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Guilherme Cruz, MMA Fighting

It took 16 years for Jose Aldo to go from being a kid who was so broke he couldn't pay his capoeira fees to the Jose Aldo who enters the biggest event in UFC history to defend his legacy.

And what a ride it's been.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Jose Aldo Junior wasn't much different from the other poor kids growing up in Manaus, Amazonas in the 1990s. Son of Jose Aldo and Rocilene Souza, he was a sports aficionado from an early age. But watching his father struggle to get money to even eat and support his family didn't give him many options.

"We came from a humble background, but with a lot of love, so we were able to overcome that," Aldo says of his childhood. "My father was a bricklayer, and my mother was a housewife. It was complicated, obviously, because of our humble origin, but thank God we were all focused. I loved to study, had a good head."

A life that wasn't easy from the beginning turned worse for Aldo, who watched his mother leave home.

"I was a young boy, I didn't really understand what was going on, but it's obviously hard for a kid to see his mother leave, see your parents splitting," he says. "But she always supported me. She taught me good things. Just like my father, who supported me a lot to become the fighter I am today."

'I was just a kid, so I did what I could do to help him. He was the first to support me, and that's exactly when Jose Aldo the champion started to rise.'

It was only the two Jose Aldos from then on, as the family decided Junior should stay with his father. Working hard hours as a bricklayer, Jose Aldo Sr. couldn't give his son a great life. He provided them somewhere to sleep and food to eat, but Junior wanted more.

"I was really close to my father since I was young," Aldo says. "He always told me that I had to work in order to become a man, so I had to stay with him when my mother left. He always took me to work to help him as a bricklayer. I was just a kid, so I did what I could do to help him. He was the first to support me, and that's exactly when Jose Aldo the champion started to rise. That was the moment."

That little manauara wanted to become a champion. He wanted to thrive through a sport. In particularly, as with every kid in in every city around Brazil, he wanted to excel at soccer. Soccer was Aldo's first love. And he had talent. He dreamed about doing it professionally, imagining himself playing for Flamengo at Maracana one day.

Yet getting a good opportunity make a living from a sport - a sport that every single kid in Brazil also wants - is a challenge. There came a time when he had to give up.

Luckily for him, young manauaras had the chance to fight for a better future through sports. Yet even those opportunities came with a price.

***

THE COMFORTABLE MAT

Aldo used to get on his bike and ride to Vila Olimpica every day after school. He loved studying, but sports were his passion. Aldo entered a capoeira class, and everyone around him could tell he was talented. Kicks, spinning kicks - he had it all. Capoeira wasn't going to make him any money, though. In fact, it was taking some of the scant money he made helping his father at work.

That's when jiu-jitsu entered his life.

"God always opens doors for you, and He put Marcio Pontes and Marcos ‘Loro' (Galvao) in my life," Aldo says. "Marcio always supported me financially so I was able to do what I did and get here."

Pontes wanted to make a name for himself. Seven years after receiving a jiu-jitsu black belt through the hands of Nonato Machado in 1992, the Manaus native Pontes decided to finally open his own jiu-jitsu gym at Alvorada, and by helping out poor kids in his neighborhood he heard about a little boy called Jose Aldo Junior.

"I wanted to build a team, so I created scholarship for the humble kids in the neighborhood alongside my friend, Marquinhos, who also taught jiu-jitsu there," says Pontes.

Aldo would stop by Pontes' gym every day on his way back home from the capoeira class. It ended up being a life-altering moment, because spending money at Vila Olimpica was hurting him.

"Aldo had to leave capoeira because he had to pay a 10 reais fee," Pontes recalls. "That's really cheap, but he didn't have that money at the time. He stopped playing capoeira and saw this opportunity to train jiu-jitsu, but he had no money to buy a gi either."

Andre Luiz was the first boy to enter Pontes' gym. Pontes gave him an old gi for free so he could train, and his cousin Aldo showed up a week later wanting a free gi as well. They were afraid Pontes wouldn't give Aldo one, so Luiz came up with an idea. They told him they were brothers.

