It’s diﬃcult to imagine two more diﬀerent environments than the UFC Octagon and the Sierra Nevada mountain range in autumn. It may be harder to imagine that anyone could feel equally at home in both places.
Everything in and surrounding the ring – the bright lights, screaming crowds, intrusive cameras and Octagon Girls – can dazzle and distract, yet none of it merits a moment of Chad “Money” Mendes’ attention when he circles an opponent. Inside the cage, a moment’s distraction is all that is required for the top ﬁghters in the world to take you down.
Compare that frenzied environment with the giant old-growth forests of northern California, where the silence can be as overwhelming as the Octagon’s noise.
Two diﬀerent worlds, worlds apart. And Mendes belongs to both.
To truly understand this perplexing puzzle, you must focus on what the ring and the woods have in common, not what makes them diﬀerent. In both the Octagon and the backcountry, your senses are honed to a ﬁne edge. That’s part of what it takes to survive in these respective environments. Fighting and hunting also oﬀer physical challenges, and if you disagree, you’re probably not hunting like Chad Mendes, who prides himself on ﬁnding big bucks and big bulls that others can’t because he goes places others won’t.
BUT PERHAPS THE MOST IMPORTANT thread connecting the wilderness and the Octagon, for Mendes at least, is that both sturdy strands tie directly back to his father, Alvin. For Mendes’ two great loves—wrestling and the outdoors – were shared with his father from a very young age.
“At ﬁve years old, my father made us bows from the ﬁberglass poles that mount on ATVs,” Mendes recalls, laughing a little at the thought. “He made arrows, and we shot targets in the backyard. Later, it was BB guns, shooting cans oﬀ hay bales.”
Mendes remembers going to school and waiting impatiently to get back home so he could shoot until darkness forced him indoors, where he would go to sleep anticipating the next day … and the next shot.
Something else entered Mendes’ life at age ﬁve, and that was wrestling. He brought that same focus and dedication to the sport that he brought to shooting and hunting, and once again, his father was right beside him.
“My father coached me in wrestling from the age of ﬁve through high school,” Mendes says. Apparently, the elder Mendes did a pretty good job, as Chad went on to become one of the best high school wrestlers to ever hail from central California. (He was raised in the small town of Hanford.) At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, he earned two PAC-10 championships and was named a two-time D-1 All-American.
While still in high school, Mendes met fellow wrestler Urijah Faber, and during his summers home from college he helped Faber conduct wrestling clinics. After ﬁnishing up at Cal Poly, Mendes traveled to Sacramento to train with Faber full-time as part of Team Alpha Male.
Throughout his college and UFC career, Mendes has been known for an intense physical training regimen that helps the 31-year-old stay in top condition. But when he isn’t training, Mendes is often in the woods, and it has been that way since he was a boy.
HE BEGAN BY FOLLOWING HIS FATHER through the forest, learning to move silently and to watch for game. Soon, Mendes’ woods training began to progress. He took his hunter safety course and began chasing blacktails in the Sierras with a bow and a riﬂe. And although he’s hunted all over the world for a variety of game, the diminutive blacktail still holds a place in his heart.
“Some people ask me why I hunt them,” Mendes says. “They’re small, but I enjoy it. I’ve always enjoyed hunting blacktails. There are big bucks out there, but they’re a challenge to ﬁnd.”
If you imagine that Mendes’ other passion – the one that puts him in the crosshairs of some of the most dangerous men on the planet – has hardened him to the killing of game, you’re wrong. He doesn’t hunt for the kill, and he respects the game. His father taught him that, and if you haven’t ﬁgured out by now, Chad Mendes listens to what his father says. It’s served him well so far.
“He has been in my corner for about the last ten ﬁghts, and that’s been great.” But on a recent elk hunt in Utah the roles were reversed, and Chad suddenly found himself as the corner man for his father.
“This big bull came in, maybe 355 or 360 [points]. A six-by-seven,” Mendes says with a laugh. “Dad was getting ready to shoot and I was videoing. I had to calm him down, tell him to relax. It was great.”
As previously mentioned, the challenge of being in peak physical condition has served Mendes well as a professional athlete. But it’s also served him as a hunter, and that same drive to compete – primarily against himself – compels Mendes to hunt harder and to travel on foot into more remote country.
Today, instead of following at his dad’s heels, Mendes blazes trails into country where few hunters are willing to go, and that’s where Mendes ﬁnds some outstanding trophies. He’s had great success with both blacktails and big Ohio whitetails, and he counts elk among his favorite species to hunt with both a bow and a riﬂe. Northern California is also home to some excellent game country, and there Mendes chases turkeys and wild hogs. He’s also been to New Zealand, where he’s hunted fallow deer and red stags.
HIS UFC TRAINING DOESN’T ALLOW Much free time, but Mendes devotes a portion of each day to some hunting- or ﬁshing-related activity.
“If I’m not hunting, I’m shooting or I’m out scouting,” he says. That same drive that has compelled him to become one of the most watched ﬁghters is the same passion that drives him to hunt where there are no crowds, no reporters and no cameras. Well, sometimes there are no cameras; Mendes is a regular on outdoor television shows, and he’s also a member of Team Weatherby.
Mendes has been lucky – blessed, in his words – to have had the opportunity to turn his passion for wrestling into a proﬁtable career, and for someone who has received many honors, he’s remained humble. But ﬁghting for a living does not make for a long career. Each bout takes a physical toll, and there are always new, younger ﬁghters coming up.
Although he is currently sidelined because of a rules infraction for taking a banned substance, Mendes has made it clear to his fans and the world that the substance wasn’t a steroid but rather a peptide found in, oddly enough, medication for plaque psoriasis.
Mendes will surely ﬁght again, but for how long, even he doesn’t know.
“There’s no retirement system for ﬁghters,” he says. For that reason it’s critical to make wise investments for the future, and Mendes is doing just that. He’s started Finz and Featherz Outﬁtters (ﬁnzandfeatherz.com), which oﬀers hunters and anglers a rare opportunity to go on a hunting or ﬁshing trip with a celebrity. Several of Mendes’ fellow MMA ﬁghters go on these trips, including Faber, T.J. Dillashaw and Paige Van Zant, as do other professional athletes and celebrities from outside the Octagon.
For hunters and anglers, Finz and Featherz provides a once-in-a-lifetime chance to pursue big ﬁsh and big game while rubbing elbows with some of their heroes. For Mendes, it’s an opportunity to launch a second career, one that will make him that rare guy who is able to earn a livelihood from not just one, but from two great passions.
But Mendes won’t brag about it. He’ll just smile, and say that he’s blessed. ASJ