At UFC 179, Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes fought one of the best fights of the year. It was the kind of fight that elevated both men afterwards. They tested each other throughout the fight with Aldo retaining his title. It had all the elements of a great title fight with each fighter seizing the momentum for a moment before the other took it back. Here is a close look at how Aldo retained the title.
Sometimes sequels are greater than the original
Sequels are tough. You are more likely to get Caddyshack 2 than you are Godfather II. It all comes down to why was the sequel made. In the case of Godfather II, there was more story to tell. While Caddyshack 2 was all about trying to cash in on the popularity of the first one. In this case, Aldo vs Mendes II made sense as Mendes had made himself the #1 contender at featherweight.
While Godfather II had a great story it was the performances of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino the elevate that movie’s greatness. They never appeared onscreen together in the movie but it was their mesmerizing portrayals of the two different Don Corleone’s; De Niro’s Vito and Pacino’s Michael.
It was the performances of Mendes and Aldo that elevated this fight. It was an amazing mixture of fighting with the hearts of warriors and the technique of artists. Even as the damage accumulated during the battle they still maintained a high level of skill.
We got glimpses of that in their original fight. That one ended in a highlight reel knockout for Aldo that came at the end of the first round. It was a good fight with an exciting ending. One that gets replayed a lot in the highlights. It was not a classic fight though. Not like the second one. This one was a classic – the greatest UFC featherweight title fight for Aldo who is still the only fighter to hold that belt. Mendes got closer than anyone else had in the other fights and he was facing the best version of Aldo we have seen.
They each had made improvements since their first fight. For Mendes, he had discovered the ability to knock people out and vastly improved his striking overall. We knew his striking was better but how had it improved? Could he strike with someone like Aldo?
In Mendes’ 5-0 run since his lost to Aldo he had faced grappling based fighters with varying levels of striking. Most of his opponents had made glaring mistakes that Aldo would not make in their fight. We had yet to see Mendes stand with a high level striker and Aldo is one of the best in MMA today.
It was the big improvements in Mendes’ striking and the subtle ones in Aldo’s cardio and jab, that made this fight so special. While Aldo won the fight and out struck him, Mendes was in it until the end. He also put more damage on Aldo than any other opponent.
Afterwards, Dana White would call in the greatest featherweight title fight he had ever seen. It is easiest the best fight we have seen for either Mendes or Aldo. For all of its greatness it is almost ended eerily similar to the first one.
We have all seen the Aldo knee that ended their first fight many times since it happened. It had been an exciting round and Mendes had several nice moments in the round until the knee. In this fight, Mendes had a good first round and almost got finished at the end of it.
Round 1: It all begins
The opening minutes of the sequel are important and tricky. They must harken back to the original but give us something different at the same time. We got something new right away in this fight as Mendes came out using constant motion. We also got a taste of the previous as Aldo fired away with pinpoint accuracy. They each landed some clean shots in the early moments of the fight and the two would continue to land huge strikes for the full five rounds.
To start the fight Mendes switched stances several times and moved similarly to the way T.J. Dillashaw did in his fight with Renan Barao. While many wanted to use that fight as to the reason why Mendes would win this fight we would quickly see the differences between the fighters.
Mendes likes to set down more on his punches and use his power while Dillashaw has used movement much more in his fights than Mendes. Making it more difficult for Mendes was Aldo who is a different fighter than Barao. They both counter well but Aldo is better at coming forward and pressuring his opponent. It helped him that he had an opponent more willing to stand in front of him at various times in the fight.
Mendes lands the first big blow
The first solid strikes were from Aldo who landed during a flurry off two quick combos. First a right hook-left hook-right hook one, then a second moments later that started off of a Mendes low kick. Aldo timed it with a right hook-left hook combination to the body. The left hook land solidly. The strikes ignited the crowd which was still roaring when Mendes ducked under a right hand and just missed with a counter right hook.
They trade some glancing blows. At best they may have clipped each other and then at the 4:06 mark Aldo lead with a right uppercut. Mendes covered up and ducked inside of the strike’s range. As he came back up and back he torqued his body around bringing up the lefthand as Aldo was also moving back. The lefthand landed like a lightning strike and sent the off-balance Aldo down and backwards to the canvas. Showing that he went down due more to the effect timing of the blow landing as he was off-balance, Aldo popped up immediately.
It was the first big strike of the fight and it came at the right time for Mendes. The first flurry did not hurt him but it got the crowd going and gave Aldo the momentum. Mendes took that back with the left hook. It was not scored a knockdown and it was clear that Aldo went down as a result of the punch, but he was not hurt.
