Until stepping into the Octagon for the main event of UFC 194 on December 12, 2015, Jose Aldo was seen as an immortal featherweight force, and more importantly to some, the one man whom Conor McGregor haters could count on to finally silence the Irishman.
However, just 13 seconds into a 145-pound title fight that had been billed as the division’s greatest, a life-changing left hook sent the seemingly-invincible Brazilian crashing to the canvas. The unthinkable had occurred, and after Aldo awoke from a very brief fist-induced nap, he began his new life as a conquered king forever haunted by a single punch.
On Saturday, Aldo will make his first appearance since suffering that career-altering knockout loss to McGregor when he enters the Octagon to face fellow UFC veteran Frankie Edgar for the promotion’s interim featherweight title at UFC 200. But regardless of an unrivaled resume that already includes a previous victory over Edgar, a loss on Saturday could drastically jeopardize Aldo’s future in the UFC.
Unbelievably, Saturday’s interim title tilt against Edgar will mark the first fight of Aldo’s storied UFC career where the winner won’t be leaving with the UFC’s actual featherweight belt. When added to his time in the now-defunct WEC, the Brazilian had fought in 10 straight title fights until falling victim to the heavy-handed Irishman.
But since losing to McGregor, Aldo’s many Octagon accomplishments are no longer enough to combat his growing crowd of critics. A history of horribly-timed injuries, a light schedule, and just two finishes in eight UFC appearances was already acting as ammunition for his haters before that day last December, and when Aldo finally did kiss the canvas, his career was suddenly measured only by his loss to McGregor.
Due to the fact that Aldo lost in just 13 seconds, talk of an immediate rematch with McGregor didn’t exactly dominate the post-fight festivities. On one hand, some fight fans felt that Aldo’s otherwise flawless resume guaranteed him the first shot at McGregor’s crown. For others, the Irishman’s almost instant destruction of Aldo was irrefutable evidence of McGregor’s superiority.
Not surprisingly, Aldo would soon get the opportunity he’d been longing for when a leg injury forced former lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos to withdraw from his 155-pound title defense against McGregor at UFC 196 in March. But not only did Aldo tell the folks at SB Nation that the circumstances surrounding the offer weren’t exactly ideal, he also insinuated that McGregor was using some form of performance-enhancing drugs.
”The fight was not at featherweight,” said Aldo. ”Why would I rematch him in a different weight class with no belt? Now, to make this fight at 155, where he [McGregor] was full of juice in his body, where he hides and nobody tests him, only when he gets to Las Vegas a week before the fight, and then it’s way easier for you to clean the body and fight. They [the UFC] offered the fight knowing that I wasn’t trained at all. I can’t say anything. I can train, beat Frankie Edgar and then know that I’ve earned my fight for the title again.”
”We called and texted him everyday [asking McGregor for a rematch] and nothing,” continued Aldo. ”There was no talk for a month. I waited for a call from Dana [White] for three weeks, and when he texted ‘Dede’ [Pederneiras] I was doing a charity soccer match in Manaus, and he [White] talked about replacing Rafael. He knew I wasn’t training because I was coming back from [medical] suspension. They already had in mind who to put against Conor. That’s the path they [the UFC] try to follow, and it’s kind of dirty to me.”
On such short notice, it’s understandable that Aldo chose to refuse the McGregor rematch. If and when it happens, that rematch will be the most important fight of his career, and facing that challenge with anything but a full training camp wouldn’t be wise. But these days, UFC competitors of every caliber live in a constant state of readiness whenever possible for exactly that type of opportunity, and deciding to pass on that chance may also one day haunt the Brazilian legend.
For now, all Aldo can do is attempt to improve on the game plan that led to his unanimous-decision win over Edgar in February of 2013. However, Aldo recently told MMA Junkie that Edgar hasn’t really changed since their first meeting more than three years ago.
”He’s more adjusted to the division, but I don’t see an evolution in his game,” said Aldo. ”Because I came off a loss, I tried to change things up a bit. I think a fire has been lit again. The will to win. I don’t see much of a change. We’re both skilled. But you can be sure I’m going to win, and win well.”
It may not be fair, especially considering what Aldo has meant to the sport for so many years, but the outcome of Saturday’s interim featherweight title fight will weigh heavily on Aldo’s legacy. And after accomplishing so much for so long, and putting so much effort into his return, nobody should be surprised if a loss to Edgar forces Aldo to hang up his gloves for good.
[Photo By-Steve Marcus/Getty Images]