Originally scheduled to feature Frankie Edgar in the main event, the UFC 218 card was shuffled around and will showcase a rematch between the UFC Featherweight champion, Max Holloway and former 145 lbs champion Jose Aldo. Edgar, a former UFC Lightweight champion, sustained an injury in training, prompting Aldo to sign for another contest against Holloway. The 25-year-old Hawaiian knocked out the former champion in the third round of their previous bout earlier this year.
In many ways, the event in Detroit, MI this Saturday could be a defining chapter in the career of the Brazilian athlete. Known for his extensive winning streak during the heyday of the WEC and his efficiency to land strikes, Aldo has fought professionally for the majority of his life. Turning pro at just 17, he escaped poverty in his native country through mixed martial arts. During his time in the WEC, the Zuffa-owned promotion that featured lighter weight classes before they were brought to the UFC, Jose Aldo embarked on an incredible winning streak and defeated every major contender in the 145 lbs division.
By the time Also stepped into the octagon to defend his Featherweight title against the charismatic Conor McGregor in 2015, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt was undefeated for a decade, generating an 18-fight win streak and a record of 25-1. Quite simply, Aldo had no glaring flaws in his game, and the UFC 194 main event was probably the biggest stage in both fighters’ careers at that point. It took just 14 seconds for McGregor to clip Aldo with a counter left hook, sending the 145 kingpin to the canvas. The referee halted the contest, and Conor’s status as the top star in the promotion was cemented after the dynamic performance.
At UFC 200, Aldo defeated the previously mentioned Edgar via unanimous decision to win an interim 145 belt to rebound from the KO loss. Still, much of the aura around him had diminished, and the loss against Holloway earlier this year left his career path without much direction. Aldo didn’t compete often in recent years, fighting at the most twice annual or sometimes just once a year. That scenario is a double-edged swords in some ways in terms of perception. When Aldo dominated the competition, his schedule almost added to his persona, as each bout was a rare appearance and seemed like a “special event” when he fought in the octagon. On the flip side, much of the mystic that surrounded him disappeared when he was KO’ed in 14 seconds, and his lack of fighting on a regular basis didn’t give him the opportunity to truly reestablish himself.
If Aldo had fought more often instead of just once last year and once so far this year, he might’ve generated momentum ahead of this title rematch. Granted, an injury led to the replacement, but a title rematch after a KO loss doesn’t exactly lend itself to the promotional aspect of a pay-per-view event. At the same time, Conor McGregor’s decision to vacate the 145 lbs belt left the division somewhat flat.
As much as UFC brass tried to shoehorn McGregor’s status as a two-division champion last year to use it as a marketing tool to be able to promote him even further, it came back to bite them. When McGregor was granted a shot at Eddie Alvarez for the 155 lbs championship, it was specifically to give the Dublin native the chance to win titles in two divisions at the same time. Conor never defended the belt that he won when he defeated Aldo, opting to move up to 155 to remain the Lightweight champion, which is why he vacated the Featherweight belt. Since that time, McGregor decided to cash in on a major payday to fight Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match, but still hasn’t defended the Lightweight title he won last year. As big of a star as Conor is, it’s ironic that he technically has zero title defenses in the UFC. After the rumored $100 million he made to fight Floyd, there’s speculation that McGregor might not return to the cage again, which would drastically reduce the amount of star power that the company has to promote on pay-per-view.
Essentially, the opportunity cost to promote and market Conor McGregor as strong as the UFC did left two weight classes without a direction or potential big money fights on the table. Plus, it did nothing to help solidify athletes in the divisions to possibly become stars themselves if they defeat McGregor. In some ways, McGregor became too big of a star for the UFC, because he can basically dictate his own terms at this point because of the major cash he made to fight Floyd, and for how strongly the UFC promoted him as the top star of the company. If he doesn’t want to fight in the octagon for another year, what’s Dana White going to do? Strip him of the title? If things go sour between McGregor and WME, Conor has more leverage in the negotiations because the company needs the star power, while the brash fighter doesn’t necessarily need the cash. So, while Dana White will probably yield to Conor’s demands to eventually get him to fight again and draw money on pay-per-view, the entire lightweight division flounders without a fighting champion.
How does this whole situation affect Jose Aldo?
The former champion needs a strong showing to stay relevant, which sounds odd because he only has three career losses, but again, his lack of a regular schedule hasn’t generated much momentum, and he was knocked out in two of his last three contests. After such an extended career, is it possible that Aldo is past his prime? Keep in mind, he had to cancel fights several times in his career because of injuries so it’s possible that it took a toll on him. At 31, Aldo should have at least a few more years of competition in his career, but his performance this Saturday might determine his options in the future.
The downside of all this is that if Aldo wins the championship without defeating the former champion, it might still label him as the “fighter that couldn’t beat McGregor to become champion,” similar to the unfair notion that Daniel Cormier isn’t a completely legitimate champion because he didn’t defeat Jon Jones when Bones tested positive for PEDs.
It remains to be seen it Aldo can be victorious in the rematch or if it answers any of the questions about his career, but UFC 218 does provide Max Holloway with a chance to make himself a star. Obviously, the scenario provides the opportunity for a new competitor to earn the top spot in the division so it’s undoubtedly an important main event.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
E mail firstname.lastname@example.org | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta
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