After Aldo regained his feet Mendes just missed with a vicious uppercut along the cage. Aldo quickly moved to the center of the cage. As soon as Mendes got set in front of him for a moment Aldo landed a crisp jab. It seemed to slow Mendes down who was suddenly content to stand in front of Aldo. It could have been due to landing the left hook and thinking that might have been hurt, but he was now doing exactly what he did want to do in this fight. Stand in front of Aldo.
This allowed Aldo to slow the pace of the fight down and stop Mendes’ momentum. He started to really use his fakes and feints. This lead to his jab also being utilized more. First with several one-two combos in a row. Then a jab and a hard body kick. They moved to the fence and more of Mendes standing in front of Aldo. He was having just enough success and was not getting punished hard for it yet.
Then with two minutes left in the round Aldo landed a hard jab-straight right hand combo. He tried following it up with a knee but Mendes had his head tucked properly and absorbed the strikes and moved back to avoid the knee. Mendes shook his head and smiled at Aldo. It did not seem like one of the smiles that fighter gives off when they are rocked by a strike. It was more like Mendes saying I saw that knee coming easily.
Moments later Mendes landed a jab-jab-overhand right combo. The two jabs were solid while the overhand clipped him as Aldo was just able to move his head enough to avoid being caught cleanly. From there Mendes again went back to standing in front of Aldo. He could have comfortable due to the success he was having with his hands.
The eye poke slowed the fight down and hurt Mendes who was swaying the momentum of the round his way. As Aldo dealt with his eye Mendes paced around like a caged predator hungry for more than just a meal and aching for some prey.
When the action restarted Mendes bounds into Aldo’s face. They flurry with Mendes landing a good body shot in the exchange. Some wicked hooks that just missed sent Mendes backwards. Aldo used the distance to step in and land a nice knee to the face. Mendes ate it and used it to get Aldo down for a tenth of a second before they were back up.
They reset again with Mendes being stationary. He threw a jab. Aldo slipped it and threw a little overhand right that was more of a setup for the followup left hook than a power punch itself. It worked perfectly and the left hook landed cleanly knocking Mendes backwards and down.
With 39 seconds left in the fight it looked like Aldo could get the finish. Mendes seemed to be in trouble and the place was going crazy. Aldo landed several solid shots and moved into mount with 22 seconds left. Aldo landed a good elbow and couple of punches before Mendes was able to roll out and up.
Aldo landed another one-two and Mendes countered with a solid lefthand. They missed and then a good uppercut from Aldo had Mendes rocked again. As he stood there Aldo landed a righthand that snapped the head back. Followed up quickly by another lefthand-righthand that both found Mendes’ face. The right sent him backwards into the cage. He was able to keep his butt off of the floor but was clearly rocked.
The punches were late but seemed worse on TV than live according to Dana White and others in the area. It was telling that neither Mendes, nor anyone in his corner seemed to think it was late. Mendes did not get caught because he relaxed at the buzzer he got caught because he was stunned from the previous blows.
The end of the round locked it up for Aldo. It had been a great round that saw both fighters seem like they were starting to gain control only to have the other come back. Aldo was more active in the round and out landed Mendes with 42 of 82 overall strikes and 37 0f 77 significant ones to Mendes’ 25 of 44 overall and the same for significant ones. Mendes did not get credit for a takedown or a knockdown while Aldo was awarded one knockdown.
Mendes had pushed the champ but needed to do more if he was going to take the title. First and foremost was to survive the start of the second round. He was rocked hard at the end and looked dazed going back to his corner. Despite how bad it looked Mendes showed great resiliency.
Round 2: Do not make a controversy out of nothing
Mendes bounced around in the octagon as they waited for the second round to start. It was hard to tell how much the blows had affected him. The two strikes did not seem dirty more than they were part of the combo that Aldo threw. He did not seem to hear the buzzer and the referee was slow to react.
If Aldo had ended the fight in the opening moments of the second round then maybe there was an issue. If he had thrown the one strike, paused, then threw the next two after he heard the buzzer then again, maybe something to examine. However, if you watch it in real-time, and for the last few seconds the strikes flow naturally within the combo and if anything the referee was a little too far away. Thankfully, Mendes recovered and had one of his best rounds of the fight.
