Legendary former featherweight champion José Aldo has made it clear that he has his eyes set on retirement, with his UFC 237 clash this weekend standing as his second-last fight in the UFC.
And when he does eventually hang up his gloves, he will leave the sport with a resumé as stellar as any fighter in recent memory.
Dominant and immovable at the peak of the 145lb ranks, José was able to defeat the finest in his weight-class for a decade before eventually being dethroned.
In thirteen short seconds, Aldo was immortalised forever in the eyes of the mainstream world for his part in perhaps the most famous knockout of the modern era of the UFC.
To those in the know, no loss to Conor McGregor could erase the impact of what he had been able to do during his WEC and UFC run.
For Aldo, from the outside looking in it did appear as though everything from the build-up to the aftermath had well and truly exhausted him.
It really did seem like the inevitable decline had begun.
However, I believe time will prove to be kind to the ‘post-McGregor’ era of Aldo’s career.
Rebounding with a masterful win over Frankie Edgar at UFC 200, we saw one of the most polished performances of José’s career against a guy, in Edgar, who was clearly at the peak of his powers.
A fire seemed to be lit within the former-champ that The Answer couldn’t extinguish. Even still, the narrative that surrounded his return to the octagon had already been pre-written and to this day, that win still stands as a truly underrated clinic from the ever-evolving legend.
Let’s not forget that Frankie went on to defeat both Jeremy Stephens and Yair Rodriguez in the next twelve months after – two wins that have looked better and better as time has gone on.
A pair of losses to the still reigning champion Max Holloway are absolutely nothing to be ashamed of – especially when you factor in that the second was a fight that he took on short-notice.
As I said before, time will prove kind to anyone who has tasted defeat at the hands of the relentless Hawaiian but upon UFC 218’s conclusion, for many – myself included – it did seem as though Aldo’s best days were now behind him.
And perhaps they are, but let’s not forget exactly how incredible a fighter Max Holloway is.
When José was matched up against the resurgent veteran Jeremy Stephens, it was easy to see why many believed that this apparent decline would be capped off with a patented hard-shot from Lil Heathen.
The timing and the matchup were not good for Aldo whatsoever on paper.
On the back of two losses by TKO to the champ, José was getting in there with a fighter, in Stephens, who was known to be one of the hardest punchers the lighter weight-classes had seen in recent years.
This was a man who once nearly decapitated future welterweight contender Rafael dos Anjos with an uppercut – and it was a man who was finding the form of his life, riding a brutal three-fight win-streak.
Immeasurably tough and notoriously difficult to hurt on the feet, many cited the pressure and power of Stephens as a potential final nail in the proverbial coffin of the Nova Uniao icon.
There were those who thought that Aldo wouldn’t last in the face of that pressure.
Holloway had already proven that he could be broken.
On the night itself, José scored his first finish in five years, cracking his opponent with a picture perfect body-shot in the opening round.
THAT BODY SHOT! 😱
— Watch UFC 237 live on BT Sport (@btsportufc) July 29, 2018
He had to overcome some adversity to do so, yes, but with a win over the fourth-ranked contender in the division, at the very least, Aldo had rediscovered some of his momentum.
In Renato Moicano, who was then also ranked fourth upon facing Aldo, the narrative seemed to indicate that the all-Brazilian affair would stand as a passing of the torch from a national hero to a rising talent who was looking to make a name for himself.
José went out there and blasted through him in the second-round with a stunning sequence to record back-to-back finishes for the first time in a decade.
Holy smokes! Aldo reverting back to his old school, aggressive style to obliterate Moicano at #ufcFortaleza. He secured the $50,000 POTN bonus too. That’s two TKO wins on the bounce… how about a No.1 scrap with Brian Ortega? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/FELW6W8wZf
— Andreas M. Georgiou (@andremgeorgiou) February 3, 2019
There was a very unique energy to be found in both of those wins, something that hinted that we could well be witnessing something special.
Whatever storyline we have constructed around Aldo and the path he has been walking for the last three-and-a-half years, finishing two top-five contenders is enough to put it all to bed.
We’re seeing a hungry, hungry José Aldo in there. An Aldo who will know that he is currently frozen out of the divisional title-picture due to the dominant losses he has suffered at the hands of the champ.
But with two fights remaining on his contract, there is every chance that the stars may align for this former pound-for-pound great.
UFC 237 will see Aldo get in there with Alexander Volkanovski in the penultimate showdown of his career – a man who, once again, is the fourth-ranked athlete in the division.
There are pieces moving in the featherweight and lightweight divisions right now and if his patchy history with weight-cutting is any indicator, there’s a strong chance that the champ’s days at 145lbs are numbered.
There’s only so long that a division can be held up and only a limited number of times Max will make that strenuous cut.
If Aldo can overcome one more elite contender at UFC 237, who else would be more deserving of a shot at UFC gold?
If Holly Holm can earn a crack at Amanda Nunes’ bantamweight strap without posting a win in the division since defeating Bethe Correia in 2017, I think that a legend like Aldo should be a shoo-in for a title-shot if he’s coming in with a three-fight win-streak.
The great resurgence of a bonafide icon of the sport.
A late-career revival that saw him overcome an embarrassment of the highest order to find himself with a completely-deserved shot at reclaiming ownership of a division he ruled so dominantly for a long, long time.
The first and only UFC featherweight champion between 2011 and 2015, Aldo has somehow forced his name into the upper echelons of a division that was ready to watch him crumble into an early decline.
And yet, he could well be one fight away from running back the clock with a swansong befitting of his legend.
How about that for a narrative!
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena