The pressure's on Jose Aldo as he prepares for Chad Mendes rematch
As we wait for the next MMA card to commence, here's my version of five rounds of pacing the cage.
1. What does he do for an encore? José Aldo has 12 weeks to think up something spectacular.
If the UFC featherweight champion doesn't set off fireworks along with brassy orchestration and a laser light show, his Aug. 2 title defense will be seen as a let-down. After all, he'll be fighting Chad Mendes ... again.
Remember their first meeting? The details of the fight's first 4 minutes 58 seconds might be fuzzy, as it consisted of a lot of circling and stalking, a few leg-tenderizing kicks, some takedowns attempted and every one of them deftly defended. But then, just before the horn was to sound to end the first round, Aldo broke free from a clinch, Mendes changed levels for a takedown, and intention met with instinct, conclusively and concussively. Just as Chad lunged forward, José launched a knee in his direction. Patella connected to cranium, and the song was over for Mendes.
The stunning finish was just the beginning of the spectacle, though. José immediately raced out of the octagon and into the frenzy of the Rio de Janeiro crowd, which enveloped him like a womb, treating the then-25-year-old like the homegrown hero he was growing into being. What a scene it was.
This summer's rematch, the UFC announced Monday, will take place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, with not a churrascaria in sight. Another thing that will be different from last time: Chad Mendes. Since that January 2012 loss, the only one of his career, Mendes has reeled off five straight dominant victories. All but the most recent one were knockouts, which is in part a reflection of the work of striking guru Duane Ludwig, until recently the coach at Team Alpha Male.
At the same time, Aldo (24-1) has fought and won three times since the Mendes fight, and he's traveled more challenging terrain, facing ex-lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, Chan Sung Jung, and Ricardo Lamas. The Brazilian buzzsaw keeps pushing forward, but he's been so good for so long that it's easy to overlook his refinement as a champion.
Here's an opportunity for him to enchant us. There's no stronger, hungrier and more relentless 145-pound challenger out there than Chad Mendes (16-1). You've talked about moving up to lightweight, José Aldo, but first we need you to put an exclamation point on your featherweight supremacy. Close that door and open up a new one.
2. He talks a good game.
But beyond that, does Conor McGregor have game?
The UFC brass surely thinks so, because the 25-year-old Irish featherweight is having a fight card built around him on July 19 in Dublin, his hometown. That's an astounding show of promotional confidence in a fighter who's competed just twice for the company, neither time against someone within shouting distance of the UFC's media-voted Top 15 rankings.
Why is this happening? The UFC is expanding beyond the shores of North America and needs something to sell to far-flung fans. McGregor (14-2, 12 KO's) appears to be worth a few Euros, though at this point that business plan relies less on how he fights than on how he sells a fight.
"I'm going to stop Cole," McGregor said last week during an appearance on the Fox Sports 1 show UFC Tonight to promote his main event against Cole Miller. "Whoever's next: Cub [Swanson], I'll break Cub. I'll embarrass Chad [Mendes]. I'll annihilate José [Aldo]. I'm coming to take over the division. It's my division."
Whoa, lad, whoa. As McGregor blustered on, all puffed out in a three-piece suit as loud as his persona, interviewer Chael Sonnen, himself one of the game's most garrulous trash talkers, sat there all but speechless. Calling out the champ when you're barely a blip on the radar?
It's not necessarily a bad thing. The 145-pound division is filled with speak-softly types. They let their fists do the talking, which is fine on fight night -- it's the most essential thing, really -- but in the leadup doesn't put bodies in the arena and in front of the television. McGregor can be a breath of fresh air ... if it all doesn't turn out to be hot air.
Bottom line: A fighter needs to show us he can fight. What validated Sonnen's haranguing was his 23-minute thrashing of previously indomitable Anderson Silva. Can McGregor, a fast, flashy standup specialist, withstand the ground game of Miller, whose seven years in the UFC may have been largely inauspicious but nonetheless have seen seven submissions in 10 victories, including four Sub of the Night bonuses? If Conor's chatter gets choked out, all will fade to dead silence.
