A little over 12 months ago, Jose Aldo suffered his first loss in a decade. Since then, 2016 has brought its fair share of highs and lows for the Brazilian.
After failing to secure a rematch against Conor McGregor, Aldo settled on an interim featherweight title fight against Frankie Edgar at UFC 200. After winning that fight, he hoped to get another crack at the Irishman, but alas, it wasn't meant to be. So after finding out that McGregor would be fighting Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205, Aldo threatened to retire from the sport in late September.
Since then, he's patched things up with the UFC and became the official 145-pound champion again after the promotion decided to strip McGregor in late November.
Aldo expected to then fight Max Holloway at UFC 208 in Brooklyn next year, but as he describes in this exclusive interview, that fight is no longer happening.
We talked about that, and a whole lot more, on Tuesday afternoon. The full interview transcript can be found below.
Ariel Helwani: I've been trying to speak to you for quite some time but to no avail. Today, we're finally speaking. Why now?
Jose Aldo: There's a lot of things happening, and I feel, in a general sense, like a lot of what I say gets twisted or misinterpreted -- particularly in the U.S. media -- and so I wanted to reach out and talk about a couple things in a more direct fashion than I usually do.
I also feel like a lot of athletes, when they are in front of the cameras or responding to media, say one thing but when the UFC actually picks up the phone and calls them, the conversations are very different. They conversations they have with the UFC aren't the same ones that they are saying to the media. I'm not two-faced, though. If I say one thing to the UFC, I say it in an interview. I don't have conflicting stories.
Are you fighting Max Holloway at UFC 208 in Brooklyn?
This fight was set. We had told the UFC we wanted to fight on that date. For us, it was set. The UFC said, OK, and they asked that we not discuss it any further before UFC 206. I was told the winner of the Max Holloway and Anthony Pettis fight would be my opponent in Brooklyn, and my understanding was that both Holloway and Pettis were told the same thing before their fight. After that fight, Holloway said a bunch of different things. First, I heard he twisted his ankle and wouldn't have time to heal. Then I heard he had a trip booked to Disney World with his kids and he wouldn't be able to reschedule. Then I heard his gym is closed during the holidays and he wouldn't have enough time to train. So he's basically going around, talking a lot of trash, saying a lot of bullshit and acting like a punk. He just talking shit.
And so now is the fight off?
Yeah. I just want to say, any time I've been asked to fight by the UFC, I never turned it down. I've been asked to fight when my wife was pregnant or when we had a newborn at home. When I fought Frankie Edgar, she was pregnant, when I fought Chad Mendes, she was either pregnant or we had a newborn. I had a lot of stuff in my family going on, and that has never been a reason to not take fights. You can ask anyone. You can ask [UFC matchmaker] Sean Shelby. When I've been asked to fight, I take it.
What about before UFC 196 against Conor McGregor after Rafael dos Anjos got injured?
No, I didn't turn that down. [My coach] Andre Pederneiras turned down that fight and wouldn't let me take it. I've never personally turned down any fights.
So I don't know what's going on with the fight right now. I know that I want to fight. I've been planning on fighting on the card. I asked for that card. When Holloway started talking shit, we approached UFC and made clear that I want to fight in Brooklyn. I'm flexible about my opponent. I even said, 'Why don't I go up in weight class and fight the No. 1 or No. 2 contender and start setting up a rematch with McGregor?' There was some enthusiasm for that idea, but my understanding is, some fighters turned down that fight. The UFC can't put together a match-up if fighters are turning down fights. But I just want to be very clear: Me, Jose Aldo, I don't turn down fights. I don't turn down opponents. I don't choose opponents.
So, there's a lot of shit now being talked by Holloway, saying I don't show up. That couldn't be further from the truth. There's a lot of people turning down fights against me in Brooklyn, and Holloway is one of them.
Do you consider yourself the real featherweight champion?
Yes, I consider myself the champion. No, the way that I got the belt doesn't affect how I view myself. I've always been the champion. The champion is the person that defends the belt, not the person that gets the belt and flees the division. I should have gotten an immediate rematch. It was completely warranted and what should have happened. It didn't happen, though. When they gave me Frankie Edgar, I knew that belt wasn't going to remain the interim belt. I knew Conor wasn't coming back; everyone knew he wasn't coming back. That's the real belt. I'm the one that has defended this belt. I've been the king of this division for a long time. I've never not seen myself as a champion. I lost a fight. That's it. I knew that I was going to be the champion of this division and that's how I still see myself. I've always been the champion.
Does it bother you when you hear Conor saying he's still the real champion and never agreed to give up the title? And, do you think because he's so popular that fans won't view your belt as the real one if he continues to say that?
First of all, I never stopped being the champion. When I lost to Conor, he should have rematched me right away. Like I've always said and done, the champion is the guy who defends the belt against all challengers. Guys who run from title defenses are not champions. All Conor did was he beat the champion. But he never did what he had to do to become the champion. He's never been the champion of the featherweight division.
