Jose Aldo walks into Saturday’s UFC 212 in Rio de Janeiro with the same goal he’s had in every one of his fights over the last eight years: to exit with gold wrapped around his waist. Over the course of his career, Aldo has dominated the featherweight division.
Entering UFC 194 in December, 2015, Aldo was the only featherweight champion in the promotion’s history. Aldo, then the WEC featherweight champion, was promoted to the UFC champion when the two promotions merged.
But the most iconic moment of Aldo’s career is arguably the 13-second knockout at the hands of then-challenger Conor McGregor
“Aldo’s legacy and his reign is always gonna be tarnished by that 13 seconds against McGregor,” UFC color commentator Joe Rogan said on his podcast. “Which is so crazy because you take away that fight and he’s got one brutal war with Chad Mendes where he got rocked and stunned, which is a tough fight—the second one—great fight.
“And those are the only hard moments he’s had inside the octagon other than maybe round five against Ricardo Lamas. Lamas had him down and was doing a little bit of ground and pound in the fifth round and that was when Aldo was too drained making that weight, but he’s smaller now. He generally looks smaller. He definitely chose to slim down because he was having unbelievably brutal weight cuts early in his career. He was just too big for the weight class so he just chose to slim his body down.”
That loss to McGregor was the first defeat Aldo suffered in 10 years, a stretch that included wins over legends like Kenny Florian and Urijah Faber, and former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar.
At UFC 212, Aldo faces a defining moment in his career. Across the cage will be interim featherweight champion Max Holloway, a young up-and-comer entering the prime of his athletic career and riding a 10-fight win streak.
Holloway’s last loss was at the hands of McGregor in a three-round decision, McGregor’s only decision win in the UFC before besting Nate Diaz at UFC 202 in a five-round war.
In a post-UFC 194 era, Aldo is looking to re-establish himself as the king of the featherweight division. A win over Holloway would be a defining victory that cements his place atop the division once again.
If Aldo wins, a series of familiar opponents—names like Edgar, Lamas and Cub Swanson—will stand in the way of another lengthy title reign.
A loss opens the door to a new era. Holloway is young and will be atop the division in the title conversation for years to come, but there are other fighters on the rise as well. Brian Oretga is just 26 and Renato Moicano is 28; both are undefeated and climbing the rankings. Yair Rodriguez is a future contender, despite his first loss at UFC 211 at the hands of Edgar.
While a win, and perhaps a second substantial reign as champion, would further Aldo’s legacy, his legacy is not really on the line. A 13-second KO hasn’t tarnished it, and a loss to Holloway won’t diminish it further.
Combat sports rely on titles, which need to change hands. Rarely are vacant titles on the line, and losses are a reality of the sport.
If Holloway wins and the division moves forward, Aldo isn’t out of the title picture forever. Even if he was, his place in the annals of UFC history wouldn’t change. It wouldn’t be forgotten. There is no asterisk.
Aldo is one of the most successful fighters in the history of the UFC, let alone the featherweight division.
A rematch with McGregor would be Aldo’s only chance to resolve the debate with naysayers, but Aldo has come to terms with the reality that probably won’t happen.
"I couldn’t care less what Conor does or doesn’t do,” Aldo said. "I’m a UFC fighter and I’m the best featherweight. I have to focus on training and evolving to defend my belt.”
Aldo sees the opportunity to write another chapter in his career
"I think Max is a big challenge, an opponent that I already expected to face in the future,” Aldo said on a conference call with media. "I try to look at every up-and-comer. I’m a reference (point), I’m a target. Everybody wants the champion, so I try to study every young athlete that enters the division.
"It’s another test for me,” Aldo added. "He’s a young guy, hungry to win. He’s another one who will try and fail. That’s for sure."
Five Questions With UFC featherweight Cris Cyborg
1. With UFC 212 this weekend in Brazil, what is it like for a Brazilian fighter to compete in front of the home crowd?
There is nothing like fighting MMA in Brazil! We invented the sport of vale tudo and our fans are not only passionate but they are knowledgeable. I spent almost 10 years fighting outside of Brazil and when I returned to fight in Curitiba it was really something special to see how the country supports me.
2. Are you shocked Germaine de Randamie is leaving the division instead of fighting you? Does this put the division's future in jeopardy?
I am not surprised she doesn't want to fight. My team has known for five months that she wasn't going to fight at 145. I don't know if her deciding to return to 135 puts the division in jeopardy but the fact that both Holly Holm and Cat Zingano were already on the roster shows that when I signed with the company five fights ago there were girls for me to fight in my own division. Fans pay to see stars fight. I will no longer fight lower than 145, so I'm sure the decision on whether the UFC keeps the division or not depends on if we are able to come to terms after my last two fights on the contract.
3. You're a free agent at the end of this year. Given the treatment you’ve received in the UFC, being overlooked for the 145 inaugural title, are you considering exploring other options instead of just re-signing?
