Chad Mendes gave UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo the fight of his life last October. Now, after scoring a brutal first-round knockout over Ricardo Lamas at UFC Fight Night 63, Mendes wants his third crack at the 145-pound strap.
"I've been trying to figure out who I would fight after this, if I were to go out there and beat Ricardo. The only thing that makes sense in my mind is back for that title," Mendes said at Saturday afternoon's post-fight press conference. "We've just got to wait to see what happens with Aldo-McGregor and Frankie-Faber. So we'll see.
"I'm kind of just in a weird spot right now."
Mendes (17-2) is undefeated in 12 non-title fights as a WEC/UFC featherweight, but twice has fallen short against Aldo. The Brazilian knocked Mendes out with a dramatic knee to the head in early 2012, however the rematch last year ended up being one of the most hard-fought bouts of Aldo's career, with Mendes ultimately losing a narrow unanimous decision in a fight that saw both fighters have their moments.
Mendes carried that momentum straight into Saturday, knocking out Lamas with a near-endless salvo of punches after catching him clean with a right hand less than three minutes into the fight.
"That's how I envisioned it in my mind and that's the way I was hoping it was going to go," Mendes said.
"I've watched some of his recent past fights and coming out he throws a lot of weird stuff, spinning kicks and head kick and inside-outside kicks. I just kind of wanted to feel the speed on those, feel the power, and then kind of go from there. And that's basically what I did. He landed a few of those -- some of them I was able to get out of the way -- and I just felt confident that with what he had, I was going to be able to stop it and it wasn't going to do too much damage. So I just walked him down and finished the fight."
The loss snapped a two-fight win streak for Lamas and somewhat cleaned up an otherwise muddled title picture at featherweight. The division's other top contender, Frankie Edgar, is slated to meet Urijah Faber in a superfight on May 16, while Aldo and Conor McGregor are locked into a blockbuster grudge match two months later on July 11 at UFC 189.
Mendes could conceivably fight the winner of either bout, though the idea of waiting until the summer to decide his fate wouldn't be Mendes' first choice.
"I don't want to sit out for another year," he said. "I only got one fight last year. I don't want to have another year of just one fight. I'm turning thirty this year. I'm probably only going to be doing this for another six, seven years, so I'm trying to make as much money as I can, getting in there and putting a pounding on my body. So you know, I'll have to talk to (the UFC).
"I'm going to be watching the Frankie-Faber fight and the Aldo-McGregor fight very closely, just hoping that I can get back in there and fight for that title soon. And if that's not the case, if it's not too far off from being up there in the top-three or top-four, I'll probably take a fight. But like I said, I've got to talk to the UFC."
For now, Mendes is content to simply land back in the win column. Considering the wealth of experience Lamas carries and the quickness with which Mendes put him away, Saturday night's win stands alongside the most impressive performances of Mendes' career.
The Team Alpha Male standout can even add the title of "referee" to his résumé, as it was basically Mendes himself who stopped the fight after referee Dan Miragliotta allowed Lamas to battle back from the brink one too many times.
"I was trying to be patient, but I felt like there was a few times where Ricardo looked pretty much done, and I figured the ref was going to stop it and he didn't," Mendes said. "And I stopped punching, honestly. That's probably a mistake on my part, but I felt the fight was over. Ricardo would start to come back and I'd have to go back it again.
"But right there at the end, I basically just told the ref, ‘He's done.' He wasn't doing anything. He's laying there and he was just going to let me keep hitting him, so I stopped and, you know, the ref finally stepped in. It's tough, man. It's tough to be a ref, but as a fighter, you kind of know when things are finished, and I felt it."