The King of Rio is retired. Long live the King.
Jose Aldo Junior, arguably the greatest 145-pound fighter to ever walk the face of the earth, decided to end his stellar MMA career following a decision loss to Merab Dvalishvili at UFC 278. He negotiated with the company to rescind his contract to allow him to compete in other sports in the future, but has ruled out fighting under MMA rules ever again.
Aldo was in a Rio de Janeiro hospital to watch the birth of his son, Jose Aldo III, as fans and fighters took on social media to shower him with praise after news broke of his retirement.
This week’s Trocação Franca podcast is a special edition: A tribute to the manauara who carried the UFC on his shoulders for so many years in his native Brazil. The podcast includes dozens of messages from teammates, former rivals, coaches, champions and ex-champions who wished Aldo happy trails as he leaves the sport. You can read the messages below.
Deiveson Figueiredo, UFC flyweight champion: “Jose Aldo motivated me to come back to fighting. I had already given up on my career, was working as a hairdresser, and watching Jose Aldo knocking everybody out as a UFC champion ignited the will and fire to chase my dreams. Jose Aldo retiring now leaves a great legacy in the history of the UFC and continues to motivate the youth to chase their own dreams. I never spoke with him in person, I was around him once and was shy [laughs], but I’m sure we will meet, and I’ll be able to give him a hug and tell him he’s my idol and he’s motivated me to come back to fighting. Jose Aldo is incredible.”
Leonardo Santos, TUF Brazil winner and Nova União teammate: “To me, the best Jose Aldo moment was his first UFC fight against [Mark] Hominick in Canada, when the UFC opened the featherweight division and Jose Aldo entered as champion since he was the WEC champion. He put on a MMA masterclass in this fight against Mark Hominick, such a tough kid. Absolute power. He showed he was the king, and would continue to be for a long time.”
Thiago Santos, PFL light heavyweight: “He’s our champion, the people’s champion, and inspiration for all of us. I watched Jose Aldo fight for a long time. We always bumped into each other on the regional scene, and he was always very humble and funny.
“One moment I recall is when I did my second fight in the UFC and beat Ronny Markes, a teammate of his at the time, and was invited to a soccer match in a favela. Jose Aldo was there with his belt. I was young and shy, was just starting in the UFC. I felt embarrassed and didn’t even talk to him. He came to me and said, ‘Marreta, congratulations on your victory. Great knockout.’ Man, I just fought his teammate and he came here to congratulate me. That was so cool. He’s a great champion not only inside the octagon, but in life too. We’ll miss watching him. I’m your fan, champion of the people.”
Renato Moicano, UFC lightweight: “The moment that sticks out to me in Aldo’s career is his fight against [Urijah] Faber in the WEC, when he was showing himself as a MMA powerhouse. He punished Faber for five rounds. I remember watching that as he cemented his legacy as a champion and went on to build a brilliant career in the UFC.”
Raoni Barcelos, UFC featherweight: “Jose Aldo gave me the opportunity to learn from him and train with him. All the time we spent together helping each other was great. I’m thankful for everything he’s done to make me the athlete I am today. He was and will always be my biggest inspiration. He leaves such a huge legacy for athletes after his brilliant career. I’m privileged for having the opportunity to learn from him.”
Fabio Maldonado, UFC veteran: “I only have good memories of Aldo. He’s always humble backstage. I remember when he had the Chad Mendes rematch, and I fought on the same card. I was leaving the bus, and a bunch of fans came in my direction. I was so happy they were coming to take pictures with me, but no, they were coming for Aldo, who was behind me and I didn’t see [laughs]. I was like, ‘Hey man, I thought that was for me,’ and he was like, ‘They’re here for you, too, The Iron Hillbilly.’ He’s always so humble. It was a pleasure to fight on the same card as him.”
Philipe Lins, UFC heavyweight: “Jose Aldo, the King of Rio! One interesting fact that people don’t know is that we lived together early in our MMA careers. I spent a few days in Rio, two weeks really, and learned so much from him even though it was such a short period of time. He works so hard, [so it’s] no surprise he got that far. ... He pushed me to fight for my dreams. I wish him all the best in this new phase of his career. He will forever be the people’s champion, one of the greatest names in the sport.”