3. She has found her path to success.
For Bethe Correa, it's as easy as 1-2-3-4.
Before she'd even left the cage following her victory over Jessamyne Duke two weekends ago at UFC 172, the Brazilian set her sights on the next task on her fistic to-do list. As she was being interviewed, she held up four fingers, then lowered one of them, which was her way of acknowledging her targeting of "The Four Horsewomen."
That's the name embraced by champion Ronda Rousey and the three women she trains with, one of whom is Duke. Another is Shayna Baszler, who like Jessamyne was under Coach Rousey's tutelage on The Ultimate Fighter, and on Monday the UFC announced that Correia and Baszler will fight on the Aldo vs. Mendes undercard at UFC 176 in L.A. Apparently, Dana White & Co. like the melodramatic story line.
If Correia (8-0) gets by Baszler (15-8), she could step to the front of the line awaiting an audience with Ronda. (The fourth Horsewoman is Rousey's judo friend Marina Shafir, who for the time being is fighting at 145 pounds.) Now, Bethe is unlikely to make Rousey break a sweat if and when they meet in the cage, but that's not the whole story. This sport is about opportunity, and the woman known as "The Pitbull" appears to be taking a big bite out of one.
4. It is not OK. That was the case when the insult was spat out by Ronda Rousey, and even more so when it oozed out of Dana White's mouth.
Two weeks ago the UFC women's champion was speaking with Yahoo! Sports about a possible showdown with the sport's other dominant female fighter, Cris "Cyborg" Justino, when Rousey said, "This girl has been on steroids for so long and [has been] injecting herself for so long that she's not even a woman anymore. She's an 'it.'"
Now, the fact is that Justino has popped positive once, which doesn't support the "for so long" accusation. But that's not the most serious problem with what Rousey said. Referring to Justino as an "it" is an insult to all women. Just as Matt Mitrione was suspended by the UFC (albeit briefly) for his diatribe against transgender fighter Fallon Fox, Rousey had to be in line for punishment, right?
Not if Dana White is judge and jury. "She called her an it. [Cyborg] calls Ronda a chicken. Should Ronda be offended at being called a chicken? Grow the [expletive] up, everybody," White said during a conversation with reporters following a UFC 172 press conference a week ago Thursday. He sounded incredulous that the matter was being brought up.
This was an opportunity for White to allow his promotion's PR machine to sweep the matter under the carpet, let it fade to the background amid a flurry of fight announcements and other hype. That's what stuffed-shirt commissioners of all of the mainstream sports would have done.
But Dana is a different breed. At times, this is refreshing, White's accessibility and loquaciousness being a reporter notebook's best friend. Then there are the times when he opts to put out a fire by pouring high-test fuel on it. "I said, when I saw [Justino] at the MMA Awards, she looked like Wanderlei Silva in a dress and heels," White told reporters, looking amused by the image he'd evoked. "And she did, did she not? Who wants to dispute that she didn't look like Wanderlei?"
That's not the dispute that needs to be raised. We're living in a time when a new NBA commissioner brings a sledgehammer down on racist remarks spewed by a team owner in the breached privacy of his home. It's the 21st century, and hateful words aimed at one's race or gender no longer fly in civilized society. If you want to take your sport to the mainstream -- a longshot even with the most deft administrative handling -- don't bring that nonsense around.
5. He's back ... almost.
You thought you saw the last of Anderson Silva back in December when he gruesomely shattered his left leg during a rematch with his successor as middleweight champ, Chris Weidman? Not so fast.
Silva's manager, Ed Soares, told MMA Junkie on Monday that the fighter's doctor has cleared him to train in MMA, which paves the way for a return to the UFC. That's what Silva has been telling us all along would happen. But replaying his horrifying injury in our minds, it was easy to doubt him.
"We've talked with the UFC, and we'll see what they come up with," Soares told the MMA website.
It won't be a title shot, at least not right out of the blocks. So here's hoping the promotion and the 39-year-old legend, perhaps the greatest fighter the sport has seen, will get a little creative with the matchmaking. For instance: What better fight to entice Nick Diaz out of retirement?