The UFC's Featherweight king takes to the Octagon in the main event of UFC 142 tomorrow night, as reigning champion Jose Aldo takes on Chad Mendes in a fight that has been a long time in the making. Fighting before a highly partial Brazilian crowd, it will be on Aldo to stave off the relentless takedowns of the American wrestler if he wants to hold onto his Title.
The only man to ever hold the UFC's Featherweight belt, received initially for entering as the WEC Featherweight Champion at the time the smaller promotion was folded into the UFC, Aldo put his name on the map with a string of positively devastating victories. Where intrigue enters this bout is in Aldo's recent outings where, for the first time in his Zuffa career, Aldo has appeared potentially beatable.
Aldo began his Zuffa career with five consecutive TKO victories, earning the young Brazilian a chance at Mike Brown's WEC Featherweight Title. Brown was expected to provide Aldo's stiffest test yet, but less than two rounds later Aldo had another TKO victory on his resume. Aldo rounded out his WEC run with a decision over former champion Urijah Faber and a destruction of Manny Gamburyan to enter the WEC-UFC merger as the new UFC Featherweight Champion. Aldo's UFC reign got off to a good start as he battered Mark Hominick early in their fight, but the champion faded late and was on the wrong side of a beatdown in the fifth and final frame. Aldo had done enough early to hold onto his belt, however, and successfully defended again against Kenny Florian in more comfortable fashion.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Like most of the top level Brazilian fighters, Aldo has a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, however given the choice Aldo prefers to spend his time inside the Octagon throwing punches, kicks and knees until his opponent is left a broken shell of their former self. Most spectacularly, Aldo finished Cub Swanson with a double jumping knee, however he has shown the ability to land decisive strikes in a variety of methods throughout his career. Despite his black belt skills, the ground remains the weak area that Mendes will certainly look to exploit. In the beatdown from Hominick, a tired Aldo was unable to prevent the Canadian from taking him down and raining damage from on top. If Mendes is able to wear Aldo out, he can make it a long 25 minutes for the champion.
If Aldo is able to prevent Mendes from taking him to the mat or pressing him against the cage, it's only a matter of time on the feet. Aldo will wear Mendes down with strikes en route to a TKO. Mendes is tough and unlikely to be put away early, and finishes rarely come in the championship rounds, so go with a third round TKO. On the fantasy betting side, prices on Aldo sit at -300 which makes Aldo a larger favorite than all but one of the major online sports books. As always, it's best to stay away from any fighter for straight bets as they start to creep over the -250 mark unless you don't see any value elsewhere and have leftover money that has to go somewhere. If looking for a parlay, pair Aldo with a near-pick 'em fighter and an underdog over +200 for a decent payout that isn't a reach.
Chad Mendes analysis after the jump.
Often times in MMA a fighter who decides to keep fighting on rather than wait for an injured champion's return despite having earned a title shot go on to regret their decision. Not the case with Mendes. When an Aldo injury meant he would not be available to face Mendes as hoped at UFC 133, Mendes simply took on another opponent and, 15 minutes later, Mendes still had his number one contender status, with a nice show purse and win bonus to boot.
Mendes is undefeated in eleven professional bouts, with a 6-0 tenure under the Zuffa banner. Mendes racked up four victories in the WEC, submitting Anthony Morrison with a guillotine choke and handing in dominant decision victories against solid competition in the form or Erik Koch, Cub Swanson and Javier Vasquez to get his name into talks of the division's elite. Mendes debuted in the UFC with another strong decision win over Michihiro Omigawa which earned a chance to face Aldo. When Aldo pulled out Mendes instead fought Rani Yahya, shutting down the BJJ specialist's offense to rack up yet another unanimous decision.
Strengths and Weaknesses
As a record full of mostly decision victories often implies, Mendes makes his money with his wrestling. Although Mendes will want little to do with striking against the champion, and may have a less diverse offense than Aldo should he find himself fighting off his back, nobody in the UFC's featherweight division has proven better at not letting his opponents force him to do much of either than Mendes. Mendes comes into a fight with the intent of dumping his opponent on their back and keeping them there for punishment that lasts fifteen minutes, and so far nobody has succeeded in preventing it. If Aldo can, Mendes will be in trouble. If not, the champion is in for a frustrating and painful beatdown.
As the strengths and weaknesses and fight history of Mendes implies, if you're backing the challenger in this, or pretty much any, fight it's a simple pick to make -- take Mendes to win by unanimous decision. At +260, Mendes is a very live dog on this card, offering a better payout than any major book. Mendes is a strong candidate for inclusion in a parlay, or if you are less confident in his chances is worth a play straight up against the odds, as while Mendes is rightly an underdog, his chances are better than those offered by the odds.