It made no sense why they would lie about it, especially since Pontes knew they were not brothers. Pontes pretended to believe their ruse for some time, just for the fun.

"I knew for sure they were not brothers, but I let them continue with that story," Pontes laughs. "I gave them a pair of old gis and we started training."

Training jiu-jitsu isn't easy. But it felt comfortable for Aldo.

"I wanted to train jiu-jitsu instead of capoeira because the mat was soft," Aldo says. "It was better than training capoeira on the hard floor. I started reading jiu-jitsu magazines, reading about the world champions, and becoming one of them became my goal."

"Part of Aldo's initial success was due to his previous training with capoeira, and he learned positions and techniques pretty quickly," says Pontes, who decided to sign them up in a tournament in May of 1999, four months after opening his gym.

Aldo followed his coach to the gymnasium for his first tournament as a white belt, and the little boy took to the mat four times that day. It was hot as hell inside the arena, especially for those wearing a gi. That didn't stop Aldo from defeating his first three opponents in the tourney. It wasn't in the cards for him to go back home with a gold medal, though.

"It was a close match, it ended in a draw, but the judges gave the other kid the win," Pontes says. "I was pissed off. I thought he did enough to win. But even without the victory, I realized I had a talented kid right there."

Aldo wouldn't leave school. He wouldn't even stop helping his father at work. Routine got harder, though, as Pontes signed him up to compete in every single tournament they had the chance to enter. Pontes wanted his gym to be popular, wanted more students, and Aldo became his little protègè.

"They won everything as white and green belts, and started to hang with me wherever I went," Pontes says. "At the tournaments, at my house. I helped Andre and Aldo the way I could with clothes, gifts, money. They were like sons to me. We created a bond."

But training once a day wasn't enough for a hungry kid like Aldo. As soon as he realized he could go further in this sport, that the sky was the limit, he looked for more.

"Aldo trained at my gym in the afternoon, but decided to follow me at Nonato's gym in the morning as well, so he could learn more," Pontes says. "He wanted more knowledge, and he wouldn't stop training."

"I started training hard to one day be able to go to Rio de Janeiro and win a tournament there," says Aldo, who looked up to other successful Manauaras like Wallid Ismail and Saulo Ribeiro in jiu-jitsu magazines. "That was my focus. I trained three times a day, because I knew that could give me a better future."

For a kid who had no money to even buy his first gi, traveling 2,657 miles between Manaus and Rio de Janeiro to enter a tournament that wouldn't pay a dime to its champion made no sense for some.

But who said dreams have to make sense?

Jose Aldo

(Jose Aldo and Marcos Galvao, photo via Marcos Galvao)

***

WELCOME TO RIO

Aldo always told his mother he would see the ocean one day. "You're a dreamer," she would respond. And he definitely was, though he knew how to make his dreams come to reality.

Aldo continued to rise in the local circuit, winning tournaments and making lasting impressions as a rare talent as the 2001 world championship loomed ahead. The government decided to invest money and help Manauaras go to Rio de Janeiro to compete for a gold medal, and the then 15-year-old Aldo was one of the few lucky talents to earn an airplane ticket to go. It was the first time Aldo had ever been on a plane.

Aldo arrived in the Marvelous City, and thought it was as beautiful as he imagined. The sea, the beaches, the landscape... it was perfect, and he couldn't wait to go there and see it for himself, not through a bus window.

Pontes and his pupils arrived at the Hotel Copacabana later that day. They were all tired, including Aldo, but the desire to see the ocean did away with the fatigue. They were just half-a-mile away from the world famous Copacabana beach, and an excited kid couldn't let that opportunity escape.

"It was July, so it's a bit colder in Rio, but he still wanted to go to the beach when we got to the hotel," Pontes says. "We were all tired, but he wanted to see the ocean, so I explained to him how to get there."

Every step in that direction gave Aldo butterflies. There was no such thing as cell phones and cameras for a poor kid like Aldo. All he had was his eyes, and he made sure to enjoy every second of that adventure.

He was gone for a couple hours until he finally walked back to Barata Ribeiro Street — picking up a few little shells and sticking them in his pocket along the way, so he could prove to his mother that he really made it to the Copacabana beach.