He's two-faced. He says a lot of stuff to the press, but behind-the-scenes, he turns down fights left and right. He picks opponents, he picks events. He's not willing to face challengers the way a champion should be ready to face challengers. That's not a true champion. He spent a year without defending the belt, so his math doesn't add up when he says, I was the champion for less than 12 months. He wasn't the champion at all. He never defended the belt. He wanted to stall an entire division. That's not being a champion. I've never seen Conor as the featherweight champion. He's not the champion now. I've never stopped being the featherweight champion.
Have you tried to convince the UFC to make the McGregor rematch recently, and if so, are you confident it will happen soon?
The first thing we did after my fight with McGregor was ask for the rematch, and it should have happened. We've tried to make that fight a lot of times, as has the UFC. When I sat down with Dana, and explained to him all the reasons why I was frustrated as a fighter, he said to me, 'I've tried to make the fight. [Conor] doesn't want to fight you. I can't force [Conor] to fight you. You and I, Jose, we want this rematch to happen. But he's not saying yes.' We've been trying, but the problem isn't on my side of the equation. Conor is two-faced and he doesn't want to fight me. He wants to talk a big game to the press. He doesn't to step up and take the fights to prove he's a real champion.
I went to bed one night believing the UFC was going to announce my rematch with Conor McGregor and I woke up to read the news that they booked Eddie Alvarez instead. My conversations with the UFC were, 'It's happening. We're booking it.' And then literally overnight something changed without my participation. The bottom line is, Conor doesn't want to fight me. There's nothing else I can do. I don't think there's anything else the UFC can do. If he keeps saying no and keeps running away, he's going to keep running away. He's a clown.
Why do you believe he doesn't want to fight you?
I don't know. I'd like to understand why. It's an interesting question. Is he afraid? I don't know. All of us fighters we work and train hard so we can test ourselves against one another. That's what we do. That's why we're in this. There shouldn't be a fighter that doesn't want to fight another fighter. It's all about how you match up and constantly proving and testing yourself against other people. I don't understand when a fighter doesn't jump at the chance to test themselves against another fighter.
In late September, you said you were done fighting the UFC. Why did you change your mind?
At that time, I was obviously very frustrated with everything going on with the UFC and just feeling like the people that should be in charge weren't in charge, guys are holding up the division and holding up fights. And I think all of that contributed to a general sense of, I don't really want to do this right now. I never wanted to do MMA for any other organization. I always wanted the option to come back to the UFC when the time was right, when the division was moving, when people were actually accepting fights with me. But at that time, I was just really frustrated.
Plus, I've had a long-time dream to try my hand at boxing. It's something I've always wanted to give a shot. Also, soccer. I've always had a passion for soccer. And at that time, I was just kinda feeling like I wanted to do other things. I thought, as long as this division isn't moving and this is the way I'm being treated, I'll go do something else, and when they do figure it out, I'll come back.
So, how did you go from feeling that way to now being back and ready to fight again?
No. 1, I'm young. I'm too young to stop. And No. 2, I have a contract and it's exclusive. It doesn't allow me to go chase those other dreams. So what was I going to do? It's not like I was going to be allowed to box or chase those other dreams.
So are you resuming your career reluctantly? In other words, if the UFC agreed to release you from your contract today, would you leave?
I've always been motivated to fight MMA; I've always been motivated to defend my title. I just felt very sad and disrespected. I felt they didn't honor their word and that kinda sucked the motivation out of me for a while. But like I said, if I'm not going to be allowed contractually to chase the other dreams I had, I'm going to come back to my MMA career. I'm still young. I still have a lot of objectives and goals I want to reach as an MMA fighter. So, I'm back now and I'm the champion.
How many fights do you have left on your current contract?
Six. Maybe five. I'm not sure.
Is your plan to fight those out and then leave?
Yeah, of course. I think that's the logical move for me. But it's not really related to these other things. I've always said I'm not going to fight until I'm old. I've never been one of those fighters. I've always wanted to build my legacy and leave on my own terms with my legacy nice and in tact. I'm still young now, and I've got some time left, but my goal is to pursue other dreams.
Are you content with the current state of your relationship with the UFC brass?
I see it as a regular employee-employer relationship. It's not necessarily about being happy or being in a good place. Everybody has issues with their boss. That's life. In my case, the UFC has its objectives and goals, and I have my own objectives and goals. Sometimes they're aligned and sometimes they're not. I'm happy to be in the UFC. I'm happy to be in the best and most prestigious event in the world. Do I want better? Do I want more? Yeah, I want more. Everybody wants more. No different than any other employee-employer relationship.
You've shown an interest in a fighters association or union. Can you clarify whether you are a part of any of these groups?
I'm happy you asked me that question because I feel like I was misinterpreted on this issue, so this is a great chance for me to clear things up.
