It really did seem as though fortune was not on the side of the UFC’s featherweight champion, José Aldo in 2016. With that being said, however, there is the potential in the year ahead for the brilliant Brazilian to remind each and every one of us why exactly he is one of the pound-for-pound greatest to ever don the gloves.
Indeed, 2016 was a strange one for Aldo. Of course he nabbed himself an interim (and later an undisputed) title with a dominant win over Frankie Edgar in his sole fight of the year, but still the year was unquestionably dwarfed by the looming presence of his great foe Conor McGregor – a figure that Aldo must distance himself from in the coming months if he ever wants his chance at revenge.
The fight between Aldo and McGregor at UFC 194 was, of course, a quick and definitive one. The Brazilian was knocked unconscious in 13 seconds and with that McGregor moved on to new targets, pushing his first title win to the back of his mind and refocussing his energies on the future.
The problem and the subject matter of this article stem from the fact that Aldo never truly accepted what happened that night. Or at least that’s how it appears from the outside looking in.
From the post-fight interview onwards he seemed to be in complete denial about the legitimacy of the Irishman’s victory and ever since has spoken incessantly about his desire for a rematch. Which would all be well and good, if it were not for the fact that McGregor has moved on from the victory and Aldo – for lack of a better word – is looking increasingly desperate.
Aldo is, and always will be, one of mixed martial art’s most revered champions. From his vicious and explosive days as the WEC champ to his mature and methodical run in the UFC, Aldo has been on top of the game for his entire career. He will go down as a legend of the sport no matter what and is certain to inspire a whole new generation of fighters to pick up where he will inevitably one day leave off.
With all of that being said, however, Aldo needs to take a leaf out of the books of all the greats and move on from his loss like a man – and more importantly – like a true champion.
There’s no denying it, Aldo’s reputation has taken a tremendous hit in recent times. Of course, there are those who are ‘in the know’ and won’t hold a 13-second KO against him, but even at that the way he handled himself in defeat so far has been pretty disgraceful. A line repeated by Aldo in his post-fight interview was that the 13-second loss ‘was not a fight’ but what I would say – in retaliation to that – is that as soon as those doors close, anything that happens from that point onwards is a fight, and the 30-year-old ran straight into McGregor’s left hand. No ‘ifs’, no ‘buts’, that’s just how it went down.
With 2017 now upon us, Aldo needs to do just one thing, forget about McGregor. From where Aldo stands at this moment, he could not be any further away from the Dubliner. McGregor is simply not occupying the same universe as him right now, and try as he might to whine and complain about the manner in which the fights are being laid out for the promotion’s more popular athletes, he must learn to understand that this is the reality of the sport these days.
Aldo needs to re-evaluate his situation and distinguish the differences between what he can control and what he cannot control. McGregor is completely out of his control presently and, being blunt, nobody wants to see a McGregor-Aldo rematch right now when there are at least four to five more exciting possibilities out there for his comeback fight.
What Aldo most certainly can control right now though is the featherweight division and, more specifically, his next move as its champion.
The one fight that Aldo needs to push for in order to remind the world of his talents is, of course, the long-awaited title unification showdown with the young-gun Max Holloway, who holds the division’s interim title. At this time Aldo should not be focussed on a move to 155lbs or a bout with its champion, he needs to regroup, get his head screwed on right and put everything in his being towards taking out the highly-dangerous Holloway in dominant fashion.
Aldo needs to seriously make a push for the Holloway bout, get it signed and then prepare for it like it’s the last time he will ever fight. If he truly cares about repairing the damage done to his legacy, he needs to go in there and fight Holloway as if his life depends on it because if he doesn’t his name will always be synonymous with his loss to the sport’s biggest star. It is a shame to admit that, but sadly it’s true.
Say Aldo goes in there are destroys Holloway emphatically, unifies the belts, and does it at a reasonably early point in the year, looking like the Aldo of old. Of course, people would talk. Interests would be piqued and some of the damage done to Aldo’s aura would be repaired.
At that point, a move to the lightweight division would be the correct next step. With Holloway defeated, Aldo would pretty much hold a win over each of the division’s top contenders and at 30 would do well to make his next play while time is on his side.
So at that point, Aldo would move to lightweight and take a contender fight, again not resorting to desperate callouts of McGregor, because God knows what he will be doing at that stage. Tony Ferguson made a great point in recent times about the undeniable truth in letting your fighting do the talking for you, and it’s true. If you keep racking up the wins, then eventually you can stake your claim to anything. This is the fight business first, second and third, despite what some may think.
If Aldo can beat Holloway and then make a move up to 155lb and take a win, only then can he justify calling out his great rival again. And the sad, but true, reason that only this will suffice is because he has done too much damage with his antics post-UFC 194. The modern day fans of MMA can be a cruel bunch but since so much – especially where McGregor is concerned – surrounds what the fans want, Aldo will have his work cut out to re-establish himself as legitimately deserving of a rematch in their eyes.
I’m in no way saying Aldo will, or even can, do all of this. I’m not saying he’ll beat Holloway or any top lightweight and I’m most definitely not saying that if he faces ‘The Notorious’ once more, the exact same thing would not happen again. What I am saying is that his mentality has been all wrong and that if he truly wants his shot at redemption, this is the path he would do well to follow.
I genuinely do wish Aldo the best of luck for the year ahead. His treatment by both the UFC and the fans has bordered on disgraceful at times when you take into account his achievements.
But alas, it really does take two to tango and for Aldo’s year to be a successful one, he most certainly needs to take a step back and evaluate his own part in how it all worked out the way it did.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena