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Chad Mendes says he's in Jose Aldo's head, and that he welcomes a fight with Conor McGregor

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Even with UFC 179 right around the corner, it can’t get here soon enough for featherweight challenger Chad Mendes. The way things have gone on his path back to Jose Aldo have left him a little on edge that the fight may never happen. Especially with Aldo having been hospitalized a couple of weeks back for kidney stones.

They have a history.

The two fought at UFC 142, in which Aldo scored a first round TKO victory in his native Brazil. Yet after winning five straight fights to get back to crack at Aldo again, things have gotten hard to pin down. Mendes was set to rematch Aldo at UFC 176 in early August in Los Angeles, but the champion turned up with an injury a month out, thus forcing the UFC to postpone the fight for nearly three months.

Ten months later, Mendes is finally back on deck. He and Aldo are set to finally meet again in Rio de Janeiro on Oct. 25.

And since the first encounter, in which Aldo caught Mendes with a perfectly timed knee, Mendes says he’s watched himself get knocked out a "million" times. Even if that’s an exaggeration, "Money" said on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour that it’s not by much.

"Seriously, probably a thousand times, no joke," he told host Ariel Helwani. "When I was just down in Brazil for the media thing, they had it on repeat in the arena we were doing all the media in."

That was the same press tour in which Aldo infamously shoved Mendes, not long after the brawl between Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones. At the time it felt like a copycat offense, and in the immediate aftermath, Aldo even went on record saying it was nothing more than a ploy to sell the fight. There has been some waffling even from that point since then, but Mendes says he’s not buying any of it.

"I think that’s bull," he said. "[Aldo] lost his temper, he lost his cool and that’s never happened before. So he’s trying to backtrack and cover that up, like, we were just trying to sell the fight. If that was the case, if you were trying to sell the fight, you wouldn’t come out and say that afterwards. That was him backpedaling for sure."

Asked why he thought Aldo, who has traditionally been very respectful of opponents and quiet in the lead-up to a fight, shoved him in a such a fashion, Mendes said it’s psychological.

"For me it’s basically me thinking I’m in his head, man," he said. "We’ve never seen Aldo do this with any opponent. I think he feels threatened in his head, which is right where I want to be. When you get into a stare-off and the guy shoves you or pushes you, it’s kind of funny to me. That’s our job, and that’s what we’re supposed to do. If you don’t want to be there, don’t do the damn stare down. It’s just funny to me to see him get frustrated and lose his cool."

Since they last fought, Aldo -- the last of the Brazilian champions currently in the UFC -- has gone 3-0, his last victory a unanimous decision over Ricardo Lamas at UFC 169. Since his time in the WEC, and into the early parts of his reign in the UFC, there has been a perceived drop off in popularity for the featherweight kingpin.

Asked why that might be the case, Mendes said it’s because he’s resting on his laurels.

"I think [Aldo]’s a guy who found his comfort zone," he said. "He’s very good at what he does. He’ll go in there and use his skills that he’s very good at. But, he’ll coast. He knows he can be the guy with leg kicks. He knows he can be the guy with the jab. If a guy gets crazy, he can throw a knee and possibly catch him. But a lot of guys aren’t pushing the pace on him, so he’s not able to hit those crazy knees. He’s just staying on the outside using his leg kicks and popping jabs. Yeah he’s winning fights, but it’s not exciting. He’s not finishing guys. He’s not looking to finish guys. He’s looking to coast and get the W and get out of there.

"He’s a different guy now. He’s married. He has a newborn baby. A lot of people say that changes a man. In this sport you’ve got to have that aggression and that will to get out there and destroy your opponent and maybe that’s gone."

One fighter who isn’t lacking in popularity right now is Irishman Conor McGregor, who is coming off a first-round TKO of Dustin Poirier at UFC 178. He’ll be cageside for Mendes-Aldo II, and there’s a good chance he’ll face the winner.

Asked what he though about McGregor, who has called him Mini-Mendes and a "blown-up bantamweight," Mendes said he’s taking it all in stride.

"Honestly, the guy talks a lot of s--t, but I think he’s great for the sport," he said. "It’s an eye-opener for a lot of people to bring that much recognition to the featherweight division and to the sport of the UFC. I think it’s great. But don’t get me wrong. I would love to punch this dude right in the face.

"He’s a big talker. He’s got the skill set to back it up, but I don’t think he’s on my level yet. I’d like to see him get in there with somebody who has a little bit of a wrestling background. I think a guy like Dennis Bermudez, honestly, would beat him. I think a guy like Clay Guida, and even Nik Lentz, I think all three of those guys would test him very, very well, and most likely beat him."

Mendes said he understood that it’s an entertainment business first, and that though he doesn’t necessarily agree with McGregor being expedited into a title shot, he can see why that might be the case.

And if given his druthers, if he settles the score with Aldo on Oct. 25, Mendes says rather than do a trilogy with the Brazilian he’s much rather defend his belt against the "Notorious" one.

"If I go out there and beat Aldo I would rather fight a bigger name like Conor," he said. "Not necessarily a bigger name, but a guy with a bigger draw like that. Like you said, that’s going to be a ton more money. It’s going to be a way bigger recognition fight. And I think it’s going to be huge for the featherweight division. We’ll cross that road when it comes, but I think that’s a great idea."

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