On Saturday night, Jose Aldo faced MMA Fighting’s sixth-ranked bantamweight Pedro Munhoz in the co-main event of UFC 265. It was an opportunity for Aldo to show that despite pushing 35 and already having a 17 year career in MMA, he still has something left in the tank, and boy did he deliver. In fact, the King of Rio showed that he’s only getting better with age.
Since dropping down to bantamweight in 2019, Aldo has shown flashes of his former brilliance but has also, at times, seemed to still be figuring things out. On Saturday that was not the case as he won a convincing decision over Munhoz, sweeping all three rounds on every scorecard and reestablishing himself as a legitimate title contender in the talent-stacked 135-pound division. And he did it not by returning to his championship form of 2014 but by unveiling a whole new Jose Aldo. One he’s been working on since he cut down to 135.
At his peak (though Aldo’s continued success is redefining what “peak” means), Aldo was a minimalist fighter. Aldo relied on a small set of offensive weapons - a jab, low kicks, body shots, the occasional knee - and the best defense in MMA history to freeze opponents in their tracks and pick them off with one or two shot combos. He preferred a slow pace and conventional thinking was that he got worse as the fight wore on. But at 34 years old and now with a more severe weight cut than every before, Aldo has transformed himself into a high-volume, combination puncher. In a three-round fight against Munhoz, Aldo landed 114 significant strikes, with 47 of those coming in the final round. That’s the most significant strikes of Aldo’s career by a comfortable margin, despite the fact that he has fought into the fifth round eight times in his career.
It cannot be overstated, what Jose Aldo is doing right now is borderline impossible. Fighters 17 years into their career don’t suddenly overhaul their entire game, especially not when that game has seen them become one of the most decorated athletes in the history of the sport (just look at Conor McGregor). Moreover, they don’t overhaul their games in the way Aldo has done it. 17 years is an exceptionally long time in MMA, especially at lighter weights and fighters with that sort of experience tend to slow things down. They move up a weight class and work at a more manageable pace, relying on their technical skills to make up any difference in physicality. But Aldo has cut weight and, somehow, sped up. He’s faster than ever and throwing more than ever, and subsequently, he’s better than ever.
If Jose Aldo had retired following his second loss to Alexander Volkanovski no one would have batted an eye. At 32 he had already accomplished everything there was to accomplish and it seemed obvious that he was losing a step physically. Instead, he went back to the drawing board and though it took him a little while to find his footing, Aldo is now inarguably one of the best bantamweights in the world, 12 years after he won his first world title at 145 pounds.
All hail the King of Rio.
UFC 265 Quotes
“I want to bring the UFC to my country. I want that.” - Cyril Gane on potentially facing Francis Ngannou in France.
“After I lost a fight I felt I needed to incorporate more things into my repertoire and that’s how I got into Navy-sponsored boxing in Brazil. I feel that’s how it made better my punches and obviously everything upper, but I’m never gonna forget the kicks.” - Jose Aldo on how he has made such a stark change to his style.
“I’m one of the most, if not the most, exciting welterweight right now. I every single fight, my fights are exciting, and for that reason I think I deserve a title fight.” - Vicente Luque on calling for a title fight.
Cyril Gane: Gane was expected to win on Saturday but no one expected him to make it look so easy. Francis Ngannou has his hands full with his former training partner.
Vicente Luque: Luque is now on a four-fight win streak at welterweight, all by finish. He’s the most exciting fighter in the division and may well have earned himself a title shot.
Tecia Torres: After dropping four in a row, Torres has now put together a three-fight win streak and on Saturday she looked the best she ever has. The Tiny Tornado should be getting a top-five opponent next.
Song Yadong: Song is only 23 years old and this kid is looking like he will be a perennial top-10 bantamweight for the next decade.
Manel Kape: He got off to a rough start in the UFC but Kape finally did some Kape things and showed why many people were high on his signing.
Derrick Lewis: When Lewis’ style doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work. Lewis looked befuddled for every second of his bout with Gane, which isn’t what you want when an entire card is built around you.
Michael Chiesa: Simply put, Chiesa had this fight in the bag and blew it. Going from probably submission win to tapping out in the span of about 10 seconds is a tough, tough look.
Angela Hill: Hill spent the better part of a year downplaying Torres’ win in their first fight and accusing her of PED usage but on Saturday night, Hill had nothing for Torres. She got beat pillar to post.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz: The former strawweight title challenger has last five in a row now and her career is quite possibly over.
Fights to Make
Cyril Gane vs. Francis Ngannou: Ngannou-Gane looks like it will be the heavyweight rivalry to define the next generation of the division. The first fight should be tremendous.
Derrick Lewis vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik: I’m shocked this fight hasn’t already been booked. Let these two throw haymakers at one another until someone falls down.
Jose Aldo vs. Dominick Cruz: Aldo has called for a bout with Dillashaw and while I love that fight, Dillashaw is both injured and deserves his crack at the title. Let Aldo complete another superfight of yesteryear.
Pedro Munhoz vs. Cory Sandhagen: Both men are coming off losses and this seems like a really fun test for Sandhagen.
Vicente Luque vs. Kamaru Usman: Colby Covington does not deserve a title shot and it wouldn’t be the first time the UFC has taken one away from him. Luque is a much more fun and deserving title challenger.
Top Takeaways from Saturday night
- Jose Aldo is a top-five fighter all time. At least.
- The reverence other fighters have for Aldo is truly rare. Like B.J. Penn, Fedor Emelianenko, and Anderson Silva, he’s your favorite fighter’s favorite fighter and seeing the amount of respect he garners from everyone when he fights is heart-warming.
- I still don’t like his matchup with Petr Yan, but Aldo would school Aljamain Sterling.
- Cyril Gane is the spiritual successor to Fedor - a guy who has legitimate technical skills but can also hit stupid hard. I still favor Francis slightly given that he’s the most powerful/athletic fighter probably ever but it’s a stop gap at best. Gane will hold the undisputed belt, and for awhile.
- Cyril Gane won a UFC title three years and five days after making his MMA debut.
- Derrick Lewis finally looked as bad as his detractors make him out to be.
- Vicente Luque is appointment viewing at this point.
- How in God’s name did Michael Chiesa ever make lightweight? He dwarfed Luque in there.
- Casey Kenney was extremely confused if he thought he won that fight.
- Rafael Fiziev survived Bobby Green. That wasn’t a win and the fact that it was shows just how dumb the scoring system is. Fiziev won the first two rounds, slightly, and Green won the third, big. In a rational system - one that scored rounds based on how the other rounds were scored - that would be taken into account.
- Bobby Green deserves a Jorge Masvidal-like late career star turn.
- Alonzo Menifield couldn’t get a thoroughly battered Ed Herman out of there. That’s not a great sign for one of 205s best prospects . . .
- Nice to finally meet you, Manel Kape.