I am not affiliated with any specific union or association. I am in favor of all the unions and associations for athletes. I really want to see improvements for MMA fighters. I want to see improvements across the board, and I feel like most MMA fighters don't really know how to advance their own interests. They need support, they need direction. They need to be organized. They need good leadership to help them to structure that and figure out the best way to move forward. I would never intend to speak badly about associations or fighters that are undertaking those efforts because I think those efforts are very important to all fighters across all promotions. There's a lot of different people doing things. I saw something about people trying to make MMA part of the Ali act and testifying in front of congress. I think there's a lot of different efforts under way now, and I'm supportive of all of them. I don't know which one is going to work or which will be the most helpful, but I'm really glad that there are so many people trying to make things better because I think they need to get better and I think that the fighters do need to be organized in a more formal way.
Have any of these groups asked you to join them in an official capacity?
Yeah, I was invited to participate in a few of those efforts formally. I didn't turn down those invitations but I didn't accept them. It's not about any associations or the concept of the associations, it's about where I'm at right now. Right now, I see myself as a fighter. I don't see myself as someone who is going to be participating every day in these efforts. I train everyday; I'm always exhausted. I'm always working on prepping for my next fight, recovering from my most recent injury, doing all the things day-to-day that a fighter needs to do. So I don't see that being compatible with being a figurehead or a leader of an organization like this. For me, I just don't see that being something I can put my time into right now. So I haven't said yes yet. I will stand with fighters that need support any time they need support. People that are trying to help fighters have more assurances for their health, their safety, their lives will always have my support. When I stop fighting, yeah, I see myself getting involved in those efforts. But for today, I don't see it.
Another thing that's a real barrier for me is, I don't speak English. I feel like often when I've made efforts to communicate or I've made efforts to share my opinion, I've been misinterpreted or mistranslated. So it doesn't make me very enthusiastic to be mouthpiece for too much. It's a barrier for me. It has often led to backlash in the past.
Have you ever thought about trying to learn how to speak English better, like Junior dos Santos, Lyoto Machida, Anderson Silva, so that you can connect with the public better and not have your words misinterpreted?
First of all, those particular fighters live in the U.S. and they all wanted to live in the U.S. When they started learning English, there was a secondary objective there, which was to establish their family and lives in the United States. That's an objective I've never shared. I would never leave Brazil. I would leave my family and where I'm from and the life that I have here. I think Americans are really patriotic people, so patriotism is something they can understand. I'm very patriotic about Brazil, my country, and that includes my language. I studied English. I tried to learn as much as I can. I don't speak it very well yet, but I understand it much better than I used to understand it, and they say that comprehension sometimes comes before the speaking, so that's probably where I'm at.
You know, my wife and I, we travel to the U.S. quite a bit, and when we're there, we get by with our English. So we do have the basic English to communicate, and we're always trying to get better, for sure. But in professional terms, I prefer Portuguese. Portuguese is the language of my heart, it's the language of my feelings. It's the language that I feel I can express myself best in. And especially around fight time, when my head is spinning in 10 different directions, and I'm going a mile a minute, that's the language I'm thinking and feeling in. It's very difficult to translate feelings and thoughts into a language that's not yours, especially when the topics you're being spoken to about are topics that are deep and intimate before a fight.
Will you at peace with your career if you never get to fight Conor again?
Yeah, I'd have peace. No problem. I'm an athlete, so of course, it would be nice to have the rematch, but it's not something that would take away my peace. I think there's only one thing that would take away my peace and that's if I wasn't the champion. My objective since i started my career was: become the champion, remain the champion, retire the champion.
So, in the end, do you think you will fight Max Holloway in Brooklyn on Feb. 11?
No, the Brooklyn fight is not happening. I now expect and believe I will be fighting in early March. Either March 3 or March 4, I can't remember. I believe they will soon announce an interim lightweight title fight with me. They've been trying to find me an opponent, and -- surprise, surprise -- at least one has already turned down the fight against me. I'm waiting to see who they will find.
Wow. I didn't expect that. Who turned it down?
You gotta ask the UFC that. They've asked me not to say anything. I won’t say who it is because it’s a surprise. A guy we never thought would turn it down turned it down, because his father didn’t think it was good. I'm tired of people turning down fights. I want to put some pressure so they'll take the fight.
Finally, I was curious how you felt when you saw your former opponent Urijah Faber retire this past weekend?
Faber is a really special guy. He did an enormous amount for our weight class. He is single-handedly why this weight class is in the UFC, so I have a lot of gratitude towards him for everything that he's done. His retirement, on the one hand, makes me a little sad because I feel like he still has so much talent and so much to give, so there is a part of me that is sad to see him go and make that decision, but I'm really happy for him. He's a legend. He's truly done a lot for the sport and his legacy is totally cemented. And I think that it's beautiful that he was able to create something like that and do so much and get to choose his terms for how to walk away.
As a person, Urijah has always been respectful, kind, helpful, giving, and always looked to create opportunities for other people and fighters. I just think the world of him. There's a special place in my heart for him. He was welcoming to me and opened the doors to his gym for me on occasion and we did the same for him at our gym. There's always been a tremendous amount of mutual respect. He's a solid guy. I really wish him well. I wish him great things on this new chapter.