It took about a year for Chad Mendes to go from entertaining a contract with BKFC to signing one. When the bare-knuckle promotion first inquired about him through his longtime coach, Urijah Faber, the numbers “were not enticing enough.”
Also, Mendes was still under contract with the UFC. Although retired, he expected the promotion would call in the three or four fights he owed when he hung up his gloves.
The opposite happened. With some personal and managerial jiu-jitsu, the UFC granted permission for him to step in to the ring for a BKFC debut he expects to take place on Oct. 22 against a TBA opponent at 155 pounds.
“They technically could have said, ‘You’re not going anywhere – if you’re not fighting here, you’re not fighting,’” Mendes told What the Heck. “But I’ve always had a great relationship with the UFC, and I think this is an awesome thing for them to let me make some money.
“My hat’s off to them for being cool in this situation. I didn’t [think they would be], honestly. I thought it would be a ‘hell no.’”
Boxing was always Mendes’ favorite part of training when he transitioned from wrestling to MMA. He didn’t see a huge difference in removing a half-inch or so of padding to fight. A move to bare-knuckle made sense physically. It only had to make sense financially.
“I turn 36 in May,” he said. “I probably have maybe two years, maybe three years before I’m going to be like, that’s enough for me. But this opportunity came up. I’m training. I feel good. So why not get in there?”
At 24, fresh out of college, Mendes sat down and plotted out his move into MMA. He said at 35, he would reassess his career. If it made sense to keep fighting, he would keep going. If there were other opportunities that were as rewarding, he would do something else.
Almost on schedule, Mendes said he reached a crossroads where business opportunities outside the cage not only lessened the financial need to fight, but also made training for the octagon feel less like a passion and more like a job. That was exactly where he didn’t want to be, so he stepped away.
Mendes might have stayed on his current path, but like so many who spend most of their lives competing, the itch to compete never went away. When the BKFC numbers made sense, he had a heart-to-heart with his wife and made the leap.
“It’s pretty hard, especially when you have that itch, to say no to it,” he said.
There are many ways Mendes sees to be competitively fulfilled, and BKFC is just one of them. There are jiu-jitsu tournaments that pay less but also take less of his time. If he’s going to do something that takes all of his attention, however, it can’t just be about getting another win. It’d better be good for his bottom line.
Right now, that’s not how he would describe where he left things with the UFC. He loves MMA and continues to train. He’s back in the gym with many of his training partners. But the incentive to make that specific leap isn’t there right now.
“I can’t say no,” he said. “Of course, if the money....for what my contract is right now, hell no. Not a chance in hell. But if we were to talk and numbers made sense and we could get something that does make sense, I would think about it. It’s something I’m not done with. But I just don’t know if that’s ever going to happen.
“It was fun, but it’s not something I’m missing extremely bad.”