Once again he whiffed on the only takedown attempt but it was almost dead even in the striking numbers with Aldo. For the round Mendes landed 16 of 43 total strikes and like the first round only threw significant ones. Aldo matched him by doing the same and landed 18 0f 41 significant/total strikes.
Back to the movement, and somewhere Joe Rogan is telling someone about a steel Thai cup
While Mendes had some success standing in the pocket with Aldo he also had come up short in the round and was almost finished. His best moments had come from his movement based attack. It might not be as effective against Aldo as it was for Dillashaw against Barao, but it was certainly better than becoming a semi-stationary target for Aldo. Like the first round Mendes started this one with movement the question was whether or not he could stay with it for the round. It is hard not to fall back into old tendencies when a fighter gets rocked.
The spend the first fifty seconds trying to find an opening with each landing a glancing strike or two when Mendes landed the cleanest shot so far. Unfortunately it was right to Aldo’s special man-parts. It was not intentional but it helped Mendes clear any remaining cobwebs from the end of the previous round while Aldo cleared the weird sharp-ache in his groin.
The action resumed and they both moved backwards and out to avoid the other’s strikes. It showed that their reflexes were still sharp and Mendes looked completely recovered. We see the movement really being showcased with multiple stance switches. The result for the round is it ultimately help contribute to lessening Aldo’s output. He threw half the strikes in the second round than he did the third and landed 14 less. While Mendes threw one less and landed nine fewer in the second than he did in the third.
It could also have been a by-product of each other’s power. People were prepared for Mendes’ power but many seemed to have forgotten about Aldo’s, who had received criticism lately for not finishing fights. In the WEC he had finished every fight except the one with Urijah Faber. Giving him seven finishes in eight wins including the final one with Manny Gamburyan to determine who would be the first UFC featherweight champ.
Aldo has defended the belt seven times in the UFC now with only two finishes. Much of that has to do with the level of competition he has faced in the UFC. He has faced some of the best fighters and while he has not stopped five of them, he has won them fairly easily only dropping four or five rounds total in them. During those title defenses he had also fixed the few little mistakes he was making becoming one of the most complete fighters in the UFC.
As the round progressed it was more of Aldo playing matador to Mendes’ attacks. Aldo moved back and over just enough to avoid the strikes but was not in a position to counterstrike effectively. The most significant two moments of the first two minutes came inside the last fifteen seconds.
The first one happened when Aldo swept out Mendes’ leg when he tried a high kick. Aldo timed it perfectly and kicked out the leg on the ground causing Mendes to drop down with a thud. He popped back up and was ready moments later to check an Aldo low kick. It was one of the rare naked leg kicks and Mendes checked it with the knee and shook his finger and head at Aldo. Moments later Mendes waggled his head. At the same time his movement started to slow down.
There were a little under three minutes left in the round. Neither fighter had lost the round nor had they done enough to really be ahead in it. Aldo landed his best strike of the round solid lead right hand to the body right down the middle. It is an excellent strike to use against someone using a lot of movement. The body is a much bigger target to hit than the head and like leg kicks body shots will also slow down a fighter. Mendes answered back with a hard body kick of his own.
Entering the final two minutes of the round Aldo started to use his jab. First one to the body then snapped Mendes’ head back. A double jab helped escape a Mendes attack. Then another one landed as Aldo used several of them to back Mendes up. Who responded with two right hands to the head. This lead to a thudding lefthand to the body from Aldo. Then another jab. That lead to the both of them feinting and faking for almost fifteen seconds before they each missed with big hooks.
Going into the final minute it was tough round to score. Neither fighter had established control of the round or even the momentum like in the first. Instead it was one where Aldo had been able to cruise and with a strong finish would be up 2-0. The final minute of the round would determine it.
Aldo started coming forward and landed another lead righthand to the body. Feints and fakes, feints and fakes from each fighter lead to a head kick from Aldo that Mendes blocked. Nonetheless, it got the crowd cheering. They dance around looking for an opening and each miss on big strikes. Aldo caught him with a good left coming in. At the end of the round Mendes’ switched stances and landed a solid left while Aldo countered with good righthand of his own.
It is the type of round that will go to the champ. He slightly out landed Mendes and judges are human. They are used to seeing the champion win, especially Aldo, so they can lean towards him on the close rounds. It is the type of round that if it went to Mendes it would not be horrible but it is Aldo’s round by a thin margin.
