Chad Mendes was confident he was going to beat UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo when the two met in August. And not just confident in a rote kind of way - saying the things you think a confident fighter says while secretly harboring all kinds of doubts. Mendes was actually convinced he could hold Aldo down and pound him out:
I think if anybody has the best chance to beat Aldo in this division, it's gonna be me. I honestly definitely think I have the best wrestling in this division. My strength, my speed, my takedowns and my ability to just stay on top of people and grind it out is definitely the blueprint and the way somebody is gonna beat Aldo and I think that's gonna be me.
The UFC had plans to feature a bout between the two men at UFC 133 in August. Now Aldo is out, recovering from several unspecified, but minor injuries. The champ won't be out long - in fact, manager Ed Soares suggests Aldo will be back in action as early as September.
But Mendes doesn't want to wait, not even a measly month. His manager Mike Roberts told MMA Junkie the show must go on, with Aldo or without him:
"Chad is looking to fight Aug. 6, for sure. We're not going to wait for Jose Aldo. Chad wants to fight. If Aldo can't fight, Chad will move on and fight somebody else."
Why is Mendes, a hungry young fighter who's been telling anyone who will listen that his belief that he can beat Aldo is at a "10" on a scale of 1-10, so quick to give up on what should be every fighter's dream? In athletics, winning, especially winning championships, is intended to be the primary motivator. Across sports you hear plenty of platitudes about being the best. Mendes has that opportunity - the chance to write his name in the history books. Instead he's willing to fight anyone else rather than wait a month or two for his shot at glory.
It's a baffling decision - until you look a little closer, delve into the weeds a little. The culprit? The UFC's notoriously stingy fighter pay. For his last fight in February, Mendes had a base salary of $9,500. Before that he was making $8,500 to fight for the UFC's defunct sister promotion the WEC. By winning, Mendes doubled that salary, taking home $19,000 for UFC 126 according to the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
Even assuming Mendes walked away with $40,000 from the bout all told (my best estimate for his take home pay including locker room bonuses and sponsor money), fighters burn through cash in preparation for big bouts. The cost of doing business in MMA is astronomical - and unlike big time boxing, the promotion doesn't front fighters training expenses.
It's unconscionable to pay a title contender like Mendes $19,000 to fight. Not only does it necessitate tough decisions like this, it also creates an unbalanced playing field. With that kind of money backing him, Mendes can barely afford a world class training camp and can forget about maintaining a reasonable standard of living. Chad Mendes, the top contender to the featherweight crown, is giving up on a chance to win the championship of the world - likely because of money issues.