The critics said Jose Aldo Jr. had a weak gas tank (This, despite finishing in the fourth round against Chan Sung Jung, winning the fourth against Ricardo Lamas, the fifth on two of three cards against Frankie Edgar, and so on).
They said the UFC featherweight champion's killer instinct was missing (Despite a highlight reel to rival anyone in the history of the sport as evidence to the contrary).
They said the only 145-pound kingpin the UFC has ever known wasn't nearly as big a star as he could be, because he refused to market himself and put himself in the spotlight (Despite ... ehh, actually, that was a pretty solid point).
But Aldo answered all of the criticisms that have been hurled his way and then some on Saturday night, in his Fight of the Year-candidate victory over Chad Mendes in the main event of UFC 179.
Empty gas tank? There was Aldo, taking it to a wrestling cardio machine in Mendes over the closing minutes, leaving no doubt he was going to retain the title.
Not aggressive enough? Sure, there was a kernel of truth to the fact that Aldo took fewer reckless chances in the larger UFC cage than he did against lesser WEC competition in a smaller cage. But even Aldo's evolved, circling-and-countering style can be electrifying. Every time Mendes took it to Aldo - and make no mistake, he rocked Aldo several times - Aldo responded with a symphony of violent efficiency, work that should please both fans of technical striking and those who simply want to see blood.
And Aldo, who has never exactly been a quote machine, dropped a career-defining line after the fight, both addressing and summarily dismissing chatterbox contender Conor McGregor.
"My court is full now," Aldo said. "I am the king, Chad is the prince, and there is a joker now."
It seems every longtime mixed martial arts champion goes through a period of intense public criticism. Fedor Emelianenko had his quality of opposition questioned. Anderson Silva was panned for clowning. Georges St-Pierre was called boring.
Aldo hasn't lost since 2005. He's been the lineal featherweight champion - the WEC crown was the world featherweight title in 2009 - dating back five years next month, the longest-reigning current major champion in the sport. He's the only UFC featherweight champ, and has 10 successful title defenses including the WEC. He's beating recycled challengers the second time around. And in McGregor, he finally has his chance for his mainstream breakthrough, much like it took mouthy foil Chael Sonnen to make Silva into a beloved figure.
The truly great champions, the elite among the elite, bust through their mid-title reign plateau and win back the crowd and the critics. Saturday was the night Aldo broke through to the other side.
UFC 179 quotes
"He's a guy who just talks. He hasn't fought anyone as tough as us. So to get here right now and talk, I've heard that a lot. Chael Sonnen did that a lot in his weight class, and now he's lost, so he can talk as much as he wants." - Aldo, on Conor McGregor.
"When the round was over, I thought the fight was over. When I connected the punches and the referee stepped in, I thought it was over. I was about to run into the crowd, but I'm glad I didn't." - Aldo, on the controversial end to the opening round.
"All the questions around the open workout were centered around me being the ‘Brazilian Killer.' I don't know if I'd call myself a killer, but at the same time, that would complete my trifecta of Brazilian fighters." - Phil Davis, explaining why he called out Anderson Silva.
"I didn't feel like I fought the best. They weren't exactly the most exciting rounds." -Darren Elkins, who, if nothing else, deserves points for honesty after his workmanlike win over Lucas Martins.
Up: Chad Mendes It's a tried-and-true axiom that a fighter who shows skill and valor in defeat can gain in esteem as much as the winner. Just asked Stephan Bonnar, who is headlining shows a decade after losing the right fight at the right time. But Mendes is no Bonnar. Mendes is one of the world's best fighters, who just so happened to be the second-best guy in the division at the time a dominant champion lorded over his domain, much like Junior dos Santos playing bridesmaid to Cain Velasquez. Whether Mendes decides to switch divisions, or stay the course and see how the landscape changes, his loss last night should be no means diminish his stature.
