All eyes will soon be on the featherweight division, and in more ways than one.
Twenty-four hours before Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor collide in Las Vegas at UFC 194, Chad Mendes and Frankie Edgar will meet in a table-setting match on Dec. 11 at The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale. Aside from being an obvious fallback in case injury derails Aldo-McGregor once again, the fight is a fascinating stylistic pairing with significant stakes at hand, as the winner could set themselves up for a big 2016 campaign in a division that’s never been hotter than it is now.
“Frankie is a guy who is right there at the top, you know? This is a fight, in my opinion, that is going to cement the true No. 1 contender,” said Mendes.
“I feel like the winner of this fight should be right back in line for it, whether it’s me or Frankie. Obviously I’ve fought Aldo twice, and Conor for the fake belt. But if you beat a guy like Frankie who’s been just on a tear, then you have no choice but to give the guy who wins that fight a title shot, in my opinion.”
The “fake belt” Mendes is referring to is the same interim belt that McGregor captured with a memorable second-round TKO back in July at UFC 189.
McGregor was initially slated to challenge Aldo at that event, however a last-second rib injury led to Aldo’s withdrawal, and the show moved on with Mendes as a replacement and an interim belt up for grabs, despite Aldo having defeated Mendes nine months prior at UFC 179.
Ultimately the injury delay and McGregor’s subsequent victory over Mendes only served to ratchet up the hype even further for the eventual grudge match between the two featherweight champions. That hype will at last be settled on Dec. 12, and the result could complicate things for the rest of the division.
While Mendes said he would be content sit out and wait for the Aldo-McGregor winner should he emerge victorious at TUF 22 Finale, Edgar knows all too well how long rivalries can stretch out from his time as UFC lightweight champion, and he wouldn’t be ready to accept the same fate as Mendes.
“Speaking to Dana (White), he pretty much said you just don’t know what’s going to happen with Aldo and McGregor,” Edgar said. “Barring a barnburner between those guys, I think the winner of our fight should get the next title shot, especially with me coming off five straight wins over top notch guys. But again, nothing is guaranteed and I’m not banking on anything.
“I’m not putting a date on anything,” Edgar added. “I feel great. I don’t feel like I’m getting older. It’s just the fact that time is ticking and I don’t want to sit around and wait for anything. I do want to stay active, I want to make money. I feel like I’m getting better as I go along, so I don’t want to be sitting dormant at all.”
With a McGregor victory likely resulting in an immediate rematch, or even a controversial McGregor loss potentially doing the same, the featherweight belt could be tied up well into the new year.
But those are matters for Mendes and Edgar to worry about after Dec. 12. For now, they must simply focus on the foe standing across from them, and in both cases, that foe presents one of the most daunting physical and mental challenges the division can offer.
“I feel like me and Frankie have pretty similar styles, as far as our boxing and wrestling,” Mendes said. “I feel like I have a little more power. People say he has the speed advantage there. I think ultimately this is going to come down to heart. This is a fight that, I’m not going to back down. I know Frankie is not going to back down. It’s going to come down to grit and who wants it the most. We both have wrestling backgrounds, and we have that ability to grind, so this is a fight that fight IQ is going to play a huge role in.”
“Anything could happen,” Edgar agreed. “That’s the beauty of fighting, you never know what’s going to happen, especially with styles like Chad and myself. I think we match up pretty well, so I’m expecting us to touch every part of the Octagon.”
One potential advantage Mendes carries into the bout is the fact that his mentor and friend, Urijah Faber, just fought Edgar in the summer. And while Faber dropped a five-round decision to Edgar in that contest, the preparation and subsequent information he gleaned from the experience has helped Mendes tremendously in the lead-up to Dec. 11.
“I got to see a lot of things going on in that fight,” Mendes said.
“Faber is fighting the day after me (at UFC 194), so that makes it great that he just fought Frankie and he’s going through an entire training camp with me. We’ve been training a lot for this fight. Obviously we sat down and re-watched the fight a few times, Frankie’s with Faber, and came up with a solid gameplan, so it’s definitely something we’ve talked about and gone over.”
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