Augusto Mendes finally had enough time to prepare for a UFC fight.
The jiu-jitsu specialist, who made his promotional debut on five days’ notice against Cody Garbrandt in February of 2016, will take on Frankie Saenz at Sunday’s UFC Fight Night 103 in Phoenix, and feels ready to battle less than eight months after undergoing surgery to fix a left knee injury.
"My recovery went great,” Mendes told MMA Fighting. "I was always disciplined after the surgery, and everything went perfect. This type of surgery (ACL and meniscus tear) usually requires seven to nine months of recovery, but I’m feeling well and was able to train, and that's what matters.”
“Tanquinho" lives in Arizona for five years now, training at The MMA Lab, and wanted a spot in the Fight Night card when it was announced. It took a while before he was added to it, though.
"I asked the UFC about it eight or nine weeks before the event if I could fight in Arizona, and they said they would see,” he said, "So I went to Australia for a few seminars and then they confirmed it, six weeks before the fight, so I came back to Arizona and started my camp. Six months is enough time for a camp, to make weight and everything else. I wasn’t training for a fight, but I was already training when I got the call."
Saenz enters the fight coming off back-to-back defeats to Urijah Faber and Eddie Wineland, and the Brazilian bantamweight expects a tough fight.
"I never choose opponents,” Mendes said. "My first UFC fight was against Cody, who holds the belt now, and now they gave me Frankie. He's a tough guy, and it's going to be an exciting fight for the fans and a chance for me to prove my potential in this division. Depending on how I win this, I’ll move to a good position in the rankings.
"He’s a tough guy who doesn’t shy away from a brawl,” he continued. "He’s a good wrestler, but I believe this is better match-up for me than for him because it takes away his wrestling a little. He likes to go for takedowns and ground and pound, but I don’t think he will try to do to me what he did to (Iuri Alcantara) ’Marajo’, to stay on top landing punches. Maybe in the end of the round to score points, but I don’t think he will try to exchange positions with me on the ground."
Saenz was riding a seven-fight winning streak before his losing skid, but Mendes, who held a perfect 5-0 record entering his UFC debut, believes he brings something his opponent never had to deal before in his MMA career.
"He never fought someone with my level of jiu-jitsu, and I don’t think he wants to grapple with me,” "Tanquinho" said. "He’s a strong guy with good ground and pound, but he gives openings on the ground for submissions and sweeps. If I’m on the ground with him with some time to work, I can get the submission."
Yet, the multiple-time jiu-jitsu champion says he's also prepared in case his grappling skills can’t be used.
"That’s one of the biggest focuses of my camp,” he said. "I know he’s a good wrestler, so I have to be ready in case I can’t take him down and have to fight standing. I’m evolving in my striking, getting more confidence, but I won’t change who I am. I want to close the distance and see what happens, but I’m ready to stand and trade with him if I have to."
Away from the Octagon since his bout with Garbrandt last February, Mendes entered November’s IBJJF NoGi World Championship as part of his preparation for a MMA fight that could come in early 2017.
"I had just returned to training a month before, and wanted to get the competition rhythm back,” Mendes said. "There are no punches and kicks in jiu-jitsu, but it’s a competition and that would help me get the adrenaline down.”
“Tanquinho" competed in the absolute and 160-pound divisions that weekend. He tapped his first opponent in the 160-pound division, but ended up losing his second match.
The UFC fighter returned on Sunday to capture the bronze medal in the absolute division, winning a pair of matches before losing to tournament winner Yuri Simoes via decision in the semifinal.
"I made a few mistakes, I was insecure about my knee,” Mendes said. "I wanted to gain confidence and get the adrenaline down — that’s why I also fought in the absolute division because I wanted the most fights possible. It was cool."