Jose Aldo: One Last Run
By Ross Markey
We are currently in the midst of a career resurgence of Brazilian icon José Aldo. The UFC’s premier featherweight kingpin makes the Octagon walk for the fourteenth time this weekend against rising Australian bruiser Alexander Volkanovski. Since his back to back third round stoppage defeats to Max Holloway, Manaus favorite Aldo has dispatched two of the most dangerous contenders at 145- pounds today. Knockout artist Jeremy Stephens was denied a possible title clash via a ripping left hook to the liver firstly by the 32-year-old. Compatriot and the all-round comfortable Renato Moicano was also dispatched by Aldo, this time via an early second round battering. The King of Rio makes the return home this weekend with the #1 rank in hand, a victory over the steely Volkanovski may warrant him another title tilt before calling time on a truly Hall of Fame career.
World Extreme Cagefighting Tenure
Before José Aldo made his way to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, he honed his craft in the now defunct World Extreme Cagefighting promotion. Arriving on the North American scene for the first time, Aldo brought with an impressive ten wins and a single blemish on his professional résumé. An aggressive, classic Muay Thai background followed along, impressing with the first real vision of damaging leg kicks we’d seen in modern mixed martial arts.
The man known as ‘Scarface’ made an instant impact among his featherweight peers, and his climb to the division’s throne was seamless and timely. Within a single calendar year, Aldo had stopped Alexandre Franca Nogueira, Jonathan Brookins, Rolando Perez, Chris Mickle and most impressively, future UFC alumni Cub Swanson. Billed as a title eliminator for Mike Brown’s 145-pound strap, Aldo ended any hope Swanson had of claiming his first major MMA championship within the opening ten seconds.
Springing straight after the opening bell with a flying knee, Aldo connected sweetly, forcing Swanson to shell up before the stoppage. The first of many highlight reel finishes had been archived. Aldo was beginning to amass a rather significant following heading into his premier title tilt against now American Top Team head coach Mike Brown, helped no end via his single strike victory over ‘Killer’ Cub. Brown had successfully defended against the hugely talented Leonard Garcia and Urijah Faber ahead of meeting Brazil’s Aldo. Before the halfway mark in the second round, Brown was left title-less, as a constant pace from José proved too much to traverse. Before the merging of the WEC and the UFC, Aldo had time for a first and second title defense.
Hostile territory awaited Aldo in Sacramento, California, as hometown hero Urijah Faber made his now infamous walk to Dr. Dre and 2Pac track California Love. The challenger had the backing of the entire twelve and a half thousand crowd at the ARCO Arena. Throughout a gruelling twenty-five minute affair, Aldo landed some of the most brutal leg kicks we’ve witnessed, rivaled only by UFC lightweight ace Edson Barboza. A unanimous decision followed in José’s favor as the youngster claimed his biggest scalp to date. His final appearance for Scott Adams’ and Reed Harris’ WEC came against TUF alumni Manvel Gamburyan. Another barrage awaited the Armenian as Aldo finished within the opening ten-minute mark once again.
The King Of Rio
Aldo was immediately promoted to undisputed UFC featherweight champion upon his signing with the promotion and would spearhead the division for an astonishing seven fights. The experienced striking orientated Mark Hominick acted as the welcoming party as he attempted to relieve Aldo of his crown. Another hostile crowd faced Aldo, this time the excited Ontario faithful, similar to his time in Sacramento, the outcome was all too similar. A five-round display was ruled in Aldo’s favor as he earned his premier Octagon title triumph. Now UFC analyst and TUF competitor Kenny Florian was next to try his luck against the somewhat unique style of José Aldo. Another five round back and forth resulted in a unanimous decision victory for the Brazilian, who was now beginning to build up a head of steam toward the peak of the pound-for-pound rankings.
His first return to Brazil in over five years followed, with the task of denying the dangerous wrestler Chad ‘Money’ Mendes. Arguably his stiffest test in terms of credentials so far in his early organization tenure, the HSBC Arena erupted with a single second remaining in the opening five minutes. Following a failed body lock attempt from Chad, Aldo pivoted away from the fence and launched a knee at Mendes who immediately fell to his back forcing Mario Yamasaki to stop the contest. Aldo instantly exited through the Octagon door and lept into the adoring hometown fans to celebrate.
Four more title defenses within two years were next for Aldo, with former lightweight best Frankie Edgar, the stern Chan Sung Jung and Ricardo Lamas all defeated ahead of a rematch with Chad Mendes, once more in Brazil. Future opponent Conor McGregor had a close eye on the contest from the gantry in the Ginásio do Maranazinho arena, ahead of his title earning clash with Dennis Siver. Despite Aldo holding certain bragging rights from the opening contest, Mendes presented a much stiffer challenge the second time around. The topsy turvy meeting ultimately went the distance with Aldo and Chad both scoring knockdowns. Aldo eeked out a hometown victory after twenty-five minutes, to set up the biggest featherweight title fight of all time against ‘The Notorious’ one.
The Notorious Torment
“We’ve never seen somebody disrespect José Aldo like this before.” The all too true words of UFC colour-commentator Joe Rogan ahead of the eventual pairing of Aldo and McGregor in December 2015. Initially booked for UFC 189, just two weeks from fight night, José Aldo was forced from the main event tie with an injured rib, scuppering the heated match up for the moment. McGregor faced the aforementioned Mendes for the interim crown in Vegas, and despite an early wrestling onslaught from ‘Money’, Crumlin native McGregor rallied throughout the closing stages of the second to finish a fatigued Mendes, and set-up the unification clash. McGregor’s joker persona ahead of the meeting had been so far unseen to that extent, constantly tormenting an emotional Aldo throughout they’re press appearances in the US, Brazil, and Ireland. When UFC 194 fight week rolled around, we witnessed a much colder Conor McGregor, who himself seemed tired of pre-fight antics and solely focused on unifying the titles.
The impact McGregor’s mind games played on Aldo is simply unarguable. Within thirteen seconds of the opening round, Aldo had lost his championship, undefeated Octagon record, and pound-for-pound #1 status all via a single counter left hand. Drilling the exact shot alongside his SBG counterparts ahead of the walk, McGregor had simply walked Aldo onto the shot. A visibly distraught Aldo consulted referee John McCarthy afterward, but his emotional entry to the premier exchange was all too real.
Aldo immediately campaigned for a re-run with McGregor, who had his eyes firmly set on a move to lightweight to attempt to claim his second promotion belt from another Brazilian, Rafael dos Anjos. By the time UFC 196 had played out, McGregor had lost to late replacement Nate Diaz after dos Anjos was forced to pull out citing a broken metatarsal. Aldo and Frankie Edgar were offered a meeting with McGregor on short notice, with Edgar refusing due to a torn groin, while former foe Aldo expressed a lack of time to prepare for the contest. The rematch had come and gone.
Another rematch was instead scheduled for Aldo, as he faced Frankie Edgar at UFC 200 for the interim featherweight championship. Looking nothing short of spectacular in his Octagon return, Aldo exacted a very precise yet punishing striking clinic on ‘The Answer’ to once more set up a unification bout at 145 pounds.
The Emergence of the Islander
McGregor bounced back with a majority decision win over Nate Diaz before successfully defeating Eddie Alvarez who in the meantime had become the pack leader at lightweight. November of 2016 marked almost a year since ‘The Notorious’ one featured at featherweight, with UFC brass eventually stripping him of the undisputed crown, handing it to Aldo.
Hawaii striking phenom Max Holloway had blitzed Anthony Pettis to earn his first title and set up yet another unification clash in a seriously hampered division. Landing in Rio, Holloway became the third home soil challenger to Aldo, and in turn, the first successful one. Dana White once described José Aldo as, “the best fighter for two rounds.”, this became fact checked with Holloway’s scary pressure and constant pace. A beautiful pull counter combination in the third dropped Aldo and a barrage of strikes from the top forced the issue as Holloway upset the attendees and unified the championship once again.
UFC 218 was Aldo’s turn to play short notice stand in. Initial challenger Edgar had suffered an eye injury and the Brazilian made the walk against Holloway for the second time, attempting to once more reclaim his throne. Despite some early success and wearing leg kicks, Holloway once again, so similarly, smothered Aldo with seamless combinations in the third to secure his first defense.
A Certain Revival
It’s no secret that José Aldo has been flirting with the notion of retiring, calling his decision to face a punishing striker like Jeremy Stephens into serious question. Aldo seemed hungry in his re-run with Holloway, who ultimately doesn’t possess the stopping power as Stephens. The 32-year-old had his chin tested three times in his last four matches, proving worrying ahead of a three-round meeting with knockout king Stephens. Initial exchanges were as expected, playing out in Jeremy’s favor, hurting Aldo with wild hooks. With less than a minute to go, Aldo unleashed two grueling body shots reminiscent of former boxing champion Julio César Chávez. Iowa native Stephens grimaced before shelling up on his back with Aldo swarming with ground and pound. Tears began to flood the Brazilian’s eye’s as he snapped a two-fight skid.
An all Brazilian affair landed in Fortaleza earlier this year with José Aldo meeting the surging, and extremely dangerous Renato Moicano in a much more suited three round meeting for Aldo. To many punters surprise, Aldo scored yet another stoppage victory, this time a flurry of knees, hooks and body shots to a stunned Moicano early in the second round. Saturday’s opponent Alexander ‘The Great’ Volkanovski presents the final obstacle for a title hopeful Aldo, especially due to current champion Max Holloway’s venture to a more comfortable lightweight last month. Can the future Hall of Fame inductee reign supreme over his featherweight counterparts one final time?