Matheus Nicolau, UFC flyweight and Nova União teammate: “He’s one of my idols in MMA. One of my great memories of Jose Aldo wasn’t from a fight, but the moment I met him at Nova União. I was just a kid, 18 years old, arriving from Belo Horizonte, and remember vividly the first day I got there, the excitement of watching an idol train in front of you. That motivated me to keep pushing forward after my dreams. Not only that, he came to me to chat and even joked, saying I looked like a gringo [laughs]. He’s always like that, funny and polite, talking to everyone around him. The day I met him was one of the best days of my life. Not only did he become champion, he stayed champion for 10 years and reinvented himself after that at 135 pounds.”
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, UFC veteran: “We’re sad that the champion has decided to retire, one of the greatest champions in MMA history, but we know the legacy he leaves for the kids, the youth that look up to him, and older fighters that were inspired by him as well. I remember we were promoting an event in Vitoria da Conquista and signed fighters from all over the country. [Andre] ‘Dede’ Pederneiras called us and asked to give this kid Jose Aldo a fight. We only had Edelson [Pinto] and Erivan [Conceição], professional boxers, and he told us, ‘Give him a boxing match, Muay Thai, MMA — it doesn’t matter. He’ll fight anyone in any sport.’ You see how much he believed in Jose Aldo.
“We gave him another [fight] that ended up cancelled, but one thing I never forgot was his level of confidence in him. From there he won in Japan, beat ‘Pequeno’ [Alexandre Nogueira], and he became champion in the WEC and UFC. That’s when the world heard about Jose Aldo, the kid that ‘Dede’ Pederneiras said would beat anyone, in any weight class, in any sport.
“Enjoy retirement, champ. I’m sure you fought the good fight. Your legacy goes on as one of the greatest of all-time.”
Marlon Moraes, PFL fighter: “Every lighter-weight [fighter] has to thank Jose Aldo, because he has opened doors for all of us. He came knocking everybody out and showing that lighter fighters deserved attention in MMA. I had the opportunity to train with Jose Aldo at Nova União in 2008 and spent two years there. His takedown defense was incredible, and such sharp striking. I had the opportunity to be in some of his camps back in the WEC days and had to change to the U.S. and then had the opportunity to fight him in the future.
“We had a close fight, a tough one, and I came out victorious, but a lot of people [disagreed]. No hard feelings. It’s great for an athlete to see what Jose Aldo has done in the sport and one day fight him and defeat him. Jose Aldo is an idol for all of us. He definitely is one of the greatest of all-time and I had the pleasure of sharing the cage with him, fighting him, feel his punches — and punch him too. Not many people can say they felt that. It was an honor to fight him, watch him. It’s going to be hard to have another one like him.”
Alexandre Nogueira, WEC veteran: “The fight that stands out the most was when he fought me in the WEC. We put on a great battle, and he took off after that. He managed to win the UFC title and defend it many times, putting his name at the top of the world. Hats off to him for that achievement.
“A fighter must know the right time to stop. I wish him all the best.”
Junior dos Santos, former UFC heavyweight champion: “I honestly hope he has only retired from MMA and can still compete in other sports, because Aldo is a freaking fighter, a great champion, and an icon in the sport. His run in the sport was incredible. He fought all the challenges, never shying away from the difficulties and the battles in life and the sport. He’s not only a great champion but a great athlete, too. I hope we can still see Aldo competing in boxing.”
Nikolas Motta, UFC lightweight: “Aldo was a pioneer. At Nova União, our style was shaped like Aldo’s. That was so important for me early in my career. Being there and watching him train was so important. He was so smart, his technique was so advanced, it felt like he was a genius like Anderson Silva. He was ahead of his time.
“I remember him fighting Faber. He was so dominant in the WEC. He fought wrestlers, and no one could take him down. Everybody has good takedown defense at Nova União because of him. My fight with Joe Solecki, one of the most important fights of my career, I was doing a single leg takedown defense I learned watching Jose Aldo, and knocked [Solecki] out.”
Bruno Silva, UFC middleweight: “I want to thank Jose Aldo for the history he’s built in the sport. One of the best champions pound-for-pound in the history of MMA. The great fights, the joy for the people in Brazil and all over the world. He deserves to be respected for the legacy he’s leaving. His rematch with Chad Mendes was one of the most important, in my opinion. The comebacks, the ups and downs, and to come out with the win. I hope he enjoys retirement, and I hope his kids feel proud of the father they have.”