"It was freaking cold, and he was completely soaked, but wouldn't stop smiling," Pontes says. "He fulfilled his dream to visit Rio de Janeiro, Copacabana. I know deep in there he knew he wanted to stay there for the rest of his life.

All he had was his eyes, and he made sure to enjoy every second of that adventure.

"Rio is a different city. It dazzles you, especially if you never visited a big capital before."

The touristy stuff came to an end as he entered the Tijuca Tenis Clube gymnasium to compete at his first world championship. Nothing was easy for that young blue belt, and his first chance against the big boys wouldn't be different. Aldo was 15 and the world championship didn't have an under-16 division, so he had to go up against older athletes in the bantamweight division.

Aldo was at the podium by the end of the day, but - again - not as a gold medalist. He should have been in the finals, according to Pontes. His coach to this day swears the referee for Aldo's semifinal match was affiliated to his opponent's team. It's not impossible to imagine this scenario, especially in those early days in jiu-jitsu. Ironically, the three other fighters at the podium represented Nova Uniao — which he would later help make globally famous — while Aldo was still fighting for Manaus’ jiu-jitsu federation, that paid for his flight tickets.

It was part of the game, and they knew a bronze medal in those conditions meant a lot.

"He was happy he visited Rio and happy to be at the podium, but that's not what he wanted," Pontes says. "Aldo wanted to win a world title, he wanted to be a world champion."

Aldo flew back to Manaus with a medal, a few seashells, and lots of memories. Months later, a visitor from Rio de Janeiro changed his life forever.

Marcos Galvao was one of the top jiu-jitsu fighters in the city of Manaus, and Aldo wasn't the only one to look up at him. Aldo's daily trips to different gyms quickly gained another stop, as he went from Marcio Pontes' to Nonato Machado's to Marcos Galvao's every single day, five days a week.

Galvao didn't stay much longer in Manaus, and that gave Aldo the chance to follow his dream. Aldo, who had just finished high school, got in early to Pontes' gym that day.

He was anxious.

As soon as Pontes arrived, Aldo quickly approached his master and revealed his plans.

"I want to move to Rio de Janeiro," he said.

Pontes didn't know what to do. He wanted his protègè to succeed, but living in Rio de Janeiro wasn't an easy task for a poor kid from Manaus, especially if his plans included making a living of a sport that didn't pay its biggest stars.

"If you want to become a world champion, you know Manaus is a complicated place to be," Pontes told Aldo. "If you want to make a living of this, you have to leave and train with the best, and that's where the best are."

Aldo then called "Loro." Galvao was living inside the Nova Uniao gym at the time, sleeping at the same mat they rolled on all day, and was only making 200 reais a month with sponsors.

"Man, this is how things work here. It's rough. I save my lunch so I have something to eat at night," Galvao told his friend. "But if you want to come, come join me. We can split everything."

Pontes called some friends, and they were able to buy a one-way ticket to Rio de Janeiro. Aldo left family and friends behind.

'At the same time I used the jiu-jitsu mat to work, it became my bed as well. That's where we slept.'

"It was hard because we lived inside a jiu-jitsu gym," Galvao recalls. "We spent the entire day inside the gym. We had no money to do anything out there. We had nowhere to go, no money to do anything."

"At the same time I used the jiu-jitsu mat to work, it became my bed as well," Aldo says. "That's where we slept. It was a huge bed. It wasn't so soft, but it wasn't hard either. But it's part of the game. That's the price I had to pay in the beginning. That made me grow."

Moving to Rio proved to be a smart decision. Three years after placing third in the IBJJF World Championship in the city, Aldo flew to Salvador, Bahia, to enter the CBJJO World Cup. Even though CBJJO isn’t putting on top tournaments anymore, the scenario was different at the beginning of the century. The best grapplers flew to Salvador to enter the mat, and Aldo was one of them.

With a brown belt around his waist and competing as a featherweight, Aldo got past every single one of his opponents until he faced Rubens Charles "Cobrinha" in the semifinal. "Cobrinha" would become a four-time IBJJF world champion as a black belt a few years after, and beating him again — Junior also defeated "Cobrinha" in the CBJJO Brazilian Championship as a purple belt a year before — to move on to the final and win the gold medal proved he was the best at the time.

