Chad Mendes was seconds away from being a UFC world champion, an accomplishment that would have changed his life. A win over Conor McGregor in a short-notice title fight would have permanently cemented Mendes as a legend in mixed martial arts.
That moment, though, was three years ago, and a rough three years from an MMA standpoint they have been. Mendes was knocked out in the first round by Frankie Edgar in his first outing after losing to McGregor, and then subsequently failed an anti-doping test that resulted in a two-year suspension.
Mendes had planned prior to the incident to take a year off to start a news business anyway – Finz and Featherz, a hunting and fishing expedition with celebrities – but the suspension cost him an additional year beyond that.
The time off allowed him to establish his business, and gave his body a much-needed break. The worst part of it has been having his name associated with performance-enhancing drugs when the last thing he was trying to do was gain a competitive advantage.
Mendes wasn’t trying to cheat in any way. He used a cream to gain relief from a skin condition he’s had much of his life called plaque psoriasis. Plaque psoriasis is skin which has large patches that are red and raised, with a silvery white build-up of dead skin on top that scales.
For much of his life, friends and family would recommend treatments to Mendes and his family, including creams, oils and ointments.
“People would see it and ask me, ‘What is that? Is it poison oak?’ ” Mendes said. “I’d tell them it was psoriasis and they’d go, ‘Oh, I’ve had eczema. You’ve got to try this cream, or this ointment or this oil. I’ve used it on mine and it works great.’ I’ve been told that my entire life. As a kid, people would give my dad stuff and tell him, ‘Have him try this and wash with it in the shower.’ It never crossed my [mind] about it being performance-enhancing or any of that type of stuff. … It’s my own damn fault.”
The treatment included a banned peptide that cost him two years of his career. Mendes, though, has tried to view it through a positive and not a negative prism.
He is 17-4 heading into a featherweight bout Saturday in Boise against Myles Jury and is eager to make another run at the title. His four losses have come to three men, all of whom have been UFC champions and among the greatest fighters in the sport’s history. He lost twice to Jose Aldo and once each to McGregor and Edgar.
Three of those losses, though, came in his last four bouts. He had been wrestling since he was five and never had a serious break, so the suspension kind of acted as a forced ban, which had all sorts of good implications for him.
“I’d like to think [the time off] has been good,” the 33-year-old Mendes said. “I was going nonstop since I was 5 years old all the way through up until the suspension. I’d never, ever taken a year off. I started wrestling at five, all the way through college. I graduated and the next day I moved to Sacramento and jumped right into pro MMA training with all these guys at Team Alpha Male. Three months later, I had my first pro fight.
“I’ve never, ever taken a break and right there at the end, my body was starting to feel it. It was three hard fights I fought that year [in 2015]. Two of them didn’t go my way and both of them rung my bell a bit, so ultimately, I had already told the UFC I wanted to take a year off to let my head heal and my body heal and hopefully get that hunger back. Honestly, it was me kind of going through the motions right there at the end.”
In a way, then, Mendes is back to where he was in 2008, when he turned pro and was eager to make his mark in MMA. The only advantage is that this time he’s a lot smarter with a lot more experience.
The Jury fight is a big one for him, given that Jury is a quality opponent who has been competing, but Mendes believes he still has another title run in him.
He showed the ability the first time to become a champion – he was seconds away from winning the interim belt when he had McGregor in deep trouble at UFC 189 – but probably would appreciate it more now after all that has transpired.
“This whole journey has been awesome,” he said. “For me, being able to do something I love and make money for it, both in the outdoor world and competing as an athlete, that’s ideal for me. Being able to make a title run and go after that belt would be, to me, icing on the cake.
“This whole journey has been something that has been great for me and everything leading up until this point, other than probably the suspension, has been just amazing. Hopefully, I’ll just keep moving in the right direction, keep putting in the hard work and positive things should keep happening.”
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