It’s not the fight that anyone was expecting, and that could spell bad news for Conor McGregor as he faces Chad Mendes at UFC 189 on July 11 for the interim UFC Featherweight Championship.
“Mixed martial arts is a sport that perplexes me. I never quite understand how any of the fighters stay conscious for even one round.” – Roger Ebert
This Saturday night sees two fantastic proponents of the sport go head to head in what will be a showcase of what MMA is all about. A showcase of grinding, showing no fear, and stepping up when it matters. A showcase on how all it takes is one guy with a rocket up his ass and the balls to take a shot, to turn an entire sport on it’s head.
Long-time champion Jose Also was originally slated to face Conor McGregor (1/2), but Aldo pulled out due to a rib injury. Chad Mendes (13/8) stepped up on short notice, and the two now clash for the interim UFC Featherweight Championship.
The fight takes place at approximately 5am BST/GMT on Sunday morning at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Conor McGregor (17-2)
“One thing that’s good about his style is that he has a very good eye for distances. He could judge distance very well.” – Siver on McGregor
A former Cage Warriors Featherweight and Lightweight Champion, Conor McGregor left the promotion to join the UFC in 2013, with the ‘Notorious’ blasting his way through five opponents via four knockouts and a decision, resulting in an amazing total of just 29 minutes of fight time inside the Octagon.
He’s a free-form, dynamic striker, who’s style comprises elements from boxing, capoeira, kickboxing, tae-kwon-do etc. Both of his losses have come via submission.
He has caused an absolute riot in the MMA world, seldom seen since the halcyon days of Brock Lesnar’s heavyweight title reign.
His harsh, disrespectful trash-talk apes the path that many athletes before him have trod, but in fairness to the Dubliner, he has backed it up in emphatic fashion. McGregor stands on the brink of becoming a World Champion just over two years removed from ‘being on the dole’ – a staggering fact that is a testament to his determination, skill and showmanship.
Chad Mendes (17-2)
Mendes is 30 years old and hails from Hanford, California. He represents the highly regarded Team Alpha Male gym based in Sacramento. A two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler, Chad’s only two losses have come against the legendary Aldo. The second bout in particular outlined the legitimate credentials that he now holds.
He’s the typical heavy-handed wrestler, who’s striking game has come on leaps and bounds – five of his last six wins have come by knockout. Powerfully built at 5’6, Mendes is an established member of the elite.
In his favour, the Californian has faced (and beaten) a higher class of opponent than the Irishman. Cub Swanson, Ricardo Lamas, Clay Guida and Erik Koch have fallen to ‘Money’ Mendes.
All credit must go to McGregor. He absolutely earned the right to not show up when Aldo pulled out with little over two weeks to the fight. Taking on a legit replacement in Mendes on such short notice is a testament to both men. Chad represents a very different challenge, though. Hopefully Mystic Mac predicted ‘dese tings’.
McGregor’s reach extends to 74 inches, which is the longest in the division, leaving Chad Mendes at a huge 8 inch disadvantage with 66 inches. An eight inch reach disadvantage is a big obstacle to Mendes’ chances on the feet, but he has overcome reach deficits in the past in spectacular fashion.
McGregor is three inches taller than his opponent, which will serve to suit his agenda of distance control and use of angles.
Some have cited a possible parallel between this bout and the one that took place between Carla Esparza and Joanna Jędrzejczyk. On that occasion, Joanna was the dynamic striker (read: McGregor), taking on the wrestler in Esparza (i.e Mendes). Esparza tried in vain to take down JJ, and after multiple failed attempts, it dawned on the Champ that she would have to go toe-to-toe with the Polish striker. Joanna proceeded to put an almost unfair beating on the American, landing punches at will.
It’s incredibly doubtful that this will occur on Saturday. Yes, Chad relies heavily on his wrestling, but his boxing has come full circle. It’s not just his heavy right hand that’s doing the damage.
Chad’s hands managed to floor the iron-chinned Brazilian, so those underestimating his striking will be emphatically disproved. If it turns out that it’s not, could the fight look something like this beatdown of a similarly sized Marcus Brimage?
The burning question in the build-up has surrounded McGregor’s grappling – how will he deal with a great wrestler? Many feel that Conor has been spoonfed strikers suited to his fighting style thus far.
Bantamweight Champ T.J Dillashaw certainly feels that way:
“I think Frankie Edgar would destroy Conor McGregor. Chad Mendes would destroy Conor McGregor. We haven’t seen Conor McGregor fight a wrestler or a top name.”
McGregor has indeed been matched up with predominant strikers to this point, but his stats in that area so far indicate that he’s no slouch when confronted with the ground game.
Training camp footage shows a slick grappler with the explosiveness needed to avoid prolonged periods on the bottom.
Conor does need to look after his lead leg, though. While it’s unlikely that Chad will do a number on Conor’s legs as Aldo did to Ricardo Lamas, an accumulation of kicks over 25 minutes would take it’s toll on McGregor’s movement – which is his main attribute.
We can safely disregard a submission finish from either fighter – just three wins between them have come via this method. Barring the wrestler’s staple of a guillotine choke, we’ll focus on the other possible outcomes.
McGregor by KO – The expectation of many. Conor’s powerful strikes are more suited to the Lightweight division, but Chad has shown mighty resilience in the past. His KO loss to Aldo came via a life-shortening knee, and it may take a similar blow to put him down again.
Mendes by KO – An overlooked yet viable possibility. Conor’s strike defence has hardly matched that of an Anderson Sliva. He has shown a decent chin to date, but anyone can only take so many heavy blows before succumbing to them.
McGregor by decision – If we take the Max Holloway fight as a guide (ignoring Conor’s ACL tear half way through), McGregor could keep Chad at bay, drawing on both his style and his many physical advantages. It won’t be a mismatch on the feet, and they could go the distance as a result.
Mendes by decision – If the advent of a wrestling background comes to fruition for Chad, a long night may lie ahead for the Notorious.
Prediction: Conor McGregor by decision