Jose Aldo never really wanted to fight Anthony Pettis. It wasn't fair, he thought, that the lightweight could move down a division, jump several contenders, and face him for the belt. Eventually, he was convinced to take the match with a promise: with a win at UFC 163, he would get a chance to make a similar move, up to lightweight and an automatic title shot.
Of course, his matchup with Pettis did not happen. The American fighter suffered an injury and bowed out of the match, making way for "The Korean Zombie," Chan Sung Jung, a natural featherweight.
And with the quasi cross-division match off the table, it appears, so is the stipulation that went with it.
On a Thursday conference call for UFC 163, Aldo took a step back from his previous request, and said he'd made no decision about what would come next, assuming he performs as he usually does and emerges with his 16th straight win.
"It’s hard to say right now," he said through his interpreter Derek Lee. "I want to take one step at a time. I want to focus on the fight I have on August 3 against the Korean Zombie. And we'll see what happens from there, if I make the move or I stay in my weight class. We'll have to take one step at a time."
It is a match that few saw coming at the current time, if only because Jung has spent over a year away from the action, restoring his health after shoulder surgery last summer. With Ricardo Lamas riding a four-fight win streak, he seemed a more likely choice -- even Jung himself thought Lamas would be the UFC's pick to step in for Pettis.
As a result, Jung could hardly believe it when he received the word that he'd been chosen. In fact, he said he still harbored a bit of skepticism about the whole thing until he heard Dana White officially announce it to the world
The change forced Aldo to change parts of his training, going from the smooth and creative Pettis to the aggressive but evolving Sung, but this fight, he had no reservations about. This time, he saw a deserving adversary.
"I think he’s fought his way through. He deserves to be there, and he’s shown he deserves to be the contender," he said. "Everyone wants to fight for the title but right now he deserves it."
The fight could serve as a boon to Korean MMA. Jung said there has been a strong response from both the mass media and the general public, growing interest not only in his fight, but in the sport itself.
But Aldo is not yet ready to give away his crown, at least not yet. With Anderson Silva's recent loss, Aldo boasts the second-longest reign of any current UFC champion, with 1,346 days at the top since capturing the former WEC belt back in 2009.
Perhaps one day soon he will tire of the weight cut and vacate the belt, an unbeaten champion. That's just something he can't say for sure right now.
"I can’t try to take too big of a step," he said. "I've got to focus on next opponent to be able to make a decision. I respect my opponent and I can’t overlook him."