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Fortunes Changed For Five at UFC 179

After a defeat in what was best UFC featherweight title fight to date, Chad Mendes finds himself in a difficult position. Mendes' skill set and success, and being a contemporary of Jose Aldo, may make him the best fighter who never hold a world championship.

Buda Mendes
After Saturday night's fight with Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes may wind up with the dubious distinction of being the greatest challenger in UFC history, in the sense he may be the best all-around fighter who, due to timing, never gets a championship reign.

That comes from his career coinciding with one of the best fighters in the sport's history.

Aldo, who retained his featherweight title Saturday night in Rio de Janeiro, moved his record to 25-1 overall and is an unheard of 15-0 since signing with Zuffa when WEC was the home of the featherweight division. His 15 wins in a row trails only Anderson Silva's 16. Only Jon Jones, who is 14-1, with his lone loss a disqualification in a fight he totally dominated, has a comparable record as Aldo to go along with a lengthy period on top of a division. Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva, who right now should be designated the two best fighters in UFC history, each had two losses.

Chris Weidman hasn't lost, but he hasn't spent years at the top of a division yet. People will point to Royce Gracie, but his reign was much shorter in time and it was much different era, with nothing even resembling the caliber of competition as today. Ronda Rousey also hasn't yet stood the test of time, nor is anyone in her division a Chad Mendes or a Frankie Edgar.

By going toe-to-toe with Aldo, one of the great strikers the sport has seen, and hurting him more than once, Mendes is as well-rounded as any non-champion, combining that with his strong wrestling pedigree.

Through the years there have been some people who are in a similar position as Mendes, in the sense they may have been a champion for years in their weight class, but they had a world beater standing in front of them. But Rich Franklin with Anderson Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira with Fedor Emelianenko, and Junior dos Santos with Cain Velasquez all at least had runs as champion before losing twice to the dominant star of their era and being out of the title picture. Perhaps the closest to this would be Jon Fitch, who seemed to be the top contender at welterweight for a few years, lost to Georges St-Pierre, decisively, and never got another shot. But Mendes' stand-up was better than that of Fitch, and he's far quicker and more athletic. Fitch in his prime was a guy who would win hard-fought decisions based more on mental toughness than physical superiority. Mendes combines both.

We'll never know, but the second loss, as great as the fight was, puts Mendes in a tough position. He's too small to move up in weight, which Franklin and Chael Sonnen tried to do under similar circumstances. Moving down in weight may be impossible, and it also serves no purpose, with teammate T.J. Dillashaw as bantamweight champion.

Mendes is 16-2, with both losses coming to Aldo, who has ruled the division since November 18, 2009. He fought a close fight with the champion, but not so close that it was all that controversial as to who won. Although in many ways similar to the Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson bout in being an all-time classic, the clamor for the rematch coming out of it wasn't really there. And that's with Aldo being extremely complimentary to Mendes, and said he was very much open to a third meeting even though he's up 2-0 in their career series.

But it's tough. If this was a huge box office rivalry, like Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez, UFC may want to put Mendes on the Urijah Faber fast-track toward a title rematch, or start the wheels turning for Jones vs. Gustafsson, since the feeling was the rematch would do major business.

There is no indication that's the case. And while Aldo and Mendes both helped themselves as stars by having a strong candidate for fight of the year, the reality is more questions after the fight were regarding "The Joker," as Aldo called Conor McGregor, than the "Prince," as he called Mendes.

UFC President Dana White had to table post-fight discussions about Aldo vs. McGregor, the best bet for box office success in the division. He said to wait until McGregor's fight with Dennis Siver runs its course on Jan. 18 in Boston. There were people discussing stadium possibilities on Saturday night for Aldo vs. McGregor, whether it be the legendary Maracana Stadium next door to Saturday's show, where Helio Gracie and Masahiko Kimura had their famous submission fight 63 years ago this past weekend, or in Dublin, where McGregor has been pushing to headline a soccer stadium show.

Mendes had a smile on his face when the fight was over, as he could tell the fight itself was one to be remembered. "Holy s***, that was fun," he said in the cage.

Yet, at the press conference, he was more somber. He wasn't down like many on the wrong end of a decision in a competitive fight, and noted he's going right back to what he's done since childhood, which is train for competition. But unlike before, whether the goal was a state title, national title, or a world title in MMA, there is no goal in direct sight. Even when he lost to Aldo nearly three years ago, he was relatively new in the sport and there was a lot of growth left. Now, he's at his peak, and was just a slight bit behind the champion.

"I felt like I gave my everything," he said. "I know I made some mistakes. I got caught with a few hooks. That's probably what cost me the fight. I can't tell you what happened round-by-round. I have to go back and watch it. This is a dream come true for me. This is a fight I wanted more than anything. I wanted to put on a good show for the fans. I was so ready. I trained harder than I ever trained. I was so ready. I laid everything on the line. I came out short."

