One of the featherweight division's perennial standouts meets a former lightweight contender seeking equal status as Chad Mendes and Clay Guida anchor UFC 164's five-fight main card. The event takes place from the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with a 10:00 p.m. ET start time for the pay-per-view offering, which will trail the preliminary card broadcasts on Fox Sports 1 (8:00 p.m. ET) and Facebook (est. 6:30 p.m. ET).
Chad Mendes (14-1) has long been considered the number two featherweight hitman right behind champion Jose Aldo, the man responsible for Mendes' sole career defeat (1st-round KO at UFC 142). Otherwise, the 28-year-old Team Alpha Male has been flawless and utterly dominant -- the most peril he's encountered throughout his career has been opposition durable enough to survive to a decision with him and, even then, there was never a sense that he was in trouble, at a stalemate or anything but in complete control.
At the risk of sounding fickle, it's worth mentioning that Mendes, despite being locked in as the second best featherweight on Earth, has not necessarily tangled with the who's who of new contenders. Though injuries and subsequent withdrawals have played a role, the only top-ranked competition he's tackled is Cub Swanson, Erik Koch (technically, neither were loftily ranked at the time) and Michihiro Omigawa. While it's hardly by fault of his own, his competition in the UFC -- Cody McKenzie, Yaotzin Meza, Darren Elkins -- has not been as fierce as many other top contenders. However, Mendes did the best thing he could possible do in that situation, which is to blast each and every mid-tier opponent into unconsciousness by 1st-round TKO.
The jury is still out on whether former lightweight title challenger Clay Guida (30-13) will have the same clout at featherweight. Back-to-back losses at 155 pounds (champion Ben Henderson and Gray Maynard) inspired "The Carpenter" to try his hand at 145 and his virgin run resulted in victory. But it wasn't a strong one -- in fact, his split-decision win over Hatsu Hioki was the most controversial decision of the year by far before Lyoto Machida vs. Phil Davis reared its foul and ghastly head.
On paper, the drop to featherweight seems sensible for Guida. While competent in all areas, he doesn't drastically excel in any one and his tenacious intensity has always been his best asset. Wrestling is the clear choice for his preferred method of combat, but that avenue was wholly shut down by Henderson and Maynard and Guida's striking wasn't momentous enough to compensate. At featherweight, the slight edge in size and strength he'll gain by default should amplify his core competency and pay dividends overall.
Yet that general rule of thumb for a fighter's expected advantages when dropping a weight class is just that -- general, i.e. in comparison to the standard run-of-the-mill featherweight ... which Chad Mendes is not.
Rather than build a case by noting a collection of little examples whilst meandering to a conclusion, I'll just come out and say it: Mendes is an atrocious match up for Guida, arguably even more so than Aldo. The common thread in all of Guida's losses is his inability to impose his frenetic pace and/or wrestling throughout the entire fight. "Throughout the entire fight" is a very intentional addendum in that statement, as Guida was successful with his wrestling in spurts against the likes of Roger Huerta, Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez, but his inability to enforce it for the full 15 minutes led to windows of opportunity that his foes capitalized on.
Am I being too harsh here? Sure, we all respect Guida's heart and spirit, and he's had his moments of striking authority -- such as breaking Rafael dos Anjos' jaw and easily out-gunning Takanori Gomi -- and even some wins by submission, but those achievements were made possible by the threat of his wrestling. And that's actually a tribute to Guida's fortitude, intelligence and phase-shifting. He's not great at any one thing, but he rose to ongoing lightweight relevancy by mixing everything up into an indiscernible blur of streaking leather, vivacious motion, over-animated head movement, determined takedowns and scrambling, flying hair and massive belches, and kept that confusing array of ill intentions directly in his opponent's face from bell to bell.
However, when his wrestling efficacy is struck from the equation, all of his supporting traits suffer. His striking, while a bit wild and unkempt, is still ferocious enough to make an impact when the defender is equally or more preoccupied with the concern of his takedowns. And his scrambling and basic submission skill has no platform to actualize when Guida is relegated to a striking match.
The obvious assumption is that Mendes will endeavor to do just that and, as the most proven and dominant wrestler in the division, the odds favor his success. Mendes deserves significant credit for the way he's developed his boxing, which has almost become more fearsome than his wrestling. Whereas fighters with a wrestling foundation have historically struggled to form a legitimately threatening stand-up game, Mendes' natural athleticism is mirrored in his striking. He has little trouble shifting back and forth between wrestling and boxing, he's able to maintain his balance and composure while throwing technically sound combinations and, rather amazingly, he's even managed to earn a reputation as a powerful knockout artist on top of all that.
That is rare in MMA, my friends. In addition to accruing fast and powerful boxing, what makes Mendes even more complex is the agile panache of his front-flip guard passes, well-timed flying knees, quick high kicks set up with fake level-changes and the fluidity with which he transitions from this diverse bag of striking tricks into high-class and technical wrestling.
Overall, I can't think of anything that Guida will throw at Mendes that he hasn't already seen and overcome with flying colors in the past. He's a better wrestler, he's quicker; he's a better striker with more speed, technique and power than Guida, and he won't wilt under Guida's incessant pressure.
My Prediction: Chad Mendes by submission.