As we approach what some are calling the biggest event in UFC history, the coverage seems to be skewed. With the promotional direction the UFC has gone with over the last year, those outside the sport would be forgiven for thinking that Jose Aldo is a dead man walking.
When Aldo faces challenger and interim champion Conor McGregor this Saturday, we should be seeing a fight that pits legacy against revolution. Instead, the narrative direction has focussed on retirement, rematches and shifts in weightclasses. This is something which the long-standing Brazilian champion is not designed to process.
|Image: Jeff Bottari|
Raised in the empoverished favelas of Manaus, Aldo struggled to give his talents a home early in life. Manual labour shackled him, and despite habouring the dream of becoming a professional footballer, as many young Brazilians do, the opportunity never arose. After being gifted a chance to start training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at the local gym, he never looked back.
Aldo won bronze in his first BJJ tournament at the age of 15, grappling with boys much bigger and older than him. After moving to Rio at only 17 years old, he started to make waves in national and worldwide tournaments, until he shifted his gaze to the sport of MMA at the tender age of 17.
Rising through Shooto, UK-1 and Pancrase whilst only losing once, Aldo found himself in the world's premier showcase for lighter fighters - the WEC. In just over a year, Aldo was WEC featherweight champion. He hasn't been without a championship belt since. WEC posterboy Uriah Faber, former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and NCAA All-American Chad Mendes have all tried and failed to snatch the belt from Jose Aldo.
When current challenger Conor McGregor snatched the belt, cheered on by hundreds of Irish supporters, during UFC 189's world tour, he proclaimed himself as Aldo's polar opposite. With the study of MMA having given Aldo a lifeline, respect and humility have been cornerstones of his illustrious career. For the first time, an opponent has drawn Aldo into a game which he has never wanted to play.
When you have set yourself the goal of building a legacy, opposition to this will be met with force. But standing opposite Aldo in the cage is so much more than that. A lifetime of sleeping on gym mats and struggling to afford food, whilst engaging in gruelling traning sessions to better yourself hardens a man.
The drive is always family, looking to give back to those who lent their support at your darkest times, and encouraged you to follow your dreams at the expense of their own. That drive never disappears. Even though Aldo has given his family the life he feels they deserve, the motivation to provide for those he loves is everpresent. In his eyes, entering the cage is a direct threat to the life he has striven to build for his family. Challenging him is an affront to all that he has worked towards, and something you must be punished for.
After pulling out of the originally scheduled bout against McGregor earlier in the year, Aldo now cuts a far more composed figure. The trash talk is old news; recycled, empty words which have no bearing on a physical battle. The attention that has been drawn to this title unification bout provides more people than ever to witness what Aldo sees as another step on the way to MMA immortality.
|Image: Mark L. Baer|
Attention has always been something Aldo has struggled to drum up. The five times he has headlined a PPV have only averaged 216,000 buys. Whilst Aldo has been on pound-for-pound rankings for years, along with being the third longest reigning champion in UFC history, the interest has never been there for the wider audience.
Part of this is his 'marketability', which as the rises of Page Van Zant and Sage Northcutt display, is a larger part of the game than ever before. Aldo doesn't speak English to the degree where he can cut a promo, or even answer back to show that this isn't a one-way war of words.
|Image: Buda Mendes|
Language isn't the only barrier, however. Aldo has been a longstanding thorn in the side of the UFC and Dana White. He's beaten four American fighters, all of whom would have been able to promote their fight better than him. The way in which he has beaten them has been even more frustrating for the UFC brass. White has previously said that, for all Aldo's talents, watching his fights is frustrating as he never really 'goes for it', doesn't go for the kill. Five of his seven defences have gone to the judges.
Even more grating for the UFC is his willingness to be vocal about perceived injustices. Aldo has been a long-standing proponent of a fighters' union. Since the arrival of the much maligned Reebok deal, he has gotten even louder, saying that he knows plenty of fighters that are now making less money than they were before, and that a union would help 'protect' fighters from this kind of ill-informed deal.
It's no wonder then that the UFC has been pushing for the fresh-faced, company man that is Conor McGregor to fight for the belt. Whilst McGregor is in many people's opinion, extremely beneficial for the growth of the UFC, he is also not one to speak out of turn on contentious issues.
The aftermath of UFC 194 will see many questions answered, regardless of outcome. Whilst many proclaim that Aldo has never faced anyone quite like McGregor before, be it the McGregor the personality, or McGregor the fighter, McGregor has never faced a champion like Jose Aldo before. Whoever emerges victorious, it is foolish to ignore the accomplishments of the sport's greatest featherweight champion.
|Image: The Sun|
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