Lots of things are going to have to change in my relationship with the UFC and Dana White in order for me to re-sign. For me it is not only about the money. I would like to stay in the UFC, but we will see how things go after my next fight.
4. Do you regret being in the UFC and not getting the Ronda Rousey fight?
I think if Ronda was still in the UFC fans would still have to see me fighting on Invicta with Fight Pass. The UFC couldn't put the fight together and allowed Ronda to ruin my name using the same excuses Germaine de Randamie is using to drop a weight class and not fight. Ronda was undefeated at 145 and 135 but refused any attempt at a 140 catchweight.
5. Assuming the 145-belt is vacated, if the UFC didn't bring in Megan Anderson for the title fight, would you consider fighting Cat Zingano, who said she wants to move up? Or is Anderson the only fight to make in your eyes?
I need to fight. I'm world champion and all the fans realize this. The fact the UFC has a champ at 145 that isn't me, and I haven't lost in 10 years is a problem for them and not me. I don't mind fighting Cat Zingano, it is a fun fight for the fans but I think a lot of fans are going to question her as an opponent if it is for the belt, considering there is a true No. 1 contender at 145 named Megan Anderson who has won her last four fights by KO while Cat hasn't won a fight in three years.
Daniel Cormier gets married
Congratulations to UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, who got married over the holiday weekend.
Rumble Johnson teases return
In early April at UFC 210, Anthony Johnson announced his retirement after a second loss to light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier. A little under two months later, Rumble teased a return after the light heavyweight showdown between Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira.
Fight of the Century check in
As improbable as the megafight between undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor is, it seems every week we inch closer to it becoming a reality.
Mexican promoter Fernando Beltran let slip that a fight was being targeted in November. An executive with Showtime corroborated that by saying “early fall” is the goal. Perhaps more importantly, Mayweather told radio host DJ Whoo Kid “hopefully” the fight will happen as he prepares to meet with his team.
But still, Oscar De La Hoya is hoping fans can shut down the fight before it happens.
Tony Ferguson taunts Conor McGregor in hopes of a fight
Tony Ferguson was to have a shot at the interim lightweight title, but issues during the weight cut of Khabib Nurmagomedov cancelled the bout. Now Ferguson is seeking out his shot at the lightweight title, but the champion is seeking a fight with Floyd Mayweather.
So Ferguson is doing his best to torment McGregor and his team on social media, in hopes of redirecting the champion’s focus.
Dustin Poirier relisting UFC 211 Fight Kit
UFC lightweight Dustin Poirier put his UFC 211 fight kit on eBay to raise money for Second Harvest Food Bank in Lafayette, La. The initial buyer stopped responding and the item is back up for sale. It’s an awesome piece of memorabilia for a good cause.
Haka for Hunt
Mark Hunt got a special performance from the star of Aquaman, Jason Momoa, who performed the traditional haka dance as a good luck charm. Hunt fights the dangerous Derrick Lewis at UFC Fight Night 110 in Auckland, New Zealand in June.
1.Bellator nabs another notable name in heavyweight Roy Nelson. It isn’t a big loss for the UFC —Nelson is 1-2 in his last three fights, and 3-7 in his last 10 fights—but this is the kind of name that will help draw attention to Bellator’s lesser-known, young and rising talent.
2. Georges St-Pierre told Ariel Helwani on the MMA Hour he would retire if he loses his comeback fight. While some might question St-Pierre’s motives in a return if he could so quickly leave, it’s a smart move. St-Pierre said making a quick exit would prevent his legacy from being tarnished, like, perhaps, that of BJ Penn.
3. The NY State Athletic Commission changed the rules regarding weigh-ins after Daniel Cormier allegedly held the towel to help shed an extra pound.
4. Tryouts for the 26th season of The Ultimate Fighter took place, and a bevy of fighters of different levels of experience were at tryouts. The season will crown the first women’s flyweight champion in UFC history.
5. Samsung will broadcast UFC 212 in virtual reality. That’s a thing. MMA translates onto television better than most sports, so this is an unnecessary gimmick.
6. Bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt says he could make the cut to 125 pounds for a fight with Demetrious Johnson, but also that he wants to fight T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 214. Dillashaw and Garbrandt need to focus on fighting each other. That’s what fans want to see.
7. Professional Fighters League, which launched a new season structure with large cash bonuses at the end, has begun to recruit and sign fighters. Sources with knowledge of the league’s operations say the response has been overwhelming. The monthly pay, and the prospect of winning $1 million, is resonating better than expected.
8. The UFC booked Jimi Manuwa on UFC 214 in case Jon Jones was unable to fight for a myriad of potential reasons. However, it wasn’t until Wednesday that he was given an opponent, fifth-ranked light heavyweight Volkan Oezdemir.