The fans helped me win this fight, Jose Aldo thought. Time to take it to the fans.
The UFC featherweight champion wanted to do something special to celebrate his victory over Chad Mendes at January's UFC 142 in Rio de Janeiro. Something that would upstage even the spectacular running knee knockout in which he finished his foe.
"I would love to run towards the crowd, because in Brazil, the fans are different than any other events," Aldo said through an interpreter on Tuesday. "They sing from beginning to end, they fight with the fighter. And I thought nothing would be more fair than to just run into their arms, that would be a show."
So the Manaus, Brazil native sprinted out of the octagon and joined the delirious partisans at the HSBC Arena. Aldo celebrated with the crowd in what will go down as one of 2012's iconic MMA images, even if things got a little dicey.
"I was scared, when I realized I was being pulled and grabbed I was really scared," Aldo said. "But thanks to God everything was fine and I managed to come back."
Such devotion from his homeland fans helps explain why Aldo, who is generally regarded as one of the top five pound-for-pound MMA fighters on the planet, has remained true to his Brazilian roots.
His fellow Brazilian MMA superstars have chased the California dream in recent years: Anderson Silva, the longtime UFC middleweight champion, owns a home in tiny Palos Verdes Estate. Former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida lives down the road in Redondo Beach. Heavyweight kingpin Junior dos Santos has mastered English with the same ease he developed his boxing skills and talks about eventually establishing a beachhead in San Diego.
But Aldo, whose Nova Uniao gym in Rio is an up-and-coming MMA force which also features UFC interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao, doesn't see any need to follow in his compatriots' footsteps.
"Today my gym is the best in the world, and I have all the training I need," said Aldo. "I don't see any need of coming here. Besides, Brazil is where my family is."
And it's where he's a superstar. While Aldo was able to walk in and out of lunch Tuesday at Burbank's Morton's The Steakhouse without much notice, at home, where major live UFC events featuring Brazilian fighters draw tens of millions of viewers on network television, it's a different matter.
"Wherever I go in Brazil, everybody knows me, even the doorman," said Aldo (21-2), who defends his title against former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar in the main event of UFC 156 in Las Vegas on Feb. 2. "I could never imagine that I would reach this level, we had dreams of being recognized, but the proportion that the thing has become, not only for me but for every other fighter, was beyond me."
Of course, doormen across Brazil wouldn't know Aldo's name if he didn't happen to be both a human buzzsaw and one of MMA's most fearless fighters. Aldo is only 26 years old, but if he retired today, his legacy in the sport's history would already be secure, and not just for his highlight-reel knockouts.
Aldo hasn't lost since 2005, a string of 14 fights. He defeated Mike Brown for the World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight title on Nov. 18, 2009, and matriculated to the UFC's inaugural 145-pound champ when parent corporation Zuffa absorbed the former company into the latter at the end of 2010. He's one of only four Zuffa-based champions to reach the three-year mark in a title reign, along with Silva, Georges St-Pierre, and Tito Ortiz.
So dominant has Aldo been at featherweight that if he manages to defeat Edgar, who was the UFC lightweight champion for two years, in what amounts to a pseudo-superfight, he'll consider moving up in weight class.
"I've considered going to lightweight," said Aldo. "As soon as my trainer decides that I can go up, then I will. This fight with Edgar will be a turning point. If I can win [against] him well, then I can prove that I can go [to lightweight].
"He has a very strong reputation thanks to destroying several opponents," Aldo continued. "That's the motivation for me to face him and that will be probably my last biggest challenge [at featherweight]."
While Stateside fans might view Aldo as some sort of 24-7 destruction machine, Aldo does, in fact, have a life away from the Octagon, with a wife and a daughter of four months.
In his free time, Aldo is fan of American sports. Although his favorite NFL team is the New England Patriots, he engaged his lunchmates in a conversation on the New York Giants' destruction of the Green Bay Packers, which he watched at home on Sunday night before making the 20-hour flight to the U.S. to do media rounds.
He's also a diehard Los Angeles Lakers fan, to the point that if his daughter, Joana, had been born a boy, he was considering naming the child "Bryant."
"Kobe's the best there is," Aldo said. "Like Anderson Silva in MMA. I can watch him play all day."
Aldo is also a fan of his chosen profession. The featherweight champ has an opinion on the hot topic of conversation in the MMA world these days: a potential superfight between middleweight champion Silva and welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre.
"I'm also [Silva's] fan, so, I hope this fight will happen," Aldo said. "They've been talking about this for years and I really hope it will happen. It would be a very hard fight. Georges is a true champion, I don't need to talk about him. Anderson doesn't need to prove anything, but it will be a really hard fight. For both of them, I say it will be a 50/50 fight, but I still think Anderson will win."
Aldo views Silva through a multifaceted prism: He's a fan and a peer, but also a career measuring stick.
"I'm still young and have a long road ahead of me," Aldo said. "Like the same thing that Anderson Silva is doing today, that's a good example. If I can manage to achieve what he's achieving, I will be really happy."