Why would a guy like Cody McKenzie call out one of his former training partners for his featherweight debut?
That former partner, Chad Mendes, has a succinct theory: "The guy's nuts."
Mendes, in his first fight since being knocked out by Jose Aldo Jr. in a UFC featherweight title bout in January, will meet former training partner McKenzie in an unusual pairing at UFC 148 in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
The Team Alpha Male fighter wasn't looking for a battle with "The Ultimate Fighter 12" contestant, but as Mendes told MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani on Tuesday, that's just the way things played out.
"I was anxious to get back in there and I think that the UFC was having some difficulty in finding someone, just due to injury and I think matchups were already taken," said Mendes. "So I think Cody actually called the UFC, that's what I heard, and said he's going down to 145 and wants a tough fight.
"So they were, 'Mendes is the only one available, but haven't you guys trained together?' And he said, 'Its a business, send me a contract.' So, you know, it's him calling me out, and its a business, so I'm going to get in there and try to whoop that ass."
McKenzie brings a unique style to the Octagon, one that often seems to involve taking a beating until he finds a way to win via guillotine choke. Twelve of the Spokane, Wash. native's 13 wins have come via way of submission, 11 via guillotine.
The way Mendes sees it, though, the fact they've trained together will work to his advantage.
"It's definitely a comforting thing knowing you sparred with the guy and knowing that I've gotten the best of him," he said. "But I'm definitely taking this fight seriously, I know it's not for the world title, but I'm definitely not taking him lightly. Like I said, he's a funky fighter, he's got something sneaky, he uses the guillotine choke and he's really, really good at it. It's something we've focused on for this training camp. It's something we spent a lot of time on."
Mendes returns to action six months after his first career loss, a fight in which he was competitive right up until Aldo finished him with a flying knee in the closing seconds of the opening round. Mendes admitted to dwelling on the defeat for awhile, but he also vowed to learn from his mistakes and become a better fighter.
"After a win you usually come back and your spirits are high, you can look back at the fight and get excited," said Mendes. "After a loss it's different. I just felt like alone, thinking about what happened, the mistake I made. I'm just like 'damnit.' But then I start to realize, this is what I do for a living, it's nothing to be upset about, its a great way to make a living, I get to train and be with my buddies all day and go all around the world and stuff, so, get in there and fight someone one on one and get paid for it and not get in trouble. I realized that and I just kind of lightened up, I looked back, I looked at that fight a bunch and I saw the mistakes i made, it's in my mind now and hopefully I'll never make it again. I think if I get two to three more wins, hopefully I'll be right back in there.
In the interim, the featherweight contender engaged in a different kind of fight. He and his wife purchased a five-acre ranch in rural Lincoln, Calif., and Mendes has found himself dueling with a mountain lion who has eyes on his livestock.
"It's a funny story, I've been dealing with a mountain lion out here," he said. "It's not really funny, it's kinda crappy, but it actually killed one of my goats already and attacked another one. I heard it attacking the second one, I slept with my windows open at night and I ran outside and shot my gun a couple times in the air and it dropped the goat and ran off."
After fending off the mountain lion, a match with Cody McKenzie doesn't seem so difficult.
"He's a strange guy, he's a little odd," said Mendes. "It's just business, I'm ready to fight anyone. When they told me [McKenzie wanted to fight him], I said, alright, send me the contract too, let's do this."