- Brett Okamoto
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Twice this year, Mendes says he’s tried to book a fight against Lamas -- only to get the feeling Lamas wants nothing to do with him.
The first occurred when Manny Gamburyan withdrew from a bout at UFC 157 due to injury, just two weeks prior to the event. Mendes publicly called Lamas out, but was told he was already booked to an unannounced fight. Fair enough.
The second time, though, Mendes says he was willing to face Lamas on three weeks' notice at UFC 162, when Lamas’ original opponent, Chan Sung Jung, was pulled for a title fight. It didn’t happen and Lamas was eventually pulled from the card.
“I’ve called him out. I’ve tried to fight him a couple times,” Mendes told ESPN.com. “Once was on short notice for him so that’s understandable, but the other one was on three weeks' notice for me and he still turned it down.
“I think to be the best you have to fight the best and I don’t know if he’s willing to do it.”
Mendes (14-1) has been itching for a high-profile fight after several previous bouts have fallen through due to injury. He has a big one on his hands this weekend, when he meets Clay Guida at UFC 164 in Milwaukee.
A former No. 1 contender at featherweight, Mendes feels a win over Guida should net him a rematch against Jose Aldo, who he lost to early last year.
Even considering Mendes’ current streak of three consecutive first-round knockouts, a win over Guida is nothing to take lightly. Mendes says his veteran opponent has played spoiler to title aspirations before.
As for what specific challenges Guida (30-13) brings to the cage, Mendes admits he’s not sure what to expect. Whether it’s because Guida is “just getting old or what,” Mendes says his style has changed a lot in recent years.
“The old-school Clay would stand in the pocket and throw punches, scramble, grapple -- in your face the entire time,” Mendes said. “Lately, he’s been more of a points fighter. Pitter-patter on the feet and look to take you down and just lay there.
“We’ve definitely prepared for both Clays. I’m ready for whatever one comes out.”
Of course, earning another shot at the seemingly invincible Aldo is only half the goal. Taking the belt from him is what matters, and Mendes knows he’s capable of it.
Everyone asked him before that first title bout in Brazil, “Are you ready? Has this all happened too fast?” The answer, honestly, was yeah. Pretty much. Mendes, less than four years into his pro career at that time, probably wasn’t ready for Aldo.
But as he points out, it’s an irrelevant question. You don’t turn down a shot at the title. And even though things didn’t go his way that night, the loss, as it usually does for great fighters, has made him better. He’s evolved because of it.
Whereas before the Aldo knee, Mendes was typically looking for a “safe” way to outwrestle his opponents, he’s found himself looking for knockouts ever since it.
The wrestling background will always be there as a second option, which now only gives him more confidence in his striking game. It’s a feeling he never had prior to the Aldo fight.
“Going into the first fight after the loss, my mentality was just go pull the trigger and see what happens,” Mendes said. “Bam, I got a knockout. That fight showed me if I just let my hands go, I could put these guys away.
“Before my mindset was to not get hit. I’m becoming more confident on my feet and I’m excited from here on out.”
Of all the members of Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, Mendes will perhaps benefit most from the addition of head coach Duane Ludwig late last year.
In the first meeting against Aldo, the question was, “Can Chad get him down?” These days, Mendes and his team believe a question around the rematch could be, “Can Chad knock him out?”
“He’s going to be the world champion of the UFC, 100 percent,” Ludwig said. “Most athletes in general, you just have to get them out of position. I won’t elaborate too much on that, but we’re going to get Jose out of position.”
If Ricardo Lamas fails to receive the next UFC title shot at 145 pounds, Chad Mendes says he’ll feel for him a bit. But Lamas should know: He only has himself to blame.