Las Vegas oddsmakers are the cold purveyors of public perception, and that’s why Jose Aldo — the UFC featherweight division’s finest ever specimen — is a sizable underdog heading into Saturday night’s UFC 218 fight with Max Holloway. People A) just can’t shake the image of that 13-second loss against Conor McGregor (and if we’re being real, don’t want to), and B) saw him lose the first fight against Holloway. Because of those things, Vegas has handicapped the collective doubt and data, making the best featherweight of all-time a nearly 3-to-1 underdog in the rematch.
This is why Norman Mailer once said that gambling has its own libido. The temptations are never ending. Aldo an underdog? What better time to send a Benjamin Franklin down the chutes of trends and hunches for the chance to see him come back cloned twice over?
The truth is, Aldo was holding his own just fine in the first fight with Holloway back at UFC 212. He won the first round, and was snapping that left jab into the sweet spot between Holloway’s substantial ears. What we didn’t see was the barrage of leg kicks that left people like Urijah Faber feeling like cake batter. Aldo never really got around to those. Instead, he went to work with his hands while Holloway, as patient as they come, simply bided his time.
By the end of the second round, Holloway began taunting Aldo, right there in Aldo’s hometown of Rio de Janeiro. Aldo did what any proud champion would do when an interloper starts clowning you in a fistfight. He landed a spinning kick that got the crowd fired up for doling out some sequential justice. Unfortunately, it turns out that was last call for Happy Hour.
The third round was Holloway’s. He landed a heater of a left hand off a lunging combo that dropped Aldo, and then went to work on him on the ground. Less than two minutes later, Aldo was turtling up on his stomach while Holloway boxed his ears until Big John McCarthy had seen enough. That was it. The place went quiet, because it was more than a hero falling down — it was a hero that had fallen. Holloway had officially turned the page in the featherweight division, leaving Aldo — and the absentee champion McGregor, for that matter — behind for good.
Or at least until December, where we find ourselves playing it back in the neutral city of Detroit. The rematch is a weird one, given that Holloway ended the first encounter pretty emphatically, and Aldo was getting set to fight in his first non-title fight since 2009 against Ricardo Lamas. All it took was Frankie Edgar getting hurt and leaving the UFC in a pinch to make it happen. The UFC basically said Cub Swanson, Schlub Swanson, Aldo’s back bitches!
And really it’s as it should be.
Aldo wasn’t just a featherweight champion, he has been the featherweight champion. Given that McGregor snatched his belt in 13 seconds and then bolted off to lightweight/welterweight/boxing/pub fights with mobsters, Aldo remains the face of the featherweight division. Holloway scribbled on that countenance in June; now he gets the chance to replace it with his own. It’s exactly the fight that should happen, given Aldo’s place in the canon of greats. And why not in Detroit? For a hungry forgotten champion, Little Caesars Arena is the place to be.
If Aldo is able to avenge himself against Holloway — perhaps using his full arsenal of leg kicks — we will be staring down the barrel of a trilogy fight. That’s less than ideal for opening up movement in the division (something we already thought we achieved), but it would be warranted, especially if Aldo melts Holloway with something big. If Holloway repeats his virtuoso performance from UFC 212, and finishes Aldo again, that has wider, more definitive implications. Namely that Aldo is officially on the outside looking in on a division he ruled for the better part of a decade. That his quest to be a titleholder is over. That any leverage he hoped to gain in coaxing McGregor back into his crosshairs might be shot.
That the best featherweight we’ve yet seen isn’t from Brazil, but from Waianae. Holloway won the first fight by laying in wait for his moment to strike. This time the moment is all his from the jump. Vegas expects him to win. Would a victory firmly land us in the Blessed era of the feathers, where Aldo becomes past tense and McGregor fades into a chorus of only ifs?
You bet it will.