Cal Poly s Chad Mendes is one of the most dangerous and best wrestlers in the country

By Craig Sesker | Feb. 05, 2008, 3:46 p.m. (ET)
Watch the Mendes-Rivera match

Check out any opposing coach's scouting report on Cal Poly senior Chad Mendes and you'll likely find this written in big, bold letters.

Watch out for the Cement Mixer.

One of the most explosive moves in wrestling is the favorite move of one of the most dangerous wrestlers in the country.

It's the move Mendes executed to pin two-time NCAA runner-up Kyle Ott of Illinois to become an All-American in 2006. It's the move that has helped vault Mendes to the top of the national rankings this season at 141 pounds.

"I've been doing that move since about sixth grade," Mendes said. "I've perfected it. It's not the only thing I do, but guys can't get sloppy against me or they will get caught."

Even if you know the move is coming, good luck trying to stop it against the chiseled and powerful Mendes.

Take a look at the video of the match he had earlier this season against second-ranked Manuel Rivera of Minnesota and you will see just how lethal Mendes is with the Cement Mixer.

Mendes and Rivera were on their feet and locked in a scoreless match midway through the first period when Mendes shot in on a single-leg attack. Rivera countered with a whizzer before Mendes came back to set Rivera up with a front headlock and right underhook. Mendes then exploded to his right on the underhook side and rolled Rivera to his back.

Five seconds later, the referee slapped the mat. Mendes had recorded a fall just 94 seconds into the match.

"Chad's just a great athlete, bottom line," said Cal Poly coach John Azevedo, a past NCAA champion and Olympian. "He's very strong and very, very powerful. He's fast and he can scramble. Technically, he's solid. He's a great wrestler. There really isn't anything he can't do."

Mendes already has pieced together a superb senior season. Earlier this month, Mendes ascended to the nation's No. 1 ranking at 141 by InterMat. He became the first Cal Poly wrestler in 28 years to be ranked No. 1.

Mendes, 19-0 this season, now takes aim at becoming Cal Poly's first national champion in 32 years. Cal Poly has had only two national champions in its history - Tom Kline won an NCAA title at 191 pounds in 1969 before Mark DiGirolamo won an NCAA title at 118 pounds in 1976.

"I know it's been a long time," Mendes said. "That's all I'm thinking about right now, becoming an NCAA champion. It's my senior year and I'm shooting for the moon. I know I've got the talent and I know I've got the coaching to make it to the top."

Mendes, from Hanford, Calif., received a huge boost prior to his senior season when World champion and Olympic silver medalist Sammie Henson was hired by Cal Poly as the team's top assistant coach.

Henson, who coached Nebraska's Paul Donahoe to the 2007 NCAA title at 125 pounds, has coached three wrestlers to NCAA individual titles. Henson won two NCAA titles for Clemson.

"Sammie is just an unbelievable coach," Mendes said. "He is a real high-energy guy and his enthusiasm is super motivating. He's the best coach I've ever had. He's shown me a lot of techniques. He can scout an opponent and put a great game plan together for you. When I found out he was coming to Cal Poly, I was so excited. Some seniors may be set in their ways and not want to make changes when a new coach comes in. But I wanted to be open to everything he said. I am like a sponge with Sammie. I want to learn everything I can from him."

"I saw what Sammie did for Donahoe last year. Hopefully, he can do the same thing for me this year."

Henson said he wasn't sure what to expect with a veteran wrestler like the 22-year-old Mendes.

"Chad's definitely very talented," Henson said. "He's also very receptive to coaching and is always looking to get better. He has the attitude that he wants to be the best. You can see that in the practice room when you're working with him. He looks at you like he's an 8-year-old kid learning a move for the first time. He's really eager to learn."

Henson's biggest impact with Mendes has been with his mat wrestling, where Mendes is now using his strength to wear down opponents.

"Chad's really improved in the top position," Henson said. "He can ride people and turn people. That's really important in those big matches. You can take a lot out of a guy by keeping him on the mat."

Henson said Mendes is more than just a one-move wonder.

"He has that Cement Mixer, and everybody knows he has that move," Henson said. "You know what? I hope people think that's all he has. I know he has a lot more to offer than just that move."

Mendes has a big match coming up against two-time All-American Nathan Morgan of Oklahoma State. Morgan is ranked No. 1 by Wrestling International Newsmagazine and Amateur Wrestling News. Cal Poly is scheduled to wrestle at Oklahoma State on Feb. 16.

It will be the first college meeting between Mendes and Morgan, but they met a handful of times in high school. Morgan is from Bakersfield, Calif.

"We've always had close matches, but I've never beaten Morgan," Mendes said. "It's a real important match because it gives me an opportunity to see him before nationals. This is practice for the end of the season and I need to learn from that match. I'm looking forward to it."

Mendes came to Cal Poly after placing third in the California state high school tournament as a senior. Mendes was fifth at state as a junior and eighth as a sophomore.

He struggled on and off the mat early in his college career. He was stuck behind All-Americans Vic Moreno (125) and Darrell Vasquez (133) as a redshirt freshman.

"During his second year here, Chad thought about quitting," Azevedo said. "He wasn't in the starting lineup and he wasn't doing that well academically."

A talk with Azevedo kept Mendes at Cal Poly.

"I went through some tough times, but I talked to Coach John and he kept me motivated and helped me get back on track," Mendes said. "He made me think about staying in school and what I wanted to do after college."

Later that season, Mendes moved into the starting lineup at 133 after Vasquez was sidelined with an illness. Mendes reached the NCAA quarterfinals in 2005 before falling to Minnesota's Mack Reiter. He then lost his next match by one point to Mark Jayne of Illinois and fell just one victory short of being an All-American.

Mendes came back strong in 2006 as he dropped down to 125. He placed sixth at the NCAA Championships in Oklahoma City. He was unable to compete at nationals last year after suffering an elbow injury just after Christmas break.

Mendes decided to bump up two classes to 141 for his senior season and the move has paid dividends.

"I was cutting a lot of weight to make 125 - it was killing me," Mendes said. "Moving to 141 was one of the best choices I've made. I'm stronger and I'm in great shape. I feel explosive and powerful. Everything is going as planned."

Mendes also is excelling in the classroom now. The kinesiology major is scheduled to graduate in June. His coach said he's been on the honor roll for the past year and a half.

After college, Mendes has plans to try mixed martial arts. One of the top fighters in the World, Chuck Liddell, wrestled for Cal Poly. Liddell remains involved with the Cal Poly wrestling program.

"Chuck Liddell trains at The Pit, which is only about 20 minutes away from here," Mendes said. "I feel like my style of wrestling would transfer well into fighting where I can use my strength and power. And the money's really good. The salaries for fighters have gone way up."

Mendes has emerged as a leader on the Cal Poly team.

"Chad's a great kid and the guys on the team love him," Azevedo said. "He's very personable and laughs a lot. He keeps everybody loose in the practice room and he's taken a lot of the freshmen under his wing. He also leads by example by working hard."

That work ethic could transfer into something significant at the NCAA Championships on March 20-22 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

"Chad's had a goal of being a national champion for a long time," Azevedo said. "He just has to go out, wrestle his match and have fun. If he does that, he will be very tough to beat.