Goal-driven Aldo fulfilled his ultimate purpose and became a jiu-jitsu world champion, so he needed new ones. Living in Rio de Janeiro and training at Nova Uniao gave him the opportunity to watch some of the best vale tudo fighters at the time training under the same roof.

Pedro Rizzo, Renato Sobral and many others trained under the tutelage of Marco Ruas in Rio, and Aldo made time to watch them spar. Aldo was fascinated by the training methods of Ruas Vale Tudo. Like in his early jiu-jitsu days in Manaus, he managed to learn from the best schools as he planned to make his vale tudo debut. Rodrigo Ruas, Marco’s nephew, started to teach Aldo the art of kicking people in the leg, and he quickly became a master at it.

Just a few months after winning the gold medal in Salvador, Aldo entered a vale tudo ring for the first time.

A fight promoter couldn't find an opponent for BJJ black belt Mario Bigola, considered one of the best fighters in Minas Gerais at the time. "Loro" told Marcio Pontes he believed Aldo was ready for his first fight, so they booked the match-up.

"It was a lightweight bout, and Aldo didn't even weigh 145 pounds, and we had no money to pay for his flight," Pontes says. "I got the money and paid for his flight ticket, and he knocked Mario out in 18 seconds. That's when we realized his full potential and that no one would be able to stop him."

But again, things got worse for Aldo. Pederneiras had to move his gym from Botafogo to Flamengo. It was just a few miles away, but it became an issue for Aldo.

This time, though, Aldo and "Loro" wouldn't be allowed to sleep at the gym at night. Galvao was already fighting in Japan, so he was making some money to find a place to stay.

Aldo had nothing. He had nowhere to go.

***

FAVELA: DRUG DEALERS AND ANGELS

There are more than 750 favelas in Rio de Janeiro. The majority of them still have to deal with a routine of violence, crime and poverty. The situation was even worse at the time Jose Aldo found himself with no place to stay after Nova Uniao's gym in Botafogo was moved.

Aldo had only a few options, and moving back to Manaus — and thus giving up on his dream to become a top fighter  — was his most reasonable choice, but not the path what he wanted to take.

That's when a benefactor of sorts changed the course of his life.

Nova Uniao was in its last days in Botafogo, and Aldo was still trying to come up with a solution when fellow MMA fighter Hacran Dias offered help.

"I asked him where was he going to live, and that's the part that touched me the most," Dias says. "I'll never forget what he said. He said, 'I don't know. I don't have a place to go.'"

Dias was living with his mother, Julia Dias, and his younger brother at the Santo Amaro favela, located three miles away from Nova Uniao's new address. It was a tiny little house at the top of the slum, small enough for three people to live, but - hearing of Aldo's situation - they still managed to find room.

"I told him I'd figure it out, call my mother and find a place for him," Dias says. "We lived in a small house at the favela, so I asked her if Aldo could stay with us for some time. I told her I had a friend that had nowhere to go."

As with Aldo's life in Manaus, life wasn't easy for the Dias family. When Julia was pregnant with her youngest son, Hacran's farther passed away in surgery after being injured in a car accident.

'This is why I say Nova Uniao is not a team, it's a family. I always had someone to count on when I needed.'

"I didn't know Aldo," Julia says. "Poor kid — he had nowhere to go. He was Hacran's friend, [Hacran] knew him, so I let him stay."

Her husband's pension brought only limited help, so both kids had to work when they grew up. "I raised them both by myself, I don't even know how," says Julia. "In a place like this, they never got themselves in trouble."

"I thank Hacran and aunt Julia for the help. I love them," says Aldo, who stayed with the Dias family for seven months. "This is why I say Nova Uniao is not a team, it's a family. I always had someone to count on when I needed."

Living in a favela is no joke.

The city of Rio de Janeiro recently created the Pacifying Police Unit (UPP), which basically means putting military police headquarters inside favelas to get rid of criminals, but that didn't exist when Aldo moved to Santo Amaro.

