The Statistical Evolution of Chad Mendes

Will the real Chad Mendes please stand up? The storylines going into this weekend’s UFC 179 title fight are very compelling. There is the Alpha Male versus Nova Uniao rivalry, the fact that Aldo is the longest reigning UFC champ, and the last Brazilian title holder, and obviously the history between these same two fighters. The first title fight ended in the last second of the first round, after Aldo landed a knee to the face of Mendes. Aldo jumped the cage and had one of the more famous UFC celebrations in history. More recently the momentum has shifted, and Aldo’s teammate Renan Barao dropped a huge upset to Team Alpha Male’s TJ Dillashaw. This fight will either solidify the rivalry on equal grounds, or mark a shift in MMA back towards an American wrestling base. But the man Aldo defeated in January of 2012 is not the same opponent he will face this weekend. Chad Mendes was an 11-0 converted wrestler at the end of 2011, who grinded out five WEC and UFC opponents by decision, defeating one by submission and none by strikes. Since losing to Jose Aldo, Mendes has famously worked with Muay Thai specialist and one-time Team Alpha Male Head, Coach Duane “Bang” Ludwig. To say that Mendes changed his fighting style would be an understatement. Here’s how the performance metrics of Chad Mendes stack up before a since his first fight with Jose Aldo.

Evolution of Chad Mendes Chart

The difference in the striking stats is, for lack of a better word, striking. Similar to most of Team Alpha Male, Mendes’s power striking has suddenly become far more accurate and dangerous. In his five fights since Aldo, he has finished four opponents by T/KO. The improvement in striking for numerous Team Alpha Male fighters has been rapid and significant. Ludwig brought the “Bang” Muay Thai system to a team full of elite athletes with stiflingly dominant ground games, but who still had room for improvement in their standup. It is perhaps one of the biggest value-added coaching effects in all of MMA. It was exactly what they needed, and they have made the most of it. The results speak for themselves. Interestingly, Mendes’ selection of strikes has not changed. Mendes still targets the head around 70% of the time, the body 10%, and uses leg kicks with the remaining 20%. There’s almost no change at all in his target selection. And he is still a counter-striker who fails to keep pace with his opponents, likely due to his shorter reach than the division average. Perhaps most importantly, the efficacy of his strikes has clearly changed. His power head striking has jumped from 27% to 37% accuracy, meaning he went from “average” to “almost best in the division” during those fights. And his knockdown rate of 10.7% is twice the UFC average for a heavyweight. He literally punches above his weight. Defensively, Mendes is still excellent at avoiding strikes, that much has not changed. Offensively, however, he is a totally different fighter. The result of his improved striking is a change in his reliance on wrestling. He attempts takedowns at a lower rate, and has even landed fewer of them. Overall, he used to spend a 53% majority of all time in the cage on the mat, but more recently has spent less than a quarter of his fight minutes grounded at 24%. His ground control is still basically perfect, thanks in large part to his 100% takedown defense both before and after the first Aldo fight. He still has the wrestling skill, he just uses it offensively less often. So clearly Mendes is relying on his wrestling less and is more successful with his strikes. But is it enough? Remember, Aldo is one of the most feared strikers in the Featherweight division. He has accuracy and has power, and he has some of the nastiest leg kicks in the entire UFC. He’s hard to hit, and he makes you pay when you attack. When Mendes faced Aldo the first time, he had no choice but to try to turn the fight into a wrestling match, or else be picked apart on his feet the same way teammate Urijah Faber was against Aldo. This time around, Mendes is coming in with a proven ability to knock opponents out, and that threat alone could open up some of Aldo’s stingy takedown defense. In their first fight Mendes was zero for seven on takedown attempts (although at least one takedown probably should have been successful save for an Aldo fence grab). The key to this weekend’s fight is whether or not the threat of Mendes’s power can be converted into a more successful offense that can win rounds early. Other Aldo opponents have stolen a round late, but none have done so from the start when Aldo is still fresh. On top of all the storylines this weekend in the title fight, the improvement of Chad Mendes is another one to keep an eye on. The betting public pegs Mendes as a two-to-one underdog, which is interestingly very similar to where he closed three years ago in their first fight. And yet this is not the same Chad Mendes. Mendes 2.0 is clearly a better all-around mixed martial artist. The question remains, however: is Mendes 2.0 good enough to be a UFC champion?

Written by Reed Kuhn

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