The former UFC and WEC featherweight champion, one of the best to ever compete in the sport, said on a recent episode of MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca he always set out to retire at age 35.
“I was in my last title run,” Aldo said. “I was hopeful and training well, at my best both physically and technically, and had the intention to become champion, but the moment [I saw] it would no longer be possible to become champion, that’s when I would stop. It was already expected for me, ‘Dede’ [Andre Pederneiras] and my wife. I knew that if the win didn’t come [against Dvalishvili], my career would end. And so it was.”
Aldo had one fight left in his deal with the UFC, but company president Dana White agreed to grant him clearance to compete in other sports, such as boxing, if he chooses to in the future. The Brazilian explained why he turned down an offer to compete one final time inside the octagon at UFC 283, which is set to take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Jan. 21.
“We had this last fight [in the deal] and they said we could even choose an easier opponent, let’s put it this way, but no. To me, it was already decided,” he said. “I’m sad because we could do that farewell in Rio, but I didn’t want to. If you say I have to complete the contract, I would choose the highest-ranked guy, the toughest one, to walk away and test myself because I know I still have what it takes to be at the highest level. But, no. I’m sad for the fans, for the media, everybody thought about this fight, saying goodbye in Rio, but not for me. That was my plan and I won’t walk back. I have a son now, Aldo III, so the idea of fighting doesn’t cross my mind.”
Asked if a special opponent would have convinced him otherwise, Aldo explained he already had his mind made up about retirement in 2020.
“For me, I already wanted to stop [before] this final run,” Aldo said. “I sat down with ‘Dede’ after the Petr [Yan] fight in Abu Dhabi, I wanted to stop. He always let time pass and then we would talk. I had a good age at that time, I could still do something else with my life other than continue fighting. But we came back. That’s why I changed my life completely, started training boxing at the Navy and that gave me a push, learning new things, working on a new diet. From that moment I started fighting for others instead of for myself.”
“I’m very competitive and I every time I go in there I will always do my best and want to win, but I was [fighting] for others,” he explained. “I was coming with all I had to become champion but for others, not myself. I felt that before, to become champion at the highest level, but no name [would have convinced me].”
That said, Aldo does not regret resuming his career after losing to Yan in Abu Dhabi. The Nova Uniao star was on a three-fight losing skid at that point, and won back-to-back-to-back fights against Marlon Vera, Pedro Munhoz and Rob Font before his final bout with Dvalishvili.
“I don’t regret anything,” Aldo said. “If I did it, I did it because it was the right thing had to be done. I don’t regret it, really. After the milk is spilled, there’s no other option but to clean it. Not just me, but everybody saw me at the top again. People saw me as a former fighter [after the Yan loss] and I came back again, winning, putting on good performances, and people started talking good about me again. It was awesome, a great experience not only for me but for my team, ‘Dede’, my family, and everybody around us for these last fights we had.”
The only thing he does lament regard his final fights is having referee Jason Herzog as the third man in the cage for his final octagon appearance at UFC 278.
“I could very well sit and wait for the title fight, be the next in line,” Aldo said, “but I didn’t know when [Aljamain] Sterling would want to fight, he could get hurt and then postpone it. I didn’t want to wait that long, I wanted to fight. I was in a hurry to fight, and I was willing to. That’s what I did when I first signed to fight in the UFC and WEC. I wanted to stay active. Fighters have a short window and I had to test myself. Even though [Dvalishvili] was someone nobody wanted to fight, I did it.
“I’m very disappointed with this last performance,” he continued, “but, on the other hand, everybody has this image of me as the champion, winning my fights and giving my all in there, fighting everybody, they don’t that much about that loss itself but the fight, which was ugly. [Dvalishvili] kept hugging, but it wasn’t Merab’s fault only, it was the referee’s [fault]. He’s horrible. I can tell you that. If you watch every fight he referees, it’s always a sh***y fight. The same thing happened in Ketlen [Vieira’s] fight with Holly Holm.
“Ten seconds go by and the guy is only touching you with the knee, not doing anything really, break them. If they aren’t improving, separate them and restart. As a fan, I want to fight a fight, not people hugging, [and a referee] defending [that] style... The referee is more to blame than Merab. Merab did what he was set out to do, but the referee is the one that let it happen.”