Up: Phil Davis Davis' loss to Anthony Johnson in April - a one-sided ass-kicking after Davis spent more time in the leadup to the fight talking about Jon Jones than his actual opponent - may have been the best thing that ever happened to Davis. Davis has never looked as on point against as high a level of competition as he did against Glover Teixeira on Saturday night. He wasn't content to just take Teixeira down. He worked tirelessly once he got him there. Davis used the post-fight interview to call out Anderson Silva, a fight not too likely to happen. But Saturday night, it looked like the Phil Davis who's always seemed to have 99 percent of what it takes to get to the top found that missing one percent.
Up: Wilson Reis It's not like Reis' career was floundering at bantamweight. But since dropping to flyweight, Reis appears to have the makings of a legit contender. Reis improved to 2-0 in his new weight class with a thorough dismantling of veteran Scott Jorgensen. In a division crying out for a credible contender who champion Demetrious Johnson hasn't already defeated, Reis' rise is one to watch.
Down: Glover Teixeira Remember what David Loiseau's career looked like before he fought Rich Franklin, and what it was like after Franklin hammered him for 25 minutes? You can't help but wonder if we're seeing a version of the same from Teixeira. Last night was pretty much a setup for Teixeira to return to form, getting to fight on his home turf in a bout that seemed a favorable style matchup against a fighter coming off a humiliating loss. And yet, coming off his five-round beatdown loss against Jones in April, Teixeira looked gun-shy, a look we've never seen from him before. He could never get untracked. He turns 35 this week and has been at this game a long time. Teixeira's one of the most genuine people in the biz, so you hope this isn't the signal of an impending decline but it's hard not to look at it otherwise.
Down: All four fighters on the main card's first two fights. Aldo and Mendes delivered a fight worth $60 all on their own, leaving fans happy and giving the UFC a solid push heading into their next event. That's fortunate, because the first two fights of the pay-per-view were putrid. Beneil Dariush vs. Carlos Diego Ferreira and Elkins vs. Martin had Twitter overflowing with snark about watered-down fight cards. And they weren't wrong.
What to make of Marc Goddard's main-event call? I was as up in arms as anybody Aldo's flagrant, after-the-horn late punches after the horn sounded to end round 1. At the time, I thought it was a borderline disqualification-worthy infraction. Since then, though, Goddard said he couldn't hear the horn in the arena; Dana White said he couldn't hear it; Aldo obviously claimed he didn't hear it; and, most telling, Mendes could have used it as an excuse, but he didn't. So that seems to mitigate things. Still, I've been covering MMA for eight years, and have been in the arena for some of the loudest crowds in MMA history, from Brock Lesnar vs. Velasquez to St-Pierre vs. Matt Serra to Silva-Sonnen 2, and I've never seen an after-the-horn incident so flagrant. Referees in other insanely noisy situations have still managed to get their timing right, if Goddard wants to stay a title fight referee, he simply has to get there in time, no matter what. That said, once the bout seemed on the verge of getting out of control, Goddard managed to steer the ship back in the right direction, including ignoring protests from both fighters about borderline infractions, so credit Goddard for making adjustments as the fight progressed.
Fight I want to see next: Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor
Yes, I know all the arguments against it. Yes, I know Cub Swanson is basically getting screwed, if he defeats Edgar next month (less so for Edgar, who, let's not forget, was gifted a title shot without a single fight at 145). Yes, I know McGregor has gotten the golden child treatment from the UFC, which has included avoiding wrestlers in a division full of them. And yet, Aldo vs. McGregor is the fight I want to see. How can you not, after watching both the defending champion and the vanquished challenger call out McGregor, a guy ostensibly underneath him, after last night's main event? The fight business is, in fact, a business. If McGregor defeats Dennis Siver in January, then all the pieces are in place for the biggest lighter-weight title fight in UFC history. McGregor might not quite have Swanson's divisional credentials, but nor would this be the equivalent of Sonnen's light heavyweight title shot. Sorry, Cub.