Eduardo Dantas, former Bellator champion and Nova União teammate: “The news of his retirement caught us by surprise. As soon as Aldo came back from his last fight, we went out for dinner and he gave me the news. I admit I didn’t believe him at first, but then I realized he was dead serious. Aldo was always very firm in his decisions, he knows what he wants. I joked I was losing a training partner but he said I can call him any time I want, he won’t stop training. Aldo was always an inspiration to me since the early days of our careers, he showed us we could become champions despite all the difficulties.
“When I first became champion in 2012, at 23, I remembered him. [I said,] ‘Aldo did it, I can do it too.’ Aldo was always an inspiration not only on the mat and inside the cage, but also outside [the gym], in our lives. Brazilians must value Aldo because what he’s done in the sport was incredible. He stayed undefeated for 10 years, won and regained the belt. He’s a national hero, and it’s a shame he’s retiring. If he thinks it’s the right moment, who are we to say it’s not? He glows [with] so much good energy, and I’ll forever be a fan of his.”
Gabriel Miranda, UFC featherweight: “Jose Aldo showed you can be a great champion and athlete and leave your mark in the sport without being an a**hole. He always respected his opponents and never talked badly about them. He was humble, showing his heart inside the cage.”
Rafael Cavalcante, former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion: “The best moment in Aldo’s career, for me, was that ‘Zé’ in the old WEC, when he came in extremely aggressive and finished his fights impressively. He showed in the UFC he was destined to win. Extremely aggressive, never quit. It was a pleasure to follow him and root for him.”
Gesias Cavalcante, two-time Hero’s champion: “Jose Aldo has one of the most impressive life stories in Brazil. The way he lit up the crowd at UFC , when he knocked out [Mendes] and jumped the cage to celebrate with the people — that was unforgettable for me, because it was a dream of mine to do that. To see that become a reality, even if through another champion, was so cool. I know Aldo is a great champion in life, and I wish him all the best in the future.”
Herbert Burns, UFC featherweight: “Jose Aldo is a legend of the sport, in my opinion the greatest Brazilian in MMA. He was the featherweight king for a long time. I saw Junior coming up in jiu-jitsu when he was a teen and we went to compete at the World Cup. I finished third, and he beat ‘Cobrinha’ [Rubens Charles], another jiu-jitsu legend, in the brown belt final.
“Thank you for everything you’ve done for the sport, Junior, and for putting Brazil at the top as WEC and UFC champion. Good luck in your journey outside the octagon.”
Jennifer Maia, UFC flyweight: “Jose Aldo was a great fighter. One of the greatest moments in his career was when he jumped the cage in Rio to celebrate with the people. Fighters know how awesome it is to feel the love from the crowd and all you want to do is celebrate. He leaves with a great legacy of a great fighter that made history in the UFC.”
Rafael Carvalho, former Bellator middleweight champion: “Aldo’s legacy is one of a hard worker. From humble beginnings to get where he got, becoming one of the best MMA fighters ever. Never gave up, challenged himself in a lower weight class and reigned for a long time. That’s the legacy he leaves for fighters who are still active and those who are starting now.”
Raush Manfio, 2021 PFL lightweight champion: “Jose Aldo’s career coming to an end and I feel the nostalgia already. In my opinion, he’s the greatest Brazilian after Anderson [Silva]. His celebration in Rio was magic.”
Amanda Ribas, UFC flyweight: “There’s a reason why Jose Aldo is the people’s champion. The moment that sticks out was his knockout over Chad Mendes and his celebration. People went crazy, and so did I watching at home. I’m a huge Jose Aldo fan.”
Vicente Luque, UFC welterweight: ”If not the greatest champion of all-time, he’s definitely one of the greatest. I had the opportunity to meet him backstage in the UFC a few times, and last time we both fought on the same night and won, and took a picture together. He told me he watched my fights and liked my style, and that’s an honor for me, to have someone like Jose Aldo watching my fights and saying he likes it. That gave me motivation to keep training hard.”
Wallid Ismail, Jungle Fight promoter: “Jose Aldo is a warrior who undoubtedly makes Amazonas proud. What a brilliant career. Congratulations, brother. I hope you have even more success in the next stages of your career because you were born a winner. You left Amazonas to shine around the world.”
Rani Yahya, UFC bantamweight: “Aldo is a legend, great inspiration with his life story. I’m a big fan of his. I remember I fought at featherweight and Chad Mendes defeated me to fight for the belt. It was the first time the UFC aired on Globo [TV] and he lands that knee out of nowhere to knock him out. The celebration was incredible, it all made him an idol. He was a great athlete, a great warrior, who leaves a huge legacy in the sport.”
