Augusto Mendes had no opportunities to use his jiu-jitsu at UFC Fight Night 103, but that didn’t stop him from getting his first UFC victory.
Multiple-time grappling champion “Tanquinho” showed his improvement in the stand-up area earlier this year in Phoenix, defeating Frankie Saenz via split decision and earning the event’s “Fight of the Night” bonus. But nonetheless, Mendes admits that he didn’t expect to have such a hard time keeping his opponent on his back.
"I imagined it would be tough to take him down, he’s a good wrestler, but I thought that once I took him down, I would be able to keep him there,” Mendes told MMA Fighting. "Him going down and being able to quickly pop right back up really surprised me.”
Forced to stand and trade for 15 minutes, Mendes rocked Saenz a couple of times in the fight. "Tanquinho" was happy with his evolution, but still sees room for improvement.
"We can always get better. I’m never satisfied,” Mendes said. "I thought it was enough for that moment, to win that fight, but I know there are a lot of things to fix, things to evolve. That’s one of my goals as a MMA fighter, become a well-rounded guy and be as much comfortable as I can standing and in the wrestling area, and use my jiu-jitsu in the fights. The secret is to never settle and think it's enough. It was enough to win, but I want to get better."
Fresh off his first UFC victory, Mendes looked back to his short-notice debut against future UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt to show how far he can go if given enough time to prepare for fights.
"I did a great training camp for this fight with my coaches and teammates,” Mendes said. "For the Cody fight, I only had five days to prepare. I was in the gym, but it’s different than doing a whole camp focused on you and your opponent, studying his game. That gives you confidence. I don’t have the greatest striking technique in the world, but I was confident (against Saenz). My hand was landing and he was rocked, so I knew I could even knock him out there."
Mendes won the bout, but Saenz also came close to finishing him in the second round after landing a vicious standing elbow. “Tanquinho" survived the scare and came back to win the third round and the fight, but Mendes said that his opponent came close to the knockout because Mendes himself made a mistake.
"We studied Frankie’s game a lot and we knew that he throws a lot of elbows in the clinch, and I expected that, but it’s a fight,” he said. "I made a mistake and he caught me. I didn’t see it coming, props to him, and it connected.”
Before the decision was read, Mendes was confident in the victory, but knew a different result was also a possibility.
"In my head I thought I won the first and third rounds, and lost the second because of the knockdown,” Mendes said. "I was doing better in the second round, but he knocked me down and won that round. But when the fight was over, I thought I won. Before the decision was read, I asked my coaches and they are always very honest. They said they didn’t know, that it was close, but they thought I won. I believe I did enough to win."
"I’m happy because I got another shot in the UFC and put on a good fight. I wanted to get the knockout or a submission, become the first to stop Frankie, but he’s tough. The fight was really interesting for the UFC and the fans, and I’m glad the UFC liked it and recognized it (with a bonus).”
Back in the win column and 6-1 overall in MMA after beating an athlete that has faced the likes of Urijah Faber, Iuri Alcantara and Eddie Wineland in the UFC, “Tanquinho” feels ready to face the top bantamweights in the Octagon.
"I want to fight someone ranked in the top 15,” Mendes said. "I was hoping to put on a good performance against Frankie so I could enter the top 15, and then get someone above me. I want to do like Cody, who started the year outside the ranking, fought someone in the ranking, and then another one, and finished the year as champion. I want someone in the ranking to show what I’m capable of."