At times on Saturday night, it appeared Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes were paying homage to Brazil's old-school, no rules, vale tudo fighting tradition.
Aldo and Mendes got down and dirty in front of a raucous Rio de Janeiro crowd for 25 minutes Saturday night at UFC 179. In the end, after a foul-filled brawl, Aldo retained his UFC featherweight title via unanimous decision.
The across-the-board scores were 49-46, but those scores give little indication how competitive the back-and-forth fight truly was.
In a wild first round, Mendes pushed the pace and got in Aldo's face. Aldo, however, answered the challenge and landed with solid counters. After Mendes eye poke, Aldo turned up the heat late in the round, then committed the evening's most egregious infraction, as he landed to nasty punches well after the horn, the second of which came close to knocking out Mendes.
Mendes, meanwhile, landed a low blow early in round two, and the pace slowed down from the frenetic opener. Still, Aldo managed to score often enough to take the round.
In round three, Mendes committed an eye poke, his second of the fight, which prompted a warning from referee Marc Goddard that the next one would cause a point deduction. Both fighters had their moments in the round, but a clear pattern was emerging, as every time Mendes seemed to get Aldo in trouble, the champion responded with vicious efficiency and turned the fight back into his favor.
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Both Aldo and Mendes tried to claim fouls over the final two rounds, but Goddard denied both timeout requests and had them fight on.
Round four was clearly in Mendes' favor, as he pushed forward and began landing with combos. Aldo's left eye was swollen nearly shut and he had a cut opened above the eye.
While there have been questions over the years about Aldo's gas tank, he had more left to give in round five, as he pushed the pace against the tiring Mendes and sealed the decision.
With the epic victory, Aldo improved to 25-1, with 18 consecutive wins. The linear featherweight champ dating back to his WEC title victory over Mike Brown in 2009 now has 10 successful title defenses, with eight in the UFC and two in the WEC.
After the bout, both Aldo and Mendes made reference to contender Conor McGregor, who was seated at cageside.
"My court is complete here," Aldo said through an interpreter. "I am the king, Chad is the prince, and now we have a joker."
"Holy s-- was that fun dude," said Mendes (16-2), whose only career losses are to Aldo. "I gotta be honest, I was just going so hard I didn't know what was going on ... the one person who isn't lucky the decision didn't go my way is Conor McGregor, I'm still looking forward to whipping your ass buddy."