"Every time we left home to train, we saw criminals, drug dealers everywhere, but that was normal," Aldo recalls. "It was hard for someone like me, a boy that came from Manaus and never saw anything like that, to deal with that, but we got used to it eventually."

Aldo may have gotten used it, but it took some time for the local criminals to get used to him.

"It was harder for Aldo because nobody knew him there," Hacran says. "There was a shooting in the community one day, and he was training at the gym. He couldn't go back home alone. I told him to sleep somewhere because I couldn't go down to pick him up. Living in a place dominated by drug trafficking wasn't easy at all.

"In the beginning, they always stopped him, told him to pull his shirt up to check if he was carrying a gun of something like that. When they realized he was living at my house, they stopped asking him that."

Aldo became a prime candidate, as the criminals like to recruit new soldiers to their army. It's easier to impress and convince a young kid with no money to join them, as they walk around with guns, motorcycles and wads of cash.

Aldo didn't fall for it.

"I come from a good family, my father raised me saying what's right and what's wrong, and I never had this temptation," he says. "I knew that could be an easier way to make money, but that would make your life harder later in the future. I decided to take the toughest way, moved in with Hacran and Julia. They kept telling me that wasn't good, and that's why I stayed away from it."

"He never got himself in trouble. He just wanted to train and train," Julia says. "He was always a good boy, respectful, didn't like to party or anything like that."

Jose Aldo

(Jose Aldo and Julia Dias, photo via Julia Dias)

***

LEAVING THE FAVELA

Aldo was still in the favela and barely making a living when he met the woman of his life.

Vivianne Pereira moved from Curitiba to Rio de Janeiro, living in an apartment her father rented for her in Meier, when she decided to find a place to train Muay Thai. She had already competed in the sport, and wanted to invest in it, while Aldo had just returned from England, where he improved to 7-0 as a professional MMA fighter with a 65-second knockout.

Pereira was training for her first Muay Thai tournament in Rio, and one of Aldo's friends was also slated to compete in that state championship.

"He was a bit shy," Pereira says. "He was always joking around, finding a way to come talk to me. Two weeks later, I had a Muay Thai tournament and his friend was also going to compete, so he helped me train as well. He was in my corner when I fought, and from then on we stayed together."

Call it destiny, but don't call it love at first sight — at least not for Pereira.

"No, it was not love at first sight," Pereira laughs. "We got to know each other and started to like each other. But it wasn't something like I saw him and thought, 'wow, that's the man I'm falling in love with.'"

Pereira worked as a receptionist at the Nova Uniao gym. Aldo was a cook at a restaurant right around the corner.

Pereira worked as a receptionist at the Nova Uniao gym, while Aldo cooked crepes. Living in Meier and going to Flamengo to work and train every single day was complicated, especially with the crazy traffic in a big and disorganized capital like Rio, so Pereira decided to move in with Aldo four months after they started dating.

By this time, Aldo was not living with Hacran Dais' family anymore. He rented a little place over Marlon Sandro's house in the favela. On their first days together in Santo Amaro, Pereira wondered if that was the future she wanted for herself.

"It was hard at first because I didn't have that life before. I never had to deal with anything like that. I was scared," she recalls. "There was a shooting one day, cops invading every house looking for drug dealers and thieves. It was scary. It was terrible. I started to cry and think, 'what am I doing here? Should I stay with him?'"

She got used to it eventually, as they lived there for almost seven months until finally deciding to leave.

"Being in Santo Amaro was really complicated," Pereira says. "The structure wasn't good, there were rats inside the house, garbage everywhere, cats. Police and drug dealers would get inside your house anytime they want.

"It wasn't comfortable or cool. It was just decent," she adds. "We had a cooker, a fridge. We had no bed, just a mattress on the floor. It wasn't comfortable. We had everything, but we had nothing [laughs]. Violence everywhere."

Pereira asked Aldo if he wanted to move in with her in Meier, where she had that old apartment her father rented for her, so they could save some money to buy their own house one day. Aldo wanted to say yes right away and leave a dangerous place, but wouldn't feel comfortable living in an apartment his girlfriend's father paid for.

