on who he was gonna beat.
“I know he’s a good dude,” he continued. “He’s good, but I don’t know. When I think of a guy like Jose Aldo in his prime it was just insanely athletic, explosive, great ring IQ, powerful as hell, dangerous in so many different areas. That in my mind is like the guy at Featherweight that is the most dangerous and scary and the G.O.A.T. But he’s (Volkanovski) beating everybody. Volkanovski doesn’t have that insanely scary anything. It’s just that he’s a good everywhere type guy.”
Mendes acted as Volkanovski’s first true test in UFC waters after winning his first five and proving to be a solid potential title contender. To close out 2018 on the final event of the year, “The Great” was put to the test by the three-time title challenger as their fight received “Fight of the Night” honors at UFC 232 with Volkanovski walking away the victor via a second round technical knockout (punches). Directly after, the Aussie went on to take out Aldo and Holloway (twice) in succession.
“I think what separates him from everybody else is that he can go at 100 percent or 110 percent output from start to finish,” Mendes said. “Where most guys can come in hard and last a round or two and then whether they completely peter out or they come down a little bit and then finish it out that way, he doesn’t. He stays in that 100 to 110 output range and is start to finish that way. Obviously, that’s hard to deal with. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best fighter in the world or the worst technical fighter in the world. If you can go balls to the wall and you are hard to do anything to like that from start to finish, dude, it’s gonna be a tough fight.
“He’s got great technique and he can do that,” he finished. “I think that’s what’s separating him from the rest of the guys. Man, it is tough to deny. He’s beating everybody.”
The Volkanovki bout is a critical one in the story of Mendes’ career as it was his last in UFC and MMA. “Money” decided to call it a career shortly after, which eventually resulted in him diving into the world of bare-knuckle boxing (BKB).
Mendes successfully returned to action in Feb. 2022, debuting in Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) with a fourth round technical knockout of Joshuah Alvarez (watch highlights). The match was viewed as somewhat of just a fun thing for the standout wrestler and he wasn’t committed to trying to make a new run of sorts. However, the opportunity to collide with former UFC and Bellator Lightweight kingpin, Eddie Alvarez, presented itself in April 2023. Unfortunately for Mendes, he came up short in a thrilling contest via a split decision (watch highlights) and is now stepping back into retirement as he focuses on his passion for hunting.
“I was honestly probably done after that first bare-knuckle fight but it’s one of those things where it’s not like 100 percent and then they come up with an offer and it’s like, ‘Alright, I’ll do one more,’ type thing,” Mendes said.
“I definitely still have the drive to compete, that’s not gone. I’ve been doing that my whole life. For me, ultimately, the reason I stepped away from the UFC was, in my mind, it just wasn’t worth what I was putting my body through and the dedication it takes for the amount of money I was getting. I was making more money doing the stuff that I’m doing now. So, I don’t know. It was hard for me to justify killing myself.”
Knowing that full dedication to the sport is a requirement to be the absolute best in UFC, Mendes didn’t want to cheat himself despite feeling he was 90 percent focused on his time in MMA during the end. Still in great shape for 38, as seen against Alvarez, he believes he can hang within UFC’s top 5 at 145 pounds. Taking opportunities in the fight world at this stage is just something he’s able to be smart about rather than going on for longer than is necessary.
“In my mind, no [I’m not coming back],” Mendes said. “But I always say if the money is good enough, I’d probably still have another three years of that option and if it makes sense, yes, I would come back and probably do another one. We’ll see. As of right now, I’m retired, but we’ll see what happens in the next few months or year and go from there.”
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