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With WEC Featherweight Title Win, Jose Aldo Completes Rise to MMA Royalty

Jose AldoLadies and gentlemen, last night was a night for the history books. Years from now, you won't remember this column, but you will understand its significance. Because last night, Nov. 18, 2009, was the night that a 23-year-old human highlight reel by the name of Jose Aldo completed his ascension to MMA royalty.

Some of you might be thinking it's way too early to put him in the company of greatness. I've seen enough.

Aldo (16-1) is a singular talent in a world of overachievers. Armed with fast-twitch muscle that makes his standup a thing of destructive beauty, a seasoned ground game, surprisingly effective takedown defense and an even fight temperament, the WEC featherweight phenom laid a beating on defending champion Mike Brown, seizing the belt and starting a reign that has every possibility of lasting for years.

In Brown (22-5), the dynamic Brazilian was facing an opponent who was riding a 10-fight win streak. In theory, Brown was supposed to be the kind of fighter who would be Aldo's kryptonite, a rugged wrestler who can take a punch and is able to put nearly everyone on the ground with his tenaciousness. How do you cancel out a puncher's power? Put him on his back.

In practice, it wasn't much of a contest. Aldo was decidedly faster than Brown, getting to his spots quicker, getting in and out with a landed punch or kick before Brown had a chance to respond. He stuffed takedown tries. He outmaneuvered Brown on the ground. It wasn't so much an indictment on Brown as it was a celebration of Aldo, who has authored an early career highlight to rival the greats of MMA history at a similar stage.

It doesn't hurt Aldo's future marketability as a champion that he also happens to be incredibly charismatic. Upon finishing up a first-round TKO of Rolando Perez back in January, Aldo immediately scaled the cage fence, scampered into the crowd and ran up the San Diego Arena steps to celebrate with the awed fans. He's also used rare moves to dramatic effect, most famously knocking out Cub Swanson with a flying double knee.

As flashy as he can be in the cage, he's also remarkably composed. During pre-fight introductions, he never makes eye contact with his opponent, choosing to concentrate on his own thoughts. During scrambles, he seems to have a knack of ending up with the better positioning, illustrating his poise.

Against Brown, he took advantage of a mistake when the champion slipped backwards to the mat. Aldo immediately capitalized on the position, hitting Brown with a few punches from the side before Brown tried to move to his back and bring Aldo into his guard. Instead, in a flash, Aldo had passed to full mount. Brown gave up his back, and Aldo immediately locked in his hooks, then rained down a hailstorm of punches before referee Steve Mazzagatti had no choice but to stop the fight.

This time around, Aldo's emotions got the better of him, and instead of a raucous celebration, his eyes watered as WEC President Reed Harris placed the belt around his waist.

"He had a great night. He was landing shots, and I wasn't," a bewildered Brown said after the fight. "That's how the game is. He's a great fighter."

He also has every tool necessary to become a dominant champion. His striking will draw inevitable comparisons to that of his fellow countryman and fellow champion Anderson Silva, but we have to keep in mind that Aldo is only 23. Scary thought for all 145ers around the world: He is only going to get better.

Aldo himself makes it sound so simple when he talks. Even translated from his native Portuguese, his words cut to a faith in himself that propelled him into MMA stardom.

"Every athlete," he once said, "has to think, has to imagine that he's the best. If he doesn't, who will?"

Imagine no more. Now, it's just a matter of where he stands in the pound-for-pound conversation.

The win caps off a humble and hard rise for the new champion, who grew up in a poor neighborhood in the city of Manaus, the son of a construction worker who from the age of six was routinely dragged along to help his dad, dragging buckets and materials on job sites. To this day, Aldo speaks emotionally about his family, and says that the biggest benefit of becoming a star in MMA is the opportunity to help them.

After Wednesday night, his life -- their lives -- will begin to change.

This is a simple man with simple goals. When he was recently asked about his dream in life, it was simple: he dreamed of owning his own home.

He has one now: the WEC featherweight division, the House of Aldo.

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