Jose Aldo was in tears as his cornermen carried him around the Octagon on Saturday night.
And why shouldn’t he be?
The greatest featherweight in mixed martial arts history, the loser of three of his previous four fights, was in trouble against Jeremy Stephens in the co-main event of UFC on FOX 30.
But he rallied for an electrifying victory over Stephens at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, a victory that announced to the world his days as a top contender aren’t done yet.
The time of the TKO stoppage in favor of the former longtime UFC and WEC champion was 4:19 of the opening round.
The heavy-hitting Stephens came out firing, landing early and often and appearing to have Aldo just a few shots away from a potential finish.
But Aldo persevered, weathered the storm, fought back, and started landing shots of his own as the momentum turned.
Then came the crushing blows: A vicious pair of body shots so well-placed, they crumpled one of the pound-for-pound toughest fighters in the sport in Stephens. Aldo rained down hammerfists on the downed Stephens until the bout was waved off.
With the victory, Aldo had his 10th knockout in the UFC/WEC featherweight division, a company record, and he scored his first finish since a 2013 victory over Chan Sung Jung.
The former titleholder, who lost twice to current champion Max Holloway, said he’s ready for a run at the lineal world title he held for six years.
“The champ is back and I want to get my belt,” Aldo (27-4) said through an interpreter.
Stephens (28-15) had a three-fight winning streak snapped.