Jose Aldo is one of the greatest fighters to ever grace the Octagon. Conor McGregor is one of the great businessmen.
Guess which one has parlayed the UFC's favor.
No, this situation is not quite as simple as that. These things never are. There are nuances and shades of gray that can't quite be articulated in a 140-character limit.
This is the deal: Aldo, the interim UFC featherweight champion, told Combate of Brazil last week that he wants to be released from the UFC or he will retire from the sport after the promotion's business-driven decision to let McGregor hold onto the undisputed featherweight title longer.
Aldo, 30, said he was promised his next fight would be for the undisputed belt, whether that meant facing McGregor or facing someone like Max Holloway after McGregor gave up the 145-pound gold. That doesn't seem likely now, with the UFC allowing McGregor to hold onto the belt heading into his lightweight title fight against Eddie Alvarez in the main event of UFC 205 on Nov. 12 in New York.
"Conor himself said before that he wouldn't give his belt away by any chance and nobody would take it away from him," Aldo told Combate. "After all this, I see I can't trust any word from president Dana White, and who's in charge of the promotion now is Conor McGregor. Since I'm not here to be an employee of McGregor, today I ask to cancel my contract with the UFC. When they offered me a fight with Frankie Edgar, Dana said that the winner would challenge McGregor or win the linear title, that he would lose his belt if he didn't return to the featherweight division after his rematch with Nate Diaz. After being fooled so many times, I don't feel motivated to fight in the UFC anymore."
McGregor, 28, won the featherweight title by beating Aldo via knockout in 13 seconds at UFC 194 back in December. Aldo then returned to beat Frankie Edgar by unanimous decision at UFC 200 in July to win the interim title, which was put in place because McGregor was moonlighting up at 170 pounds in two fights this year against Nate Diaz.
White said after the first fight with Diaz, which was originally supposed to be McGregor versus then-champ Rafael dos Anjos for the lightweight belt, that McGregor would go back down to featherweight and defend his title next. Actually, McGregor said that himself after he lost to Diaz.
It didn't turn out that way. Money beat out sport once again.
McGregor and Diaz signed for a rematch at UFC 202 in August. McGregor won that by majority decision. White was quoted multiple times before and after that fight saying McGregor would go down to featherweight and defend that gold against Aldo — or he'd be stripped.
Why isn't that happening? This part actually is simple. McGregor didn't think it was the best fight from a financial perspective to go down and fight Aldo again, considering he beat him in such a short amount of time 10 months ago. McGregor vs. Alvarez is the bigger money fight at this juncture, for McGregor and the UFC. Plus, if McGregor holds onto the featherweight title heading into this fight, he has a chance to make history as the first fighter to ever hold UFC titles at two different weights at the same time.
The UFC would love to pull that 145-pound title off McGregor and let that division move on without him. But that's not what McGregor wants and, as now the best pay-per-view draw in promotion history, he has as much or more leverage than any fighter ever has in the UFC.
If given the choice between Aldo walking and McGregor walking, it's pretty obvious what the UFC would do.
And yeah, like it or not, that's the right move. The UFC is a business first and foremost. MMA just does not work like other sports do, no matter what the complaints of purists on social media have to say. They are, frankly, in the minority.
If UFC execs were in the business of putting on the fights the most possible people want to watch, they get a resounding "A." If they were invested in putting on the fights that are the most "fair" and giving opportunities to those the most "deserving," they'd fail right now. But they'd also take a bath financially and turn their backs on casual fans who have never heard of Aldo or someone like Khabib Nurmagomedov.
If the struggles of 2014, one of the worst years ever for the promotion, taught the UFC anything (aside from pray to keep the injury bug away) it's that when there are big, money fights out there for the taking, don't hesitate. Just put them together and let the chips fall where they may.
Speaking of chips, those have been stacked against Aldo from the beginning. Remember that World Tour he went on with McGregor in 2015? Aldo was at an inherent disadvantage everywhere but his home country of Brazil. Every other place was English-speaking. As McGregor laid the trash talk on thick, Aldo not only could not respond in the native tongue of the audience, he couldn't really understand what McGregor was saying, either.
MMA is a business that rewards charismatic, over-the-top personalities who speak English. It's a United States-based country, after all. And the pay-per-view medium is still the top revenue earner for the UFC. Pay-per-views are sold mainly in North America, the U.S. and Canada. Don't forget: There was a time when Anderson Silva also wasn't a huge draw.
Some would put the blame on Aldo for never learning English nor connecting with fans in the states. Being an elite fighter can get you a bunch of wins and a gold belt, but that alone will not allow you to make the most money possible. That's just the reality of MMA. Aldo was never able to reach that level as a draw, only against McGregor.
Can you blame Aldo for being furious? No, of course not. Aldo has worked all his life to be the best fighter he can be and that has been an outrageous success. He's one of the best men to ever compete in the sport. Aldo does not care about the other stuff, the promotional aspect. He said last week that he doesn't want to sell himself like "a whore."
Aldo is entitled to that viewpoint and has every right to be angry. The issue here is that MMA — or least, the UFC — is not what he thought it was. McGregor brings in the pay-per-view buys, the social media impressions, the YouTube views, which all make the UFC boatloads of cash. Aldo has never made the UFC even a fraction of what McGregor has.
So yes, the UFC has shown that decisions on titles and fight placement and purses will be made based on finances. If you look at the UFC as a business entity, a media and entertainment company, this is obvious. Of course the promotion is making sure McGregor gets what he wants and, at the same time, is milking him for all he's worth.
If you look at the UFC like a sports league — which Aldo is — then it's a different story. Aldo and the UFC clearly have a different opinion on the space they are in.
In that case, maybe an amicable split is what's best for both parties.