He’s far from washed up, but with a critical, tough fight ahead against Jeremy Stephens, former featherweight champ Jose Aldo is in a must-win situation at UFC Calgary.
Just a few short years ago, Jose Aldo was the undisputed King of featherweight. The most feared 145lb fighter on the planet, with a list of scalps taken. Or legs kicked into oblivion (just ask Urijah Faber about that). Aldo was the inaugural featherweight champion the in UFC, carrying over his title from the WEC and being awarded the UFC equivalent. Awarded. Even Ronda Rousey had to fight for her first UFC title. Aldo was handed his, recognition for his dominance of the division prior to its inclusion in the UFC.
From 2004 to 2014, ‘Scarface’ was undefeated. Rarely was he even pressured, with few exceptions. The biggest might have been Mark Hominick’s late rally at UFC 129 in Toronto. But more often than not, Aldo seemed to simply overwhelm his opponents. He was, frankly, in another gear.
The biggest knock on Aldo was that he was injury prone. He tendency to pull out of fights scuttled UFC 176 in 2014, one of the few UFC events to ever be cancelled. Other cards, the promotion would have to scramble to replace him. Yet when he did get to the cage, he was always dangerous.
Then along came Conor McGregor. McGregor’s rise to fame happened at the same time Aldo ruled the roost in the UFC’s featherweight division. It wasn’t long before Aldo was in McGregor’s sights. The Irish star’s detractors will claim he had an easy path to the title, but there is one simple stat that should silence his staunchest critics: 13 seconds. 13 seconds is all it took for Conor McGregor to sleep Jose Aldo at UFC 194 in December 2015.
The Aldo era was over. The McGregor era had begun.
Aldo wasn’t done just yet, of course. Circumstance allowed for him to somehow gain his featherweight title back without ever really winning it. While McGregor pursued a shot at lightweight gold (at the time against Rafael dos Anjos, which led to a two-fight detour against Nate Diaz), Aldo was granted an interim title fight against old foe Frankie Edgar at UFC 200. Aldo looked like his old self. He won the paper belt. Then McGregor finally captured the 155lb title in November 2016. Shortly after, the UFC stripped the Irishman of his featherweight crown. No army was required. All that was required was the main event of UFC 206 falling through. The UFC took McGregor’s belt, handed it back to Aldo, the man McGregor took it from, then created an interim title for Max Holloway and Anthony Pettis to battle over at UFC 206.
Coincidentally, former lightweight champ Pettis missed weight for that bout, making him ineligible to win the title, but Holloway won anyway.
In the process of playing musical belts, the UFC managed to devalue its own featherweight title. The respectable thing to do would have been to strip McGregor, if necessary, and create a four-man tournament between Aldo, Holloway, Pettis, and another contender at the time (Chad Mendes would have been a lock, but he ran into USADA troubles).
So instead, Holloway won an interim title of questionable value, while Aldo was an undisputed champion whose legitimacy was very much in dispute.
Then came the ‘Blessed’ era. Holloway, a soft-spoken, likeable champ, dominated Jose Aldo when they finally met. It was a performance few saw coming. Yes, Holloway was great. Yes, he had dismantled fighters before. But the going thinking had been that Aldo’s loss to McGregor had been an aberration. That McGregor had worked his mojo, and got into Aldo’s head, throwing him off his game. Holloway’s defeat of Jose Aldo was no quick knockout, however. The Hawaiian picked apart the champion, stopping him in the third round.
Then he did it again. Their first meeting had come at UFC 212 in June 2017. That December, they met again. Again, Holloway stopped Aldo. Again, the end came in the third round.
And so Jose Aldo is 1-3 in his past four bouts. The only win in that span, against Edgar at UFC 200. He’s been finished three times. He’s spoken of retirement, of pursing other endeavors, of trying his hand at boxing. He’s retains the technical skill to compete with the best featherweights in the world, but his dedication is very much in question. Another bad loss won’t necessitate an exit from the UFC — as a former champion who has fought at a high level for over a decade, he’s earned the right to carry on if he sees fit.
Still, it’s a pivotal moment. Aldo’s opponent at UFC Calgary, Jeremy Stephens is no easy out. He’s as tough as they come. It’s a fight Jose Aldo is expected to win, however. If he doesnt’? Another loss, and it will be time to admit that Jose Aldo is no longer the force he once was. If we haven’t accepted that fact already.