"He said 'I won't like to live like this, so let's get married'," she recalls. "We decided to get married and save some money to buy an apartment for us."

Aldo and Pereira became husband and wife on July of 2006, and his fight became theirs.

***

WHEN MMA ALMOST LOST JOSE ALDO

A year before getting married, Aldo lost. It wasn't the first defeat of his life, as he had to deal with many of them before in his jiu-jitsu career, but tapping to Luciano Azevedo at Jungle Fight almost made him quit the sport.

It's not like he couldn't deal with the loss himself, but there was a lack of opportunity for lightweight fighters in MMA at the time. Especially for someone coming off a loss.

"We had few opportunities to fight at 145 pounds," Aldo's wife says. "We considered moving up to lightweight so he could fight in the UFC. He said, 'I will never make money (as a featherweight). I'll move up and try going to the UFC,' but there was a long list of fighters at Nova Uniao waiting for a chance. 'It might take a while before you get there,' they told him. He tried going to Japan, but it didn't work either."

Nova Uniao was known as a go-to place for promoters who needed fighter at 155 pounds or below. Vitor Ribeiro, Joao Roque, Marcos Galvao, Wagnney Fabiano and many others were fighting all over the world, and Aldo had to wait in line despite the fact that everyone saw a bright future for him.

Aldo was devastated. Losing for the first time, and with the prospects of his future dimming, he thought about leaving mixed martial arts.

'He decided to take the fight only for the money. He predicted what was going to happen, and ended up losing.'

"Aldo had injuries everywhere. He decided to take the fight [against Luciano Azevedo] only for the money," Pontes says. "I remember him saying, 'I have one round to win this fight. I can't fight more than that. I have a sore throat and my hand is injured.' He kicked Luciano's leg pretty badly in the first round, beat him up badly, but couldn't do sh*t in the second round. He predicted what was going to happen, and ended up losing."

Living the life of a MMA fighter wasn't working so well for him, and Pontes tried to help him come up with a back-up plan. Aldo loved studying as a kid, so his first coach asked Andre Pederneiras to help him get a college scholarship in Rio de Janeiro. He wasn't getting any younger.

"It was really complicated. He didn't get many opportunities to fight, wasn't making much money," Pontes recalls. "I spoke with 'Dede' to get him a chance in a college so he would have a plan B. If everything goes wrong in fighting, he would have a career. 'Dede' told he would get him one, and Aldo was thinking about it, he wanted to study."

Getting a college scholarship in Rio proved to be hard, but Pontes succeeded in Manaus. He called Aldo and told him the news. He could fly back to his hometown and study, find a better job. Pederneiras quickly shut that idea down.

"I got him a college scholarship," Pontes told Pederneiras under a tree, in front of Nova Uniao's gym.

"Marcinho, don't you worry," Pederneiras responded. "This kid will be rich. Give me more time. Stay calm."

Pontes always trusted his friend and idol, but an opportunity like that wouldn't wait. They gambled with Aldo's future, and decided to bet on his talent.

The best place for a lightweight fighter to compete those days was Japan, and Aldo wanted to be one of them. His dream was to fight at PRIDE Bushido. The UFC had other plans, though, as Zuffa purchased the promotion and later shut it down.

Pancrase offered him a fight right after, and the Nova Uniao fighter beat Shoji Maruyama. Aldo struggled for a few months to get another fight. Yet when he did, it changed his life.

After fulfilling his dream to compete in Japan, Aldo was matched-up against one of the most dangerous fighters of that time. Alexandre Franca Nogueira — also known as "Pequeno" — reigned in Japan for years and needed an opponent for his World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) debut in the United States. Aldo got the call.

Aldo was supposed to lose to Nogueira, but instead put on a classic beating en-route to a TKO victory at the Arco Arena in Sacramento. He quickly became one of the stars of the show, adding one knockout after another to his record and eventually earning a shot at featherweight champion Mike Brown.

"Our lives changed when he went to WEC," says Pereira, who couldn't stop crying after watching her husband win the WEC title a couple years after they got married. "We were finally able to fulfill a dream and buy our own apartment.

"Every time he fought, I said to him, 'you can't forget you're fighting for the key of our home,' and that made him hungrier to go there and win. Everything went perfect, thank God."

"Scarface" seemed unstoppable as the best featherweight on the planet, but only got recognition from fans in Brazil when WEC merged with the UFC. Money, fame, reverence — they all came with the package of being a UFC champion, but that never really changed who he is.

"Few people knew him before he went to the UFC," Pereira recalls. "In Brazil, nobody knew what MMA was, only hardcore fans knew about MMA and the UFC. We took the subway and nobody knew who he was. It has changed a lot since the first UFC event in Rio, but he continues to take the subway every day."

His subway trips and soccer games at Maracana became more complicated as he became famous, at least for his wife.

"He's handsome now, right?," she laughs. "He wasn't this handsome when he was living in Santo Amaro, but he's like a model now [laughs]."

"They go after him now," Pereira says of Aldo's female fans. "At the first UFC card in Rio, a girl tried to kiss him, started to grab him, and I was right in front of them. It was weird. It was a first, but I was able to handle it. They are fans, you know? I try to understand and ignore."

Aldo became famous, and that brought more responsibility.

He fought for his house before. Now, he fights for legacy — and the future of his family.

Jose Aldo

(Jose Aldo with his wife, Vivianne, and daughter Joana. Photo via Guilherme Cruz.)

***

ONTO THE NEXT CHAPTER: UFC 194

Three-year-old Joana still can't understand for sure what her father does for a living. He wants her to become an Olympic gymnast and stay away from mixed martial arts. Her mother, used to being a woman that kicks ass inside a ring, wouldn't mind watching her punch people for a living.

Aldo knows the outcome of every fight can affect the livelihood of his daughter, but that doesn't change the way he sees his career.

"That hasn't changed," Pereira says of how her husband handles his Octagon duties. "He still thinks the same way. He wants to be champion for a long time, until he retires. That's his focus. And he has other goals before he retires, too.

"Family won't change his thoughts about work. He says 'if I'm well to train and work, I'll be able to provide the best to my family'. We all want to provide good things to our families, or course, but he thinks about work first. The welfare of the family is a consequence of his job."

The only moment that life as a MMA fighter affected in his personal life was when Joana was born. Aldo definitely has talent with his hands when he had to punch someone in the face or lock in a rear-naked choke, but changing diapers?

Aldo has shown he can think on his feet, so he used his training routine and constant diets to avoid getting up in the middle of the night to take care of diaper duty.

"He didn't do any of that," Pereira laughs. "He didn't change one diaper. He just bottle fed her. But I won't let him escape from changing diapers next time we have a kid.

'The first [McGregor fight] there was a heavier environment, but not anymore.'

"But he's a great father. It was all new at first. She was so small and soft. He didn't know how to deal with her, but he learned with time. He's a great father, he's always with her. We go out together, have fun, he buys her presents all the time."

Always calm and collected, always with a smile on his face, Aldo will only change tunes when he has to talk about his most irritating foe. Conor McGregor got under his skin during the UFC 189 world tour earlier this year.

"The first time there was a heavier environment, but not anymore," Aldo admits. "We're more focused now, and I can say I'm way better prepared than the first time. We're well trained. I was already adapted from the first camp we did for him, and we also know how to deal with his trash talk. It's way easier now."

"There's a lot of talk but I try to stay away from all this," he adds. "You have no idea how motivated I am. For the love of God. I can't wait for this to happen so we can prove everything we say."

The UFC champion was forced out of the bout with a broken rib and criticized by fans. Aldo was the baddest 145-pound man on the planet, but still had to hear people say he was scared. To make things worse, Aldo was forced to watch "The Notorious" win an interim title against Chad Mendes in front of thousands of Irishmen in Las Vegas.

On Dec. 12, "Scarface" has the chance to make things right, and again be the only featherweight king.

"I've been through things that made me grow, and that's why I fight harder when I'm inside the Octagon," Aldo says, as he leaves the gym. "Like I always say, after going through all this, I'm prepared for a war."