Over a year has passed since the fight world last saw Chad Mendes in his natural competitive environment.
The three-time UFC title challenger has been sidelined since Dec. 2015 and is currently in the midst of a USADA suspension that stretches another 18 months. However, Mendes will break from his cycle of idleness to return to the cage on Sunday in a grappling match against decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Jeff Glover at Submission Underground 3, streamed live on FloGrappling. And for Mendes, the chance to once again stoke his competitive fires is a welcome respite from life on the shelf.
“I’ve been training this entire time, but training with kinda no end in sight, and sometimes it gets kind of disheartening,” Mendes told MMA Fighting. “You’re pushing yourself and you’re working out, but there’s no competition there to prepare for. So adding something like this definitely helps that, and it just helps you push that much harder when you are training and know that there is a reason for it and why you’re doing it. So I think it’s going to be great.”
The time away from the game has been an interesting experience for Mendes, who at 31 years old, still stands today as one of the best featherweights in the world.
Before USADA ever came along, before psoriasis and skin creams and the judgment of an entire sport fell upon his lap, Mendes always planned to sit out 2016. Call it a reaction of self-reflection to back-to-back knockout losses, the latter of which came in the one-shot variety to a man not particularly known for his punching power.
But Mendes’ plans changed last June, when a run-in with the UFC’s drug overlords landed the veteran in the kind of No Man’s Land that has a way of shifting one’s career priorities.
With an abundance of free time suddenly on Mendes’ plate, MMA has taken a backseat to what Mendes hopes will be the next chapter of his post-fighting life: his fledging hunting and fishing business, Finz and Featherz.
“Most of my time, honestly, at this point, is Finz and Featherz throughout the entire day,” Mendes said.
“Planning and finalizing and ordering and setting things up, then training in the evening. But man, it’s growing fast. We launched it in Dec. 2015, so last year was the first solid, full year, and man, we had an amazing turnout. Honestly, I was a little nervous. This is something I’d talked about and planned with a good buddy of mine, my business partner, for a few years, and decided to pull the trigger and just see.
“And it’s scary, man, because you just never know. Are we going to put all of this money into this and grow this and then nobody books anything? Or, is it going to just be out of control? But it was good, man. We had a tons of bookings, sold out everything last year and it was awesome. We grew it this year, probably doubled in size, and it’s going to continue to keep doing that and adding new trips and picking up new celebrities to be a part of it, and hopefully to the point where that’s a full-time job, and when I’m done fighting, I have something to fall back on.”
The journey into unknown waters is always daunting, and Mendes admits he was terrified to throw himself so heavily into something so far outside the realm of the fight game. But so far, things are going well.
Finz and Featherz has taken off with the help of a few well-known friends from Team Alpha Male and various other sports. And while Mendes has no UFC paychecks coming his way until at least mid-2018, he feels comfortable with his financial standing. The first full year of the company’s existence was a much bigger success than even he expected.
“We don’t get retirement or anything like that,” Mendes said. “So, I see a lot of these guys who aren’t planning and aren’t coming up with something, just kinda living in the moment, and then when that fight career is over, they’re like, ‘sh*t, now what do I do?’ So for me, hunting and fishing and the outdoors, and teaching people about it, and teaching them how to do it, is a huge passion of mine. So, I just decided to start something now that will hopefully, eventually grow into something I can rely and do for the rest of my life.
“I mean, it sucks. Obviously I love competing and I wish I could be fighting. But I feel like everything happens for a reason, and maybe this is supposed to be. So I’m just going to keep controlling what I can, and that’s my training and pushing myself and continuing to put my time and energy into growing this business, and having a damn good time doing it, and just see where it takes me.”
Mendes said he still keeps tabs on the comings and goings in the UFC, although admittedly less so than he did before his suspension. But the morale among his teammates at Team Alpha Male has never been higher. The Sacramento-based squad is opening a new facility in the coming months that nearly doubles size of its old Ultimate Fitness gym, and the breakout success of Cody Garbrandt in 2016 has the team once again riding high in the spotlight.
So while Mendes can’t do much more than watch his friends and wait to rejoin the fray, he remains committed to turning his time on the sidelines into a blessing in disguise.
“It’s scary, but at the same time, it’s something puts a smile ear-to-ear on me, man,” Mendes said. “It’s something that I absolutely love to do. I’ve been a competitor my whole life and I love competing, I love fighting. When I was a wrestler, I loved wrestling. But this is just something that kinda is starting to spring me into the next phase of my life. I’m nowhere near being done fighting. I probably have another five years, I would think, in me, and I’m super excited to continue my run. That’s definitely still number one.
“But right now, with the time off from fighting, I’ve kinda moved [Finz and Featherz] into first place, just getting it built and starting. When we get back to fighting, that’ll go right back to being number one. But man, it’s cool knowing that, hopefully this grows, and if we can make this into something reliable enough to be a full-time job, that, man, this is awesome. Something I’d love to do my entire life.”