Friday, Oct. 29, 2010 | 2:25 p.m.
At this point in his career, every time WEC featherweight Javier Vazquez steps into the cage he does so knowing he's paid his dues to the sport and deserves to be exactly where he is.
In Vazquez's opinion, his next opponent can't claim the same.
Vazquez (15-4) will look to post his third consecutive win next month when he meets up-and-comer Chad Mendes (8-0) at WEC 52 on Nov. 11 at The Pearl at The Palms.
Since joining the WEC earlier this year, Mendes, who trains with Urijah Faber's popular Alpha Team based out of Sacramento, Calif., already has fought on two main cards and has a lot of hype behind him after defeating Cub Swanson in his most recent fight.
While Vazquez says he has nothing personal against Mendes, he is eager to be the one to slow down his career.
"I feel like I've earned my stripes in this sport," Vazquez said. "I've fought on the lower shows, fought on the undercard and worked my way up to the main card. I've put in my time. I don't feel like this kid has.
"He's a good athlete, but he's been kind of spoon-fed in a lot of ways. People like to drink the Alpha Male Kool-Aid and think everyone who comes out of that camp is the next best thing. I'm not hating. I'm just looking forward to proving I'm better."
When Vazquez says he's put his time into the sport, he's not kidding.
The 33-year-old submission specialist began his professional career in 1998 and has seen his share of highs and lows since.
Vazquez was so impressive in the early stages of his career that he caught the attention of the UFC by 2001 and would have signed on to fight as a lightweight had contract issues and injuries not derailed deals multiple times.
By 2003, his record was 10-2, but Vazquez was unsure if he wanted to continue in the sport. At that time, the WEC hadn't emerged as a proving ground for lighter-weight fighters and Vazquez was competing in a weight class 10 pounds heavier than he would have liked.
Despite feeling as though he was one of the top fighters in the world, Vazquez took a leave of absence to focus on grappling tournaments and opening his own school in California.
"I was ranked pretty high up there for a minute at 155 pounds," Vazquez said. "But that was at a time when the sport wasn't getting exposure.
"Everybody forgot about me now. I'm not even considered in the top 15. But I know I can beat some of the top 10 guys easily. My whole thing is I just want the opportunity to fight on the big stage and show what I can do."
Vazquez resumed his career in 2007 and was picked up by the WEC two years later when the Affliction organization fell apart.
It's been anything but an easy road for him in the WEC's featherweight division, where he holds a 2-2 record. His two losses, to L.C. Davis and Deividas Taurosevicius, came via razor-thin split decisions, both of which could have gone either way.
Just last year, Vazquez left the camp he had trained with for more than 10 years. In preparation for Mendes, Vazquez switched camps for a third time in his career, this time to work with wrestler Antonio McKee.
The disappointment of losing back-to-back split decisions and switching camps for the first time in 10-plus years are part of Vazquez's extensive experience in the sport.
Something, he says, Mendes doesn't have.
"He's got eight fights," Vazquez said. "This will be my 20th. I know where my mind was at eight fights. I don't care who he trains with, his mind is still going to be at eight fights.
"And the second he runs into somebody he can't just bully around, he's going to break. I'm going to break him mentally. I know I am."
Should Vazquez turn in another quick performance as he has in his previous two fights, it could be a major step in establishing himself as a legitimate threat to current 145-pound champion Jose Aldo.
Aldo is expected to defend his belt next against Josh Grispi at UFC 125 on Jan. 1.
Although fans haven't been clamoring to see Vazquez in a title fight, it's obvious he's on the minds of WEC officials as general manager Reed Harris mentioned Vazquez's name as a possible challenge to Aldo at a press conference in September.
According to Vazquez, he's fine with flying under the radar for now. Eventually, people are going to see what he's capable of.
"People talk about everybody but me," Vazquez said. "They talk about Erik Koch and Mark Hominick. They talk about Josh Grispi like he's the next coming of Christ. My name is not even there.
"It doesn't bug me, though. I'm going to be an underdog in every fight, and then I'm going to go out and submit them. At some point, somebody's going to say, 'Hey, maybe that guy is pretty good.'"