Round 3: Aldo Takes Control
The round started with both fighters swinging away and missing. Then Aldo landed a jab and moments later a lead left hook that glanced off of the side of the head. At the same time Mendes put his hand out again and once again caught Aldo in the eye with one of his fingers. After the break the action resumed and they each landed a couple of nice shots with Aldo getting the better of the exchanges. The first minute was filled with action. They started to slow a little as the round continued.
Once again Mendes was getting lulled into standing instead of moving. He used his hands out in front to check the jab. Aldo countered by leading with a quick left hook that sent Mendes staggering for a few steps. Mendes reset himself and started to circle away on the outside to his right and Aldo used it to land a quick one-two and then another left hook just missing on two more.
Another jab from Aldo and Mendes came back with a nice little uppercut. Then a good left hook and a finally a glancing righthand. The problem was that they were all three single shots instead of put together in a combo. Aldo was doing an excellent job of not sitting still and giving him a target to hit.
Now the round had settled into Aldo’s pace again. It was less frenetic and more controlled. It allowed him to conserve energy and land some clean shots. With two minutes left it was Aldo round so far.
Then Mendes almost changed everything with a beautiful uppercut. It started with Aldo leading with a jab with his left leg out front. Mendes ducked under the jab and usually fighters try to go for Aldo’s leg and a takedown here. It is what he is trying to induce by leaving his leg out and he is prepared to stop the takedown and usually counter off of it. Mendes did reach for the leg. Aldo had lowered his hands to stop the takedown. Instead, Mendes landed a hard right uppercut that rocked Aldo. He followed that up with a double left hook. The second one landed flush and Aldo looked like he could be in trouble but he responded with a righthand to the body and one to the head.
It was just a few beats later that Mendes had Aldo with his back close to the cage and he stepped in with a jab. Aldo slid slightly to his right to avoid the punch and land a solid, clean righthand that sent Mendes scrambling to keep himself upright. Aldo sensing that Mendes was wounded came after him hard. His flying knee was intercepted by Mendes who tried to use it to get a takedown. Instead Aldo held him down and landed a big lefthand before Mendes could get back up.
Aldo came forward righthand-left hook-righthand-left hook that all landed to some degree. Another desperate Mendes takedown resulted in Aldo raining down ten right hands to the side of Mendes’ head. They were damaging blows and Mendes had his hand up but they were still scoring. They scrambled and Aldo landed two more good left hands before Mendes could tie him up with another takedown attempt.
There was a minute left in the round and Mendes had him against the fence with his arms locked around Aldo’s waist. Mendes went to foot stomps and a few baby knees to the back of Aldo’s legs. With 22 seconds left in the round Aldo seemed bored by it and turned himself around and they were holding each other at arm’s length talking for a moment and they both nodded slightly and smiled. They stayed clinched up until just a few seconds left and Mendes landed a little left hook when they separated.
It was another exciting round that saw Aldo outwork Mendes. He landed 33 0f 78 overall and 21 of 66 significant strikes while Mendes landed 18 of 44 overall and 10 of 35 significant ones. Going into the championship rounds Aldo had a 3-0 lead in rounds maybe 2-1 at worst. Mendes needed a big fourth round to keep himself in this fight.
Round 4: Mendes Responds
Entering into the championship rounds Mendes looked as tired as Aldo. Many people still thought that the way to beat Aldo was push him early and then hurt him in the later rounds. This is because of the Mark Hominick fight and the Frankie Edgar fight. In both Aldo did slow down in the final round and that is it. Aldo slowed down and lost the round in each fight and since you do not get extra credit for winning the last round Aldo won both fights easily on the judges scorecards.
That is how good Aldo is right now. People are pointing to examples where fighters had good rounds against him late as the way to beat him. Many people were saying that this was Mendes’ best chance to win the fight because he has such great cardio. There was several problems with this thinking and we saw them in this fight.
First off the Hominick fight was over three and half years ago and came after the worst weight cut in Aldo’s career. He had fixed those holes and cuts weight much easier these days. Hominick also was able to exploit Aldo’s weak jab in that fight. Something else Aldo fixed turning his jab into one of the best in the UFC. In the Edgar fight he won a round but clearly lost that fight due to the damage he took in the first three. In regards to this fight for all of the talk about Mendes’ cardio it was Aldo who had actually gone five rounds in his career having done it four times before this fight.
Despite all of that Mendes did come out and outwork Aldo in the fourth round. Actually he did not outwork more that he was more accurate. They both threw 40 strikes each in the round with all of them being significant. Mendes landed 17 of them to Aldo’s nine. It was the lost output for either of them to this point in the fight.
