Ryan Cambridge Investigates where it all went wrong for the greatest featherweight MMA has ever known
What has happened to Jose Aldo? After being so dominant for so many years, few saw him ever losing and assumed he would retire on top of the world and be seen as one of the greatest fighters of all time. Recent times have thrown Aldo’s greatness into doubt though after first losing, in the worst way possible for a striker – emphatically via first-round KO, to Conor McGregor, Then Max Holloway, twice in succession. The Brazilian has looked a shadow of his former self of late and it’s doubtful if the former MMA Fighter of the Year will ever grace the Octagon again.
With no fight on the horizon, nobody knows when or indeed if we will see Aldo return, largely as he’s remained silent since the second loss to Holloway. He has teased with pursuing a career in boxing, but it seems unlikely a career switch at this stage in his life would bear fruit.
The Nova Uniao‘ standout first bolted onto the scene in 2004. Over various different organisations, Aldo earned a record of 10-1 with the majority of his wins by stoppage before being signed for WEC. Winning his first belt, he flew across the cage and hit Cub Swanson with a flying knee which folded ‘Killer Cub’ up like a deck chair. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt won his next fight against Mike Brown by knockout before defeating Uriah Faber to establish himself as the best featherweight on the planet.
By now the world had become enamoured by the blew cage’s lighter weight classes, especially it’s 145lb star. But suggestions of a switch over to join the UFC’s bubbling lightweight division just didn’t appeal to the Brazilian. He knew his star power wouldn’t go unnoticed by Dana White and co. Aldo told MMA Sports at the time: “I have thought about it, but my coach doesn’t like the idea. I want to defend my belt, nobody is going to take it away.” And he was right. Aldo made a successful third defence against Mark Hominick then the WEC merged with the UFC and he was crowned the inaugural UFC featherweight champion. And his domination continued in planet’s leading promotion. Lighting fast hands, killer instinct and tree chopping leg kicks were all weapons the champion had in his arsenal. Being a BJJ black belt meant his opponent would not want to engage Aldo in the ground game either, through the fear of his fierce ground ‘n’ pound and slick submission game.
Aldo defended his belt successfully seven times in the Octagon, racked up a record of 25-1. Being so dominant and undefeated against the best in the business for a decade rightfully established him as one of the sport’s biggest stars and the planet’s most popular fighters. The accolades soon followed ‘Fighter of the Year’, ‘Fight of the Year’ and the most title defences in UFC featherweight history, the 31-year-old had the respect of practically every fighter and fan on the All but a little-known Irishman called Conor McGregor, who is the undisputed champ he saw vulnerability and opportunity.
The greatest striker Brazil has ever seen since 1998 world cup winner Ronaldo, was faced with his greatest test. Brash McGregor was everything Aldo despised. A lack of respect, trash talking and mind games were all things ‘Notorious’ had used to rocket his way to the top fast. Originally scheduled for UFC 189, Aldo was forced out through injury. So, McGregor got a shot at the interim belt against Chad Mendes. Following his outstanding performance, the Irishman flew out of the cage, got in Aldo’s face and screamed at him, the rivalry was back on again. These two worlds would collide. In an interview with MMAJunkie, Aldo said: “There’s really no difference (between this fight and my others); you’re going to see me go in there and get the win. I don’t really care how I win I just care about winning. Really the only difference is I always beat Americans and this time I’m going to beat an Irishman. To me, he’s just the same. “I’ve fought a lot of the top fighters out there and to me, he’s really just another opponent that I have to go in there and beat.” Following a global tour promoting this fight, it finally went down at UFC 194.
McGregor was inside Aldo’s head. He flew at McGregor straight into a left hook which switched Aldo’s lights out almost instantly. He dropped like a lead balloon and 10 years of success was over. The most anticipated featherweight title fight in history was over in just 13 seconds. An emotional former champion said afterwards: ” we need a rematch, it wasn’t really a fight so we need to get back in here.” When asked if McGregor’s mind games had played a part in his performance, he offered: “It didn’t affect me at all, I really don’t care about what he says I just want to get back in here at this point.”
Aldo was not granted his wish on a rematch, instead, he fought Frankie Edgar for the vacant belt McGregor had given up to fight at lightweight and Aldo won his belt back in impressive, but far from spectacular fashion. Aldo went on to lose his fight against Max Holloway, got a rematch, and lost again. Both times Holloway made light work of the former champ and knocked him out in the third round. The 145LB torch had been passed on.
I doubt we will see Aldo in the Octagon again. He’s doing nothing for his legacy at this point and if he were to retire nobody would blame him, he would still become a UFC Hall of Famer. He’s done everything he set out to do in mixed martial arts. So, stepping back from MMA would be a wise choice, as Aldo doesn’t look like he has many fights left in him. But one thing is for certain, we can all look back and admire the career that Jose Aldo has had.