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Chad Mendes trusting in his wrestling ability to test Jose Aldo at UFC 142

Once-beaten Aldo hasn’t lost in six years

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Daniel Sato / AP

Chad Mendes, left, throws a punch to Rani Yahya in the featherweight bout during UFC 133 on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011, in Philadelphia.

Many Americans spend their New Year’s Eve at home in front of the television watching the festivities at Times Square in New York.

Few experience anything close to the sensation UFC featherweight challenger Chad Mendes felt while he watched. Mendes could see an image of himself staring back through the screen.

“Behind one of the guys performing on stage, there was a big poster of me and Jose (Aldo) in the background,” Mendes said. “It’s just crazy to think that a little under three-and-a-half years ago, I was still in college. And this trip into MMA has been a very fast rise and it’s just been an awesome experience for me. I’m sitting there and realizing that this is kind of surreal.”

The 26-year old Mendes (11-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC) headlines Saturday’s UFC 142 in Rio de Janeiro when he takes on hometown product Jose Aldo (20-1 MMA, 2-0) in a championship bout.

Mendes’ rise to the top of mixed martial arts has come quickly. He transitioned from a national runner-up college wrestler at Cal Poly in 2008 to the UFC’s second-best 145-pound fighter in 2011.

And Mendes only expects it all to get crazier from here. He’s convinced he possess the perfect skill set to beat Aldo, who has looked invincible during a six-year, 13-fight undefeated streak.

“I don’t think any of the guys that have fought him have had the wrestling credentials or wrestling abilities to be able to get a hold of him, get him down and keep him down,” Mendes said. “So I think my skills, the things I’m good at, are key to beating a guy like Jose Aldo.”

Aldo’s stock took a slight tumble last year because of a weakness in his wrestling. Although the 25-year old defeated both Mark Hominick and Kenny Florian, the victories didn’t come easy.

Hominick got Aldo on his back in the fifth round of their UFC 129 bout and pounded his face with elbows and fists. Florian pressured Aldo enough to steal a round or two in their UFC 136 meeting.

Neither Florian nor Hominick have close to the wrestling acumen of Mendes, who trains out of Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, Calif. But Aldo said he felt he had adequately addressed the shortcoming.

He brought UFC lightweight Gray Maynard down to Brazil to help him train and raved about how much help the experience provided.

“Nobody is perfect,” Aldo said through a translator. “Everyone’s got holes in their game, including me, and I was able to get a lot of pointers.”

Mendes doesn’t feel threatened.

“I’ve been wrestling since I was 5-years old,” he said. “It’s what I’ve done my entire life. I haven’t taken a year off ever, so I don’t care who he’s worked with.”

Mendes became more confident the more he studied Aldo’s last two fights. Mendes also benefited from working closely with mentor Urijah Faber, who dropped a unanimous decision against Aldo two years ago.

Everything has come together, according to Mendes, for him to provide the first shocking upset of 2012.

“I’m in the best spot possible,” Mendes said. “If anything, Jose has all the pressure on his shoulders. He’s the one fighting in front of his home crowd. He has the belt.”

“I’m the up-and-comer. I’m the underdog. I’m the one coming into this fight that everyone is overlooking.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or case.keefer@lasvegassun.com. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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