At the time, it seemed innocuous enough.
Jose Aldo hit Chan Sung Jung with a leg kick which landed directly on Jung's left knee at the 2:30 mark of the first round of their UFC 163 main event at Rio's HSBC Arena. Aldo's face didn't register any ill effects from the kick. But he also didn't throw another strike for 45 seconds.
That second strike was a halfhearted leg kick, as if Aldo was testing his right foot to see if it could stand up. Not too long thereafter, if you're looking for it (which none of us were as the fight transpired live), the welt on Aldo's foot becomes noticeable.
Another minute passed before Aldo brought his rarely used wrestling game into the fray, scoring a takedown. Late in the round, he went for the finish with a wheel kick, then noticeably limped for a step before attempting a flying knee just before the horn.
"When the fight started the first thing I did, I kicked him, and he put his knees and the first time I kicked him," Aldo said at the post-fight press conference. "I don't know if I broke my foot I know it's very swollen."
And that's how it all went down. Injured, Aldo had to adapt his game. That he was able to do so in the manner he did -- handily winning the first three rounds and then pouncing like a bird of prey when he saw his opening in the fourth -- could make Aldo's victory over "The Korean Zombie" one of the most impressive wins in the reign of the fighter who just might be Zuffa's most under-appreciated long-term champion.
Granted, it takes two to tango. Maybe Jung was waiting to turn up the heat over the final two rounds. Maybe he was showing rust after being out for more than a year. Maybe he was overwhelmed in his biggest career spotlight. Either way, Aldo adapted and effortlessly showed off both his wrestling and the vaunted jiu-jitsu game we've heard so much about, but rarely seen.
"I had to change my strategy, I had to totally change up," the longtime champ added. "I tried to counterattack him. I knew I won three rounds, so I tried to do a little of everything, boxing, wrestling, and some jiu-jitsu."
A win over Jung in and of itself doesn't make Aldo an all-time great, but it invites a look at the big picture. The 23-1 Aldo has won 13 consecutive Zuffa fights. That puts him just three short of Anderson Silva's company record. He's the third-longest reigning champion in Zuffa history, behind Silva and Georges St-Pierre. He's already defeated four of the five fighters ranked directly underneath him in the most recent MMAFighting.com featherweight rankings. And he just handily defeated a fighter while essentially fighting on one foot for most of the fight.
Bottom line: It's time to start talking about Jose Aldo among the sport's all-time great champions.
UFC 163 Quotes
"I lost to Alexis Davis in Strikeforce. I'd love to have a rematch with her in the UFC. I'd really like that. -- Amanda Nunes, on who she'd like next after her impressive UFC debut against Sheila Gaff.
"Machida definitely won that fight, definitely. But that's his fault. He knows MMA judging sucks. It's terrible, it's [expletive], but he went out there and let him do it. I can't remember whether it was the first or the second, but Machida had that combination where he threw all those punches and ran across the cage and ended with that knee. That's when he's really good. But he wants to stay back and be a counter puncher and wait and fight cautiously." -- Dana White's take on Machida-Davis, to Yahoo! Sports' Kevin Iole
Stock up: Thales Leites
A fighter who once headlined a UFC pay-per-view and challenged Silva for the middleweight title, Leites waited four years for his chance to return to the company, racking up six wins in seven fights in the process. Leites not only looked impressive against Tom "Kong" Watson, but he also seemed to address his harshest critiques. Leites has always been known as a superb MMA jiu-jitsu player, he showed from the get-go that he's still got that down pat. But he had long been criticized for his lack of a standup game and for his conditioning. He proved he's improved on the latter by standing in the pocket and trading with the solid-chinned Watson. And, when he appeared tired at the end of the second round, he found his second wind and came out and dominated the third. Granted, one win over Tom Watson isn't enough to vault you up the rankings. But Leites could not have asked for a better outcome in his UFC return.
Stock down: Vinny Magalhaes
Magalhaes picked up on training partner Chael Sonnen's gift for gab over the past couple years. The light heavyweight trolled former fight promotion M-1 with an Ebay prank last year, and he trolled his way into a fight with Phil Davis. Unfortunately, while Sonnen has also managed to fight his way to a main-event level, Magalhaes hasn't been able to back up his words. A 14-second knockout at the hands of 40-year-old Anthony Perosh dropped Magalhaes to 1-4 in the Octagon over his two UFC stints. More time spent on his standup and less on social media would serve Magalhaes well.
Brian Stann was a revelation in his debut as a pay-per-view color commentator. He was on point. He was even-keeled. He scored the fights as he went. He offered constructive criticism without snark. He was able to take MMA's more complex aspects and explain them on the fly in a way which made it easy for casual fans to understand, but did so without insulting the intelligence of the more hardcore fans. He didn't veer off on unrelated tangents. And he gave equal weight to all areas of the fight, instead of fixating on one aspect of the game, like, say, jiu-jitsu.
If that's taken as a swipe at Joe Rogan, so be it. In 2013, the UFC is a network television property and the level of professionalism in the announce booth should match that status. Stann's commentary was an eye-opener. It's time for Rogan to stop coasting and step up his game.
My initial reaction to the Lyoto Machida vs. Phil Davis decision was that it was one of the worst decisions I've ever seen. Having slept on it, having rewatched the fight, and having taken a look at the FightMetric stats, while I still think Machida deserved the win, I can see how Davis wrested away the decision.
Davis was a clear-cut winner in the second round. In addition to scoring a takedown, and in addition to it being Machida's most inactive round, Davis outstruck Machida in the round, 11-7. That accounts for the difference in Davis landing more total strikes over the course of the fight, 29-27.
But fights are scored on a round-by-round basis, not on a whole. Machida landed more significant strikes in both rounds one and round three. He also outlanded Davis in every area except leg strikes in round three.
Davis landed precisely two of his 10 takedown attempts during his fight. Machida not only defended eight of them, but often did so in a manner in which he shook off Davis in his first attempt and didn't allow for second- or third-chance opportunities.
But the only two which counted in the judges' eyes were the ones which landed at the end of each of the first two rounds. Kudos to Davis for being smart enough to know that the final impressions could be the ones that make the difference with the judges. You can't fault him for executing a path to victory. But shame on the judges for falling for it.
Fight I'd like to see next: Jose Aldo Jr. vs. Ricardo Lamas
Maybe Jose Aldo really is having trouble making 145, as much as he tried to play it off. You can't blame him for feeling like he's cleaned out the competition at featherweight, after all, he's been the champion since 2009 and the only fighter who's ever given him trouble along the way is Frankie Edgar, a former lightweight champion.
But Ricardo Lamas lurks.
Lamas has won four straight fights in impressive fashion, and he was robbed of his opportunity to fight in a title eliminator when Jung was plucked from their UFC 162 bout to fight Aldo. So let's see Aldo take on the last remaining major challenge he has yet to face before we turn him lose on the 155-pound division.