The first minute of the fourth goes by without either of them landing anything of consequence. Aldo seemed content to let Mendes move around on the outside and then avoid him when he tried to strike. Then Aldo started to get going a little throwing out a couple of lead strikes. They moved around the cage with Aldo on the outside and Mendes in the center stalking. He landed a couple of good body shots and then another nice little uppercut.
Aldo’s left eye was starting to swell up from Mendes’ righthand. Then an accidental head-butt with a little under three minutes left in the round opened up a little cut and really got the eye swelling up. By the end of the night it would be almost closed. Mendes had a little cut on his hairline from the head-butt himself. None of which would ultimately affect the fight.
They exchange a few combos with each landing some glancing blows but neither hurting the other. The next minute of the round they both slowed down. They used their feints and fakes to try to find an opening.
The final minute of the round started with Mendes landing a couple of nice combos. Then forty seconds later Aldo landed a couple of his own that backed Mendes up. This prompted Aldo to attempt another flying knee that just missed. They have one more quick little exchange before the round ended. A round that was clearly Mendes’ best one. The best he could feel going into the fifth was that he was even at 2-2 and likely down 3-1. He needed to come out and take over the final round if he wanted to become th new champ.
Round 5: Still the King
In the final round Aldo blew up the lack of cardio myth. It was his output that stayed the same while Mendes’ went down along with his title hopes. Aldo landed 20 of 48 overall strikes and 17 of 45 significant ones. While Mendes could only manage 9 of 32 all of them significant. Overall for the fight Aldo landed 122 of 289 total and 102 of 269 significant strikes to Mendes’ 85 of 203 overall and 77 of 194 significant ones. If you are going to wear someone down you actually have to outwork them. In this case Mendes came up short and it was actually Aldo that seemed to wear him down.
To his credit Mendes came out to start the final round and landed several solid shots right away. Aldo responded with two of his own. Aldo was in control of the fight but Mendes was letting him know that he was not going way and that Aldo was going to have to win this fight. Two more hard shots from Aldo had Mendes slowed down.
Then he faked a jab and shot in behind it and got the takedown. Suddenly Aldo looked like he could be in trouble. There was 4:10 left in the fight and he was on the ground with his legs stuck between Mendes’. Maybe Mendes could finish a tired Aldo in this spot with his ground and pound. Instead they spent almost a minute fighting over little areas and inches. Finally Aldo was able to get up and free. It was a lost moment for Mendes. He finally got the takedown after 20 minutes and all he achieved was some top control but landed no strikes and did no damage. If anything it seemed to allow Aldo to rest. When they got up Mendes did land a little uppercut before Aldo shoved him away.
Now with just over three minutes left in the round and when Mendes needed to do something it was Aldo who had him slowly backing up. Then a lead left hook with a two beats and a left check hook-righthand combo. All three strikes landed solidly. A hard knee to the body from Aldo had Mendes looking for another takedown. They ended up with Mendes on his knees and Aldo over him looking to take his back.
Mendes worked his way back to his feet and turned away from the cage. On the break he just missed with a little lefthand. There were 2:30 left in the round. They stood in the middle and Aldo landed three strikes to Mendes’ one.
Now Mendes started to throw everything with power looking to change the fight with one strike. This left him a little open and Aldo rocked him with a left-right combo. Mendes countered with a hard right hand of his own that found Aldo’s face. They both were exhausted but willing themselves to move and throw strikes. Mendes attempted another takedown that Aldo stuffed easily.
With a minute left in the fight Mendes needed a finish to get the win. A jab-righthand to the body combo from Aldo goes unanswered. Fakes and feints and they both miss. Now thirty seconds left in the fight. Mendes shoots in faking a takedown and threw a vicious uppercut that Aldo easily avoided. Mendes landed a hard body kick with twenty seconds but cannot follow it up. A solid righthand counter from Aldo as Mendes came in sends him backwards slightly. They exchange a couple of punches. Aldo attempted a leaping kick and then a final head kick before the buzzer.
It was one of the best title fights in the UFC, one that revealed layers of greatness in both fighters. The fight was back and forth with each fighter looking like they were on the verge of taking over when the other would respond. Aldo was able to continually slightly edge ahead each round except the fourth.
Mendes was the first fighter to really push this version of Aldo and he responded beautifully showing us that he is one of the greatest ever. It takes challengers like Mendes to show us this kind of greatness. He fought with a championship heart, tremendous skill and was just beaten by a greater fighter.
cover image credit – UFC
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