It is a difficult truth that combat sports do not treat elder statesmen with reverence until they are no longer of use. While active, they are often viewed by matchmakers and prospective opponents alike as bridges to the next generation. No one bothers to tell them. It’s just as well; they wouldn’t believe it anyway. The only way to survive so long in such an unforgiving sport is by excelling through impossible and unwavering self-belief. Even if skills start slipping, even as success starts to fade, it must feel like a minor glitch in the system.
Jose Aldo is one of the rare few to receive the message without being told. Still just 32, Aldo is not old, but he is weary, and for good reason. Aldo has spent the last decade of his life fighting five rounders against the best featherweights in the world. Frankie Edgar, Max Holloway, Conor McGregor, Chad Mendes, Urijah Faber, etc. In his 15-year career — yes, he debuted as a 17-year-old pro — he has suffered injuries to his neck, ribs, foot, shoulder, and leg. And those are only the ones he’s publicly disclosed.
Aldo has admitted the end is near, and even gave us a countdown to tick away his final moments. Three more fights, he said while heading into UFC Fortaleza fight week. Three more chances to watch the magic.
He’s still got it. He may be heading for the exit, but it’s not because the party is over. It’s because the party is no longer where he wants to be. That will be our loss. Aldo has long been underappreciated as a talent, even when he was viewed as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. He was always an electric finisher, a Brazilian storm exploding from all angles. Still is.
Renato Moicano is now the latest name added to his esteemed collection. The talented 29-year-old had walked into the fight with a head of steam and a growing reputation built on his 5-1 Octagon record. His only loss had been to top contender Brian Ortega, in a fight that he was winning. He had since won two straight and was favored to win. Many assumed the matchup would serve as a springboard into the title picture for him.
Instead, it was a happy start to Aldo’s farewell tour. The legendary featherweight turned back the clock with a swarm for the ages, then recreated his UFC 142 post-fight celebration by jumping the cage and partying with his countrymen in the crowd. It was a scene, one that only an athlete of gravity could create.
If sports were fair — if life was fair — that’s how the last days of Aldo will play out. Two more fights, two more celebrations. Preferably in the last one, he leaps into the crowd, he’s carried out into the streets of Rio and feted as an all-time great, and is never seen again in a cage.
That would be so nice, so perfect, because it is so far from the typical MMA ending.
Aldo is still among the best featherweights in the world, maybe even the No. 2 man behind Max Holloway, who clearly beat him twice. Despite that, Aldo has stopped a final chase for the belt, mostly because it’s out of his hands.
Aldo has always said he aims to retire young and to retire as the UFC champion. He is on track for the former, but not the latter. As long as Holloway holds the gold, there is no clear path to the top for Aldo.
Aldo is at peace with this idea. He should be. As a two-time UFC champion and WEC champion with nine successful title defenses, his legacy already belongs to history.
His final two fights are not about adding to his resume; they are about saying a proper good-bye. They are about his connection to his fans and his country. They are his final waves to the sport.
It’s not a silent goodbye though. Aldo has never been that kind of man. He’s voiced his thoughts on fighter treatment; he’s detailed his personal history; he’s stood in the face of every challenger with pride.
Jose Aldo ain’t leaving quietly, but he is leaving. That’s a reason to be happy and a reason to be sad. If you’re truly a fan, you have to hope that the rare-breed fighter get the rarest of exits — walking away on his own terms.