September 12th, 2016 by Sam Morstan

CHAD ‘MONEY’ MENDES BALANCES A DYNAMIC CAREER INSIDE THE UFC’S OCTAGON WITH A PASSION FOR THE OUTDOORS

STORY BY BRAD FITZPATRICK • PHOTOS BY CHAD MENDES 

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.

Mendes learned to hunt by following in his father Alvin’s footsteps. Today, he hunts right beside him (left). On this trip, they were joined by Mendes’ fiancee Abby Raines.

Mendes learned to hunt by following in his father Alvin’s footsteps. Today, he hunts right beside him (left). On this trip, they were joined by Mendes’ fiancee Abby Raines.

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.

Mendes frequently fishes the Sacramento River near his home for fall Chinook and other species.

Mendes frequently fishes the Sacramento River near his home for fall Chinook and other species.

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.IMG_0715

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.”

Mendes faces some pretty tough opponents inside the Octogan as well as outside; he took this Florida gator (above) with a bow during a hunt with Triple M Outfitters. But intense workouts with trainer Joey Rodrigues keep him in top condition.

Mendes faces some pretty tough opponents inside the Octogan as well as outside; he took this Florida gator (above) with a bow during a hunt with Triple M Outfitters. But intense workouts with trainer Joey Rodrigues keep him in top condition.

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.

Mendes is equally comfortable taking on large game with a gun or a bow. Here he poses with an aoudad, or Barbary, sheep.

Mendes is equally comfortable taking on large game with a gun or a bow. Here he poses with an aoudad, or Barbary, sheep.

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.

This gobbler was no match for Mendes’ patience and determination.

This gobbler was no match for Mendes’ patience and determination.

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.

Hunting is all about family with Mendes, and he’s often accompanied by Abby and his dad, who also sparked his interest in wrestling at a young age.

Hunting is all about family with Mendes, and he’s often accompanied by Abby and his dad, who also sparked his interest in wrestling at a young age.

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.

Finz & Featherz Guide Service is Mendes’ newest project. The service provides hunters and anglers the opportunity to fish and hunt with a variety of celebrities.

Finz & Featherz Guide Service is Mendes’ newest project. The service provides hunters and anglers the opportunity to fish and hunt with a variety of celebrities.

“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

Hailing from California’s Central Valley and best known as a UFC fighter, Chad Mendes also enjoys traveling far in search of great hunting. He took this red stag in New Zealand.

Hailing from California’s Central Valley and best known as a UFC fighter, Chad Mendes also enjoys traveling far in search of great hunting. He took this red stag in New Zealand.

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