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Will Chad Mendes Leave Featherweight Division If He Loses?

(John Locher, AP)

There’s something going on with Chad Mendes in the UFC’s featherweight division and it may not end well.

Currently situated on the outskirts of a title shot, the former top contender will be charged with the responsibility of defeating Frankie Edgar at The Ultimate Fighter Season 22 Finale. In order to remain in the title discussion entering 2016, Mendes must get past a fighter who has only lost three times (all championship bouts) since dropping a decision to Gray Maynard back in 2008.

While “Money” has long been considered one of the very best wrestlers on the 145-pound circuit, Edgar is just as crafty in close quarters. In fact, due to his footwork and readily available quickness, the former UFC lightweight kingpin may actually be better than Mendes when it comes to changing levels.

Nonetheless, Mendes possesses power in his hands that Edgar does not. But for a fighter who has never been finished by strikes in over 10 years of professional competition, Edgar has the track record for warding off heavy-handed knockout artists. He did nearly lose his lightweight strap to Maynard at UFC 125 via strikes, but “The Answer” rebounded from one of the worst first-round beatings in UFC championship history.

The two are scheduled to lock horns in less than two weeks in what can only be considered the most intriguing non-title fight matchup that the featherweight crop has to offer.

But for a guy who has lost to both Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor over the past 14 months, what will a defeat at the hands of Edgar do to the stock of Mendes? How long will it take for him to rebound and work his way back toward a title shot? With guys like Max Holloway, Myles Jury and Jeremy Stephens working their way to the top of the division, would Mendes eventually get passed over?

It all depends. Obviously, the 30-year-old veteran actually has to lose to Edgar on Dec. 11 in order for any of these hypothetical questions to need answering. But based on the matchup at hand, Edgar’s abilities may very well prove too much for Mendes to handle.

Unfortunately, one of his few options moving forward after a potential loss would be to leave the featherweight division. It may seem drastic considering his skill set is obviously good enough to keep him afloat in the division’s top-five for years to come, but Mendes is a guy who needs to be fighting for a title. Not only because he possesses a championship attitude, but more so because he’s simply too good to get booted back down the ladder.

In hindsight, a drop to bantamweight would be greatly rewarded. The weight cut presumably wouldn’t be too difficult to make (just look at Urijah Faber), although Mendes’ bulky frame would have to shed some muscle along the way. But once he weighs in and regains all of his water weight, there’s no disputing that “Money” would be the strongest fighter at 135 pounds. One who could channel his budding knockout power even further.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnqQgQqem2w

A move down in weight classes would create a potential matchup with UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw. Dillashaw’s recent split from Team Alpha Male has been highly ridiculed, leaving both sides eager to even the score in light of massive media attention. And even though much of the bad blood is between Dillashaw and Faber, Mendes is someone who has already chosen sides.

On the other hand, if Dillashaw ends up losing to Dominick Cruz at UFC Fight Night 81 on Jan. 17, then a matchup with “The Dominator” would make perfect sense for Mendes and the UFC. It would be a highly marketable fight considering Cruz would have already defeated two of most recognizable names to come out of TAM (Faber and Dillashaw), leaving Mendes as the last line of defense for the California camp.

It’s often difficult to see top-flight fighters being pushed out of their division, but it comes with the territory. Just look at what happened to former lightweight titleholder Benson Henderson. The same may be in store for Mendes if he loses to Edgar.

Because if Aldo vs. McGregor deserves an immediate reboot, or Holloway destroys Stephens at UFC 194 and claims his own title shot, it may take Mendes a full year to regain his divisional presence.

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