Conor McGregor vs Chad Mendes: UFC 189 to see 'The Notorious' faces his biggest challenge yet in fight of the year, says Dan Hardy

This week, British UFC welterweight and UFC commentator, Dan Hardy, looks ahead to the most talked about UFC fight of the year, as ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor takes on Chad ‘Money’ Mendes for the interim featherweight title at UFC 189.

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It’s hard to think of a time when a fighter has had such a meteoric rise through the UFC ranks. Seemingly in complete control of every facet of the game, from the psychological warfare, to the skills, and quickly becoming familiar with the rockstar lifestyle, ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor has ignited the featherweight division, shutting down every opponent so far. He’s been calling for the title since the beginning, and after five impressive wins he got what he asked for and the long reigning champion, Jose Aldo, stepped up to defend his belt.

Unfortunately, a couple of weeks ago rumours started flying about a rib injury that Aldo had picked up in training. As we waited for the doctor’s verdict, the UFC got to work finding a back-up. As luck would have it, the only other man ranked above McGregor was fit and ready to step up, so when Aldo was officially removed from the main event, Chad ‘Money’ Mendes grasped the opportunity with both hands. The new bout was declared the interim featherweight title fight – a place holder until Aldo is able to return, then a unification fight will be scheduled.

A number of the top ranked fighters have been vocal about ‘The Notorious’ ones path to the title and Mendes is no exception. Fighting out of the famed Team Alpha Male in San Jose, Mendes is a short, powerful athlete, very explosive and fast, with a right hand that has put many men to sleep. But it’s his wrestling ability that he believes will be too much for the Irish hero. It is true that McGregor has not yet been tested by a high level wrestler, but of the takedowns he has faced, he’s stopped every one.

Chad Mendes - picture credit - JOSH HEDGES AND ZUFFA LLC.jpg
Chad Mendes is a short, powerful athlete

The combination of his strength and wrestling prowess make Mendes a force at close range. McGregor, on the other hand, is excellent at long range. His eight inch reach advantage over Mendes will make the Octagon feel very small come fight time for the Californian native. With a diverse kicking game based in traditional Taekwondo, the Irishman’s attack is unpredictable and covers a lot of distance. His love of spinning kicks may have to be put on hold in this fight though. Mendes has an excellent ability in moving laterally and constantly switching direction and stance. Spinning would expose McGregor’s back and Mendes is quick enough to close the distance and clamp on to him. If that happens, then we will see the standard of Conor’s wrestling ability. Scrambles come thick and fast with Mendes and if you aren’t on your a-game, it can be exhausting. This will be contested over five rounds and that’s a long time to be grappling with a 145lbs (66kgs) powerhouse. Equally risky for Mendes though, is to play the kick boxing game with the Dublin born fighter.

McGregor’s Octagon-craft has been impeccable so far. His straight left hits like an arrow to the chin and if he can keep Mendes on the end of his punches it will be either a very short or very frustrating night for the 5’6” athlete. If Mendes can’t get close enough to McGregor, we may well see the interim title on its way back to Ireland for the first time in the history of the sport.

McGregor is for sure a very polarising character, but love him or hate him, he has stirred up a storm in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts and this may well be the biggest UFC fight of the year so far. It is a must-see event in my book. I have already called ahead to the hotel I’m staying in to make sure their wifi is fast enough for UFC Fight Pass! Whoever is victorious on the night, a champion will be crowned, and in the meantime, Aldo sits frustrated on the side lines, watching to see who will be lying in wait when he is ready to return. The whole 189 card is stacked with great fights and the atmosphere at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Vegas is going to be electric. Don’t miss it! Viewers in the UK can catch all the action from UFC 189 by tuning in to BT Sport 1 from 1am on Sunday morning.