Any fighter will tell you a loss on their professional record confers benefits. It's a learning experience. They never expected to lose, but they did and so uncovering the reason why it happened ostensibly allows them to correct for in the future.
They'll also tell you, though, that losing hurts. Losing is never fun even if there's value in it. Losing is a career and often times personal setback.
That's why revenge, if you can get it, is the sweetest joy. It's not merely getting back a moment that was taken from you, but sometimes even a chance to re-write the narrative of the past. Maybe things could have gone differently the first time around. Maybe they should have.
Perhaps that's why UFC featherweight contender Chad Mendes, whose sole career loss came to UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo in a title fight at UFC 142 in January of 2012, is elated about the news that he'll face that man again at UFC 176 on August 2nd at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.
This isn't merely a chance to win the belt. This is a moment to redefine the historical context of what the first fight between them meant.
"It was something we'd been talking about [with UFC] and had kinda knew for a while, a couple of months," Mendes told Ariel Helwani on Monday's The MMA Hour of his chance at getting another crack at Aldo. "I just had to bite my lip. There was a ton of people asking on Twitter and Instagram, but there was nothing I could do about it."
The word's out now, though.
It should be noted, however, there was a moment in time Mendes didn't know what was next. He'd racked up a decent collection of featherweight scalps, but so had Cub Swanson. He wasn't really sure he was even going to get the shot even if, for a time, he was hopeful.
"I knew it was basically just me and Cub [Swanson] and one of us was going to get it, but both of us campaigning," Mendes explained. "As soon as I heard Cub had that other fight booked [against Jeremy Stephens], then I pretty much knew it was going to be me, so I kept bugging Mike [Roberts, manager]. He's like, 'Well, we're still working on it, we're still working on it.' There was actually about two or three weeks where he didn't know anything.
"I hate that feeling, just not knowing what the hell's going to happen next," he continued. "Finally, we got some word, like, 'Alright, we should be fighting for the belt. We don't know where.' We had a couple [dates] actually booked, but Aldo kept backing out, it was too soon, too soon, too soon. So, now we are August 2nd."
Mendes says all things being equal, he would've loved to have fought earlier in the calendar year. Win or lose, fighting on August 2nd doesn't leave a lot of time to get another fight in 2014, something he would've preferred for both competitive and financial reasons.
"Very frustrating," Mendes said of Aldo pushing back the fight date. "There was two different times. The first time it was supposed to be around the July 5th card. That's kind of what they were telling us. And then when [Chris] Weidman got injured, they were looking for that main event there and asked if I'd take it with Aldo. I said 'yes' in a heartbeat. Aldo said 'no', it was like eight weeks out. He said it was too soon and that he also can't fight on the July 5th card.
"It's just strange to me. It doesn't make any sense, but now we're at August 2nd and most likely I'll get to fight once, maybe two times this year. I think more than anything that's what's frustrating for me."
The key for Mendes is that he got the fight, but did he really deserve it? Swanson's resume is arguably just as impressive as Mendes' of late. Both fighters have first-round losses to Aldo. Both would love revenge. Why did Mendes deserve it over Swanson?
"There's a couple things," Mendes argues. "First of all, I've already beat Cub. It was back in the WEC, but I still beat him. He's gotten better, but so have I. And honestly, I actually believe that some of those guys that I beat would beat Cub, anyways. I think if [Nik] Lentz went out there, I think Lentz would beat Cub. Just with his wrestling alone and the fact that he's got a chin from hell, so I think that would be an upside down fight for Cub.
"I think [Clay] Guida - I know they train together- but I think Guida's wrestling could beat Cub alone," he claims. "And [Darren] Elkins, also. Elkins is a grinder and an ugly style. It just gets in your face and he makes it an ugly fight. I think that's a bad match up for Cub, also. As far as all that goes, I don't know, I just think in my mind I was more qualified."
Mendes looks at that experience not merely as one that rates him a title shot, but as improving his technique and ability to fight to a drastic degree. He claims he wasn't ready for Aldo in their first fight. Not 'ready' in the sense of having a bad camp, but just being early in his growth curve as a competitive fighter.
That's an issue he believes won't exist this time around.
"I honestly believe, since that first fight, I'm completely different fighter," Mendes maintains. "Back then I relied pretty much, I'd say 90 percent, on my wrestling and taking that fight, I probably wasn't ready for that fight. I think I had a couple of fights in the UFC, still trying to basically figure my style, myself out as a fighter. I went in there and took the fight. You just don't turn those fights down in this sport and that's what happened.