For now, he's going to do the only thing he can do, which is go back, and try and pick up a few wins.

"I just love doing this," he said. "This is my job. I've been doing this a little over six years. I wrestled my entire life. Competing is what I love to do. It's who I am. Whether it's a title shot or the next fight to get me to the shot, I'm going to continue to train hard doing what I love to do and enjoying he ride. I'm loving every second of this."

Let's look at how Fortunes Changed for Five stars of Saturday night's show.

JOSE ALDO - There are two different possibilities going forward for Aldo.

The first is to defend the title against the winner of the Edgar (17-4-1) vs. Cub Swanson (20-5) fight on Nov. 22 in Austin, Tex.  The second is to wait for the McGregor (16-2) vs. Siver (22-9) fight. In the former scenario, he could probably fight in March and then face McGregor, should he win, in the summer. If there is a shot at a stadium show in Ireland, the more into summer, the better the odds. But there are all kinds of issues with holding a title fight in Europe, because of the time difference.

Do you go prime time in the U.K. and sacrifice pay-per-view buys? Or do you go at the normal U.S. pay-per-view time? Perhaps you book a stadium show with the risk of trying to draw 50,000 people for a show from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. local time? McGregor may have a great following at home, but that's an awfully big risk.

Waiting for McGregor, who wouldn't be ready until probably April or May, risks McGregor losing, but then he could always face the Edgar-Swanson winner at that point.

The winner of Swanson-Edgar would be more deserving, but this is a business and the guy with the charisma gets ahead. The thing with McGregor is it's all very much theoretical. McGregor garners a lot of interest, as he did this week on a show he wasn't even fighting on, to the point both main eventers were talking about him during the week. But outside of Irish television ratings, he's a theoretical draw more than a proven one. He will probably talk his way into more pay-per-view buys than Edgar, but there is no way to say it'll be the kind of difference that made Nick Diaz leapfrog in front of Johny Hendricks.

But the idea of featherweights having a title match at a soccer stadium all by itself elevates Aldo's aura as champion and the division as a whole.

CHAD MENDES - Mendes is in a tough position. He shouldn't be booked with any rising contenders, like, say Dennis Bermudez, if Bermudez beats Ricardo Lamas.

His best next match would be to face the loser of the Nov. 15 Bermudez vs. Lamas fight, or the loser of Edgar vs. Swanson. In either case, a win will get him near the top. If somebody beats Aldo, Mendes, with one win, would be in the thick of things. If Aldo continues to win, Mendes may need a few more wins, depending on how the rest of the division plays out.

PHIL DAVIS - A significant underdog to Glover Teixeira, Davis (13-2, 1 no contest) went back to the wrestling that made him an NCAA champion in 2008.

The question becomes who is the real Phil Davis. Is it the guy whose wrestling was stifled and he did little on offense against the likes of Anthony "Rumble" Johnson or Rashad Evans, or is he the guy who took Teixeira completely out of his game, submitted Alexander Gustafsson, and, in a somewhat lucky decision, helped move Lyoto Machida to middleweight?

Right now there are no options ranked ahead of Davis. Evans and Gustafsson look like a possibility to face off, and Davis has already fought both. Plus, as a sometimes training partner of Gustafsson, it would be tough to put him against his Swedish counterpart unless one wins the title and the other is the logical contender, which Davis has publicly is a scenario he'd take that fight.

So he's got to take guys nipping at his heels, with the best next bets being Ryan Bader (18-4) or the winner of the Nov. 8 Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (22-9) vs. Jimi Manuwa (14-1) fight.

WILSON REIS - Reis (19-5), who six years ago was the Elite XC bantamweight champion, has moved to flyweight and scored his second straight win. Flyweight is not the deepest of divisions which leaves limited options.

It may be more a sit and wait to see what UFC does with Demetrious Johnson. If John Dodson is ready after knee surgery, and he gets the next title shot, that could give Reis a shot at the winner of Ian McCall (13-4-1) vs. John Lineker (24-7) fight on Nov. 8 in Uberlandia, Brazil, or the winner of the Jussier Formiga (17-3) vs. John Moraga (15-3) fight on Dec. 13 in Phoenix. If Dodson isn't ready and Johnson faces the winner of one of those two fights, Reis could face the other winner.

BENEIL DARIUSH - Dariush (9-1) scored a major upset on Saturday taking all three rounds and shutting down Carlos Diego Ferreira (11-1), who had looked like a potential title contender after his two previous wins.

Dariush was finished by Ramsey Nijem, who Ferreira knocked out in spectacular fashion in his last time out. Gilbert Burns (8-0), who debuted in prelims and Saturday and submitted Christos Giagos in the first round, would be a match that would test both men out. A very different kind of a test could come from the longtime UFC mid-card veteran Gleison Tibau (31-10).

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