Juliana Velasquez, former Bellator flyweight champion: “I want to thank Jose Aldo for everything he’s done for Brazilian MMA. He was great inspiration for me. I’m sure he will continue to inspire many others to come even though he’s retired. Thank you very much, Jose Aldo.”
Jessica Delboni, Invicta FC atomweight champion: “Jose Aldo is retiring but leaving such a wonderful legacy behind. Jose Aldo is a phenomenal athlete and has done a lot for the sport. The last fights he’s had, the losses don’t affect his career. I admire him because he was always focused and has such a beautiful life story. I’ve watched his movie so many times and truly look up to him.
“We’ll miss Jose Aldo but always respect him. Nothing and no one could ever erase what he’s done in his prime. He was the best in the world in his division and beat up so many great athletes.”
Marcos Rogerio de Lima, UFC heavyweight: “Talking about Jose Aldo is remembering good moments, great fights, and someone who always delivered great battles. I had the honor to share the mat with him at Nova União and he works so hard. We’ll miss the good moments, great highlights. I want to congratulate him for everything he’s done for the sport and everything he’s given us. I hope he continues being the man he is. There are so many things he can do, this new boxing trend. It will be nice to see him to other things. Aldo is a monster. A monster amongst so many other Brazilians.”
Wilson Reis, UFC veteran: “I met Jose Aldo when he was competing in jiu-jitsu in 2003. I was a purple belt, he was a bantamweight too, and I started to watch his work. He caught everybody’s attention in his first tournament representing Nova União and beat everybody until he became a black belt. I knew he would go far in MMA because he was knocking everybody out right out of the gate. Aldo is a wonderful man.”
Bethe Correia, UFC veteran: “I always looked for videos to watch before my fights when I started fighting MMA, and I would always watch Jose Aldo fighting. He had that energy that was so intense that inspired me. I felt I always fought better after that. He challenged himself to move down a weight class when he already had a history in the UFC and didn’t need to prove anything to anyone. The way he behaved after wins — and especially after the losses, always bouncing back — showed to me he’s a true legend of the sport.
Kleber Koike, RIZIN featherweight: “Jose Aldo is one of the guys I looked up to my entire career as one of the best featherweights. You can’t talk about MMA and not mention Jose Aldo’s name. He’s a legend of the sport. His fight with Chad Mendes was memorable. I’m a fan of this guy. It’s a pity that such a legend will retire, but I hope he can have a successful career in boxing, one of his dreams. I’ll always root for him. He inspires so many people. I hope I can do one percent of what he was able to do.”
Murilo Bustamante, former UFC middleweight champion: “The news of Aldo’s retirement is sad for the fans. I feel he still has wood to burn, but it’s his decision and we must respect that. The athlete knows the right moment to stop or not. I consider Aldo one of the greatest talents in the UFC, one of the best Brazilian champions of all-time, who left his mark in the WEC and UFC. He’s an example for the next generation. He always respected his opponents and let his fights do the talking.”
Elizeu Zaleski, UFC welterweight: “He inspired so many athletes with his humbleness and desire to be the best. He will be missed. Jose Aldo will be a winner in everything he does. I can only thank him for everything he’s done for the sport. I’m grateful for having fought in his UFC card.”
Roan Carneiro, UFC veteran: “I follow Aldo since the beginning. I went to many jiu-jitsu tournaments in Rio and the weigh-ins were at Nova União, early in the morning, and one day I went there and saw the kids sleeping on the mat. Aldo, ‘Loro’ [Marcos Galvao]… To see the man he became, a father, that’s contagious. Aldo has inspired so many people, including myself.”
Goiti Yamauchi, Bellator welterweight: “He is one of the best featherweights in history. He’s the responsible for bringing the division where it is today, and Brazilians have to thank Jose Aldo for the beautiful work he’s done and all the joy he has given us.”
Marcio Pontes, Aldo’s first jiu-jitsu coach: “He trained with me from white belt to purple belt in Manaus. I already expected his retirement, he’s been teasing that for quite some time, and I admit I’ve spoken with him a lot about that. I respect that. We’re upset because we wished to see him go out as champion as he desired, but I believe God does things His way.
“I’m happy with the story he’s written in MMA. He has inspired so many people with his victorious story. I’m beyond happy to be part of the story of this great man, MMA phenom Jose Aldo de Oliveira Junior.”
All interviews edited for clarity and concision.