"Ultimately, I feel like I was winning the first round. At least, staying close right there with him and obviously got caught. It's definitely something I'm going to pay attention to. There's a lot of studying of him I'm going to be doing on this fight and I feel like it's going to be a completely different fight."
And does he regret taking the fight despite not being in a place where he was able to truly compete? Not really, he claims. Those are opportunities you take whether you're ready or not.
"In hindsight, I definitely at the time was as prepared as I could be for that fight, at that moment in my career. Looking back on it now, there was definitely a lot of stuff I could've improved on or even just added to the arsenal. Like I said, you just don't turn that stuff down. Anything could happen. An injury could come about to where I don't even fight for three or four years or possibly be done. You just get in there and you do it.
"Basically, this is our job," he continued. "This is what we're here to do. I wouldn't want to turn a title fight down. That's the ultimate goal in the sport. You work hard. I've been working hard my entire life. When that moment finally comes, whether it's time or not, they present it to you, you take it. That's what I did."
For the next fight, it's not merely about bringing new tools to the fight, but changing tactics as well. Mendes realizes he can't do some of the same things he did in their first outing.
"There's a few things we're going to be doing different," he said. "Obviously one of the things I need to watch out is taking him down close to the cage. That cage grabbing is something that's going to be talked about with the ref beforehand. Ultimately, I think that can change the outcome of a fight.
"It's not anything I obsess about just because I truly believe everything happens for a reason. It just wasn't my time. Something like that. If it doesn't get called, there's a reason for it. Looking back on it, it is something that I think would've changed the outcome of a fight. Do I know if I would've won the fight? I don't know that, but I know that, most likely, I wouldn't have been eating a knee with one second left in that round if I had gotten him down and the cage grab didn't happen. I think it would've changed the way the fight turned out, but who knows if I would've won or not? That's something I've thought about and think about, but ultimately, like I said, everything happens for a reason."
There's also the issue of who Aldo is at this point. While Aldo earned a fearsome reputation for blitzing through the very best the WEC had to offer, he's been more methodical and patient in his run as UFC champion. Criticism of the once untouchable Aldo has accumulated to a surprising degree.
Mendes agrees he's noticed the same thing and believes this is something he can work to his advantage.
"I definitely noticed it. That last fight he did just enough to win," Mendes suggests. "He basically was cruising and that's never fun for anyone to watch and it can be dangerous as far as being a fighter because that one moment you're cruising you can get with something and put on the mat.
"For me, I'm definitely paying attention to that. I know he just had a baby and he's married. Maybe he's starting to come down towards the end of his career. I know he's been getting injured a lot the last few years. Maybe that's starting to wear on his body. Who knows? It's definitely something I'm going to be paying attention to and I'm going to make sure I'm bringing the heat in this fight. This is the top of the top for me. This is what I've been ready for. I've been preparing for this fight since I got home from Brazil that first time. Every fighter I train for, I'm also training for Aldo."
Hindsight is 20/20, or so the saying goes. For Mendes, UFC 176 represents a chance to demonstrate not merely who the better fighter is now, but change impressions of who he was then. This is the moment for Mendes to leverage the lessons learned in his only career defeat and what he's gained as a fighter and athlete in the time since that bitter loss. Mendes believes those lessons will prove themselves valuable when he takes the fight to Aldo in a way he believes no one else in the division can.
"This is my chance. This is my opportunity. I'm going to train harder than I've ever trained before for any fight," Mendes adamantly says. "I'm going to get in there looking to take Aldo's head off. I'm going to be smart. I'm going to mix up my wrestling. I'm going to put him on the mat. This is a fight that I need to be able to mix up very well, both wrestling and my striking. Obviously my cardio is going to be on point. I'm going to be doing a lot of stuff I did in the Guida fight. Cardio was something that I really paid attention to in that camp and I felt like that was the best shape I'd ever been in for any fight."
For Mendes the timing of the rematch is ideal, not in terms of the calendar necessarily, but in his growth curve. He was confident the first time he faced Aldo, but misled by his own inexperience. That can't be the case this time, he believes.
The time it's a situation Mendes is all too ready to take advantage of with new confidence and sharpened skills, especially in light of where the fight takes place and what happened in their first meeting.
After Aldo won at UFC 142, he ran into the crowd in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he was greeted with hugs, slaps on the back and a moment of being hoisted into the air on the shoulders of the fans. It's one Mendes remembers vividly and now that the rematch is taking place near his hometown, he's considering the possibility of returning the favor.
"Who knows? I still might do it down in L.A.," Mendes says of running into the crowd post-fight. "I was up and about when he's sitting there running through the crowd. I remember it. Payback's a bitch."