The birthplace of modern-day MMA.
Sure, mixed martial arts and its predecessors date way before UFC 1, but for all intents and purposes, the American conscience awoke to the sport 17-odd years ago with that first Pay-Per-View event. Guys crowded around a TV at a friend’s house, and it provided water cooler talk for the days to come. Yet few had any idea what the future of the sport held.
We’ve seen promotions fizzle and die, ownership change hands, champions rise and fall, and the term “Pound for Pound” thrown around.
Time to add a new name to the list:
Not that I’m suggesting some sort of revelation here — if I am out on a limb, I have a TON of company. Aldo (18-1) has been on the lips of fans for a couple years now, but now it’s time for his name to be spoken loud and clear:
Whether in boxing or MMA, generally your P4P rulers have been at or near the heavier weights, because human nature tends to put the biggest and baddest at the top. Yes, it’s tough to believe that a 145-pound guy could hang with a Goliath such as Brock Lesnar, but that is so far out of the realm of relevance it’s not worth the Times New Roman font you’re reading.
Pound. For. Pound.
Fedor Emelianenko — Lost.
Anderson Silva- — Battered for 4 1/2 rounds before pulling out a fantastic finish. Yet still, he was as demolished as one can be when winning a fight.
BJ Penn — Owned by Frankie Edgar.
Brock Lesnar — In the conversation, but is anyone ready to say he’s the best P4P there is?
Shogun Rua — Defend the belt first (some would argue he just did).
Georges St. Pierre — The best argument. However a TKO loss to Matt Serra still looms, even if you chalk up the Matt Hughes submission loss to youth and inexperience, which most do.
That leaves one.
A dirt-poor Brazilian kid who was just 7 years old when that first UFC went down years ago. And as he entered the octagon to face Manny Gamburyan (11-5) Thursday night, Jose Aldo simply did what he has been doing for years.
Since entering the WEC in June of 2008, Aldo has merely gone 8-0, with seven knockouts. Seven knockouts in eight fights, in case you missed it. The one decision? A 5-round bashing of WEC poster boy Urijah Faber in the California Kid’s rabid hometown jungle of Sacramento. Simply put, Jose Aldo hasn’t so much as been challenged in his eight fights in the big time.
Mike Thomas Brown — Brutally destroyed.
Manny Gamburyan? — No chance.
When a fighter has reached the level Aldo has, you can tell simply in the way you watch him fight. Two main things happen: You constantly watch the opponent’s head to see each punch received, and anything that opponent might do successfully makes your heart skip a beat. Because you didn’t expect it. You expect the King to be flawless in any way, and mentally exaggerate the slightest hint of adversity.
Thursday night, the Bloomfield, Colo. crowd, along with viewers at home, were lulled into a sense that Gamburyan was offering a legitimate challenge, simply because he didn’t take much punishment in the first round. That coupled with a couple of decent punches landed on Aldo made for a tiny bit of electricity.
In the end, Aldo was simply a cobra, biding his time until the deadly strike came. And it did.
With a one-two combo, an uppercut, and a killer instinct second to none in the sport, Aldo dispatched Gamburyan as he had so many of his opponents, with simple… brutal… precision. The kid from the streets of Brazil has mowed through the WEC 145-pound division like a warm knife through butter. At this point, he could more than likely hold his belt for years to come, at a very low-mileage 24 years old.
Remember though, the WEC is owned by Zuffa. And Zuffa owns another fight promotion, a little upstart we call The Ultimate Fighting Championship. With BJ Penn on the decline, Kenny Florian unable to mount a title campaign, and Gray Maynard battling Jake Shields in the boring fighter department, 155-pound champ Frankie Edgar needs a Pay-Per-View worthy opponent.
Personally, part of me would love to see Aldo reign at 145 for years to come. However, most of me wants to see how much (if any) of Aldo’s dominance is due the fighting in the WEC stable, as opposed to being thrown into the UFC talent pool. It seems that Aldo is for real — beyond for real — and a fight fan should want to see that success tested against the best. Aldo has shown us that he deserves respect and admiration, no doubt. But for a fighter — or any athlete for that matter, to be truly beloved — they must be challenged. There needs to be a “war” on the resume.
Look at Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. Both enjoyed dominant, legendary reins over their competition. But neither was really rivaled during their prime. By the time they went through adversity, many pointed at their resumes and wondered about the level of competition they faced early on. With Tyson, one had to look at Jose Ribalta, or even a Donovan “Razor” Ruddock to find even a hint of challenge in his prime. For Jones, his first Antonio Tarver fight, along with an early matchup with Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins, was all you had to go on. By the time both Tyson and Jones Jr. were legitimately challenged, it was too late. They were done.
The question will forever remain: Was their competition weak, or did they simply MAKE the competition look weak?
So the kid who became a man, who was so destitute he would go days without eating as he hung outside a Brazilian dojo, is at a crossroads in a sense. Phenom, fireball, wunderkind, these can all apply. Legend? Not even close. At 24, it’s way too early to talk about legacy, but Aldo has done just about all he can do in his current division. Now it’s time to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new fighters, and new challenges. (Yes, I slightly borrowed from Star Trek there. And if you recognized that, you are a nerd as well.)
A rags-to-riches story for sure. A champion, no doubt. A humble, insanely talented bright spot for the new generation of Mixed Martial Artists, absolutely.
Weaknesses? None exposed yet.
Jose Aldo, the man they call “Junior”, with the future as bright as the Rio de Janeiro sunshine, can add another notch in his championship belt:
Pound for pound king.