Chad (Money) Mendes has waited 33 months for another crack at UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo.
And five men have paid the price since Mendes was stopped by Aldo with one second remaining in the first round at UFC 142 in Rio de Janeiro on Jan. 14, 2012.
"It's been a fight I've prepared myself for since that first night in Brazil," the 29-year-old Mendes said in an interview. "Every camp I've trained for, every person that I fought — all that training was for Jose.
"I just knew if I kept destroying everyone they put in from of me that I'd be back there and it's finally here. It's felt like it's been for ever. Fighting anyone, it's been a while. I mean I haven't fought since December so I'm just chomping to get back in there and I'm so pumped that it's finally for the title again."
Mendes' first three victims since the Aldo loss — Cody McKenzie, Yaotzin Meza and Darren Elkins — lasted a total of three minutes 34 seconds.
Mendes (16-1) then stopped veteran Clay (The Carpenter) Guida 30 seconds into the third round at UFC 164 in August 2013, the first time Guida has been stopped by TKO in 46 fights. Last time out in December, Mendes won a unanimous decision over Nik (The Carny) Lentz.
Aldo-Mendes 2 was originally scheduled for UFC 176 on Aug. 2 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, but the card was called off when Aldo injured his shoulder.
Family and friends had booked hotels and made travel plans, only to have to scrap them. Then came news that the rematch had been shifted to Brazil.
"It is what it is. I'm going to have to just go over there and take the belt in his backyard," said Mendes, the No. 1 contender among 145-pound fighters.
Returning to Brazil just adds to Mendes' motivation. The challenger has not forgotten how Aldo left the cage and ran through the crowd in the aftermath of their fight.
"I thought that was pretty disrespectful," he said.
An avid outdoorsman, Mendes took solace in a bowhunting trip in Utah after the summer cancellation.
"It was a great way for me to kind of relax and just let my body heal up a little bit, get some great meat to use for the rest of this camp and then jump fight back into it."
Their first meeting, the lone blemish on Mendes' fight resume, ended when the challenger zigged when he should have zagged. Exploding from the fence, Aldo launched a kick that caught Mendes as he ducked down.
"I think that's what bummed me out the most about that fight," Mendes said. "I just felt like trained so hard and I was so ready for that fight at the time and I just didn't get to use any of it, or like test fully my ability or get to push through anything."
Mendes is a five-foot-six slab of muscle, a former two-time PAC-10 champion and All-American at Cal Poly University.
He trains with Team Alpha Male in Sacramento alongside UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw, former WEC champion Urijah Faber and flyweight contender Joseph Benavidez among others.
While Mendes says the delay in fighting Aldo again has made for a long road, it has allowed him to sharpen his skills.
"You can change a lot in the sport in that amount of time," he said. "I feel like I've grown up and matured a lot as a person and as a fighter. I feel like my game has improved so much. We didn't have a head coach the first time I fought. We got Duane Ludwig in here. That was the first time we had that head coach figure, someone we could really and trust and believe in the system.
"I think it made a huge difference for Team Alpha Male. You saw how everybody's fighting styles really came together and meshed well ... And now we have Martin Kampmann (as head coach) in here."
Ludwig and Kampmann are both former UFC fighters.
Aldo (24-1) has posted three wins since finishing off Mendes, defeating former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, Chan Sung Jung and Ricardo Lamas. Looking for a successful seventh straight title defence, Aldo is on a 17-fight winning streak that dates back to 2005.
The bookies have made Aldo a 2-1 favourite.
While Aldo and Mendes prepare to square off, Irish featherweight sensation (The Notorious) Conor McGregor continues to makes headlines in the division.
And the two went at it on a recent British MMA TV Show that saw them hooked up by satellite, with the five-foot-nine McGregor making fun of Mendes' height.
McGregor, the No. 5 contender from Dublin, who has won all four of his UFC fights, promised the two will meet.
"Don't worry, I will take that belt from Jose and I will come back hunting for your midget head," said McGregor (16-2), in the studio for BT Sports' "Beyond the Octagon."
Mendes almost sighs when McGregor's name is raised in an interview.
"The guy's really good at talking, bottom line," he said.
But the Irish fighter has yet to test his skills against an elite wrestler, he added.
"I want to see that and I know that I'd be the type of guy that could beat a guy like Conor McGregor."
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