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Roundtable: Is Jose Aldo the greatest fighter of all-time?

Jose Aldo
Guilherme Cruz, MMA Fighting

Few would question the greatness of Jose Aldo. Where he ranks on the list of all-time greats is another debate entirely.

This past weekend, the UFC’s longest-reigning featherweight champion and top-10 bantamweight contender announced his retirement from MMA competition, ending an 18-year career that included 11 championship bout victories, an absurd 25 wins in his first 26 pro outings, and wins over countless marquee names including Urijah Faber, Frankie Edgar, and Chad Mendes.

Has Aldo been overlooked in the all-time great discussions? Or has his retirement caused a wave of nostalgia to influence a reappraisal of his accomplishments? The MMA Fighting crew of Shaun Al-Shatti, Alexander K. Lee, Damon Martin, and Jed Meshew are here to take a deep look at Aldo’s history to determine where he belongs in the pantheon of MMA’s best and most accomplished fighters.

Make sure to check out the latest episode of DAMN! They Were Good, a mega-podcast celebrating Aldo’s one-of-a-kind career.

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Al-Shatti: Is Jose Aldo the greatest fighter of all-time? No, probably not. But he is part of an elite club: Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Aldo, and Demetrious Johnson. Whichever order you want to slot them in, those are the five greatest male fighters to ever do it.

People will disagree and I’m sure we all have our own nostalgic favorites, but strictly in terms of accolades, skill set relative to their peers, and length of sustained success, that’s the five. The order I gave above is my personal all-time ranking, with the King of Rio seated at No. 4, but you can make an argument for any of those five gentlemen as the GOAT and I won’t call you crazy.

So sure, there’s certainly a case to be made for Aldo. The most decorated featherweight of all time; nearly a decade of unparalleled dominance over his peers; 2,544 days as world champion under the Zuffa umbrella (the most ever) and 2,215 consecutive days as champion in his prime (second-most ever); nine consecutive Zuffa title defenses (second-most ever); an improbable third act in a lower weight division that very nearly culminated in a third title run.

Aldo may have dropped fights in the back half of his career, but greatness in combat sports is not won or lost on a single night, but rather through years and decades of résumé building. (That’s why the reactionary nonsense hailing the flavor of the month as the GOAT every Saturday night is always so silly. Alexander Volkanovski is four title defenses deep; he absolutely has a chance to get there — and one day he may very well just do it. But he’s still penning the early chapters of his story and there’s no short-cutting the line to all-time status. Both Volkanovski and Max Holloway still revere Aldo as the best ever for a reason — sustained excellence is the single hardest thing to achieve in combat sports. But I digress.)

St-Pierre, Jones, and Silva are my top three all-time for their combinations of the factors I laid out earlier — accolades, skill set relative to peers, length of sustained success — but Aldo belongs in the conversation, and he’s no worse than fifth on any respectable GOAT list.

Lee: Let’s break this down:

Stats - 31-8 pro record, with four of those losses coming in title fights and one to future UFC champion Alexander Volkanovski. Aldo won 25 of his first 26 fights, including nine straight title defenses. He became featherweight champion a second time at UFC 200. He was the undisputed No. 1 in the world at 145 pounds from 2009-2014 and retired at No. 6 at 135 pounds in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings.

Quality of competition - In his prime, there wasn’t a top featherweight that Aldo didn’t cross paths with. His WEC run saw him disintegrate Cub Swanson in eight seconds, run through a title-holding Mike Brown who was fresh off of two recent wins over Urijah Faber, and then put a lopsided beatdown on Faber. Outside of Kid Yamamoto, Faber was the man at 145 pounds for years and Aldo completely outclassed him for 25 minutes.

His UFC championship run also featured a lineup of killers, with Aldo twice knocking off Chad Mendes and former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, perennial contenders Ricardo Lamas and “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, not to mention Kenny Florian (two-time lightweight title challenger) and Mark Hominick (on a five-fight win streak with home court advantage in Toronto).

And you can sprinkle in top-10 bantamweight contenders Rob Font, Pedro Munhoz, and Marlon Vera for good measure. Simply put, if you question Aldo’s résumé, you’re essentially saying that no one has a good résumé. It’s airtight.

Eye test - Who could forget Aldo officially becoming The King of Rio at UFC 142? Putting on one of the greatest title fights of all-time against Mendes at UFC 179? The double knee knockout of Swanson? The butchering of Faber’s leg? The rib-roasters he laid on Jeremy Stephens and Renato Moicano? The guile he showed in outworking the competition at 135 pounds? It goes on and on and on.

Even if you only saw his highlight reel, you’d know you were witnessing one of the very best in action.

The losses - As touched upon above, Aldo fell short in a few big fights (way short in one notable instance), but there’s zero shame in catching Ls against the likes of Conor McGregor, Max Holloway, Volkanovski, and Petr Yan (depending who you ask, he didn’t really lose to Marlon Moraes nor Merab Dvalishvili either). Everyone loses in this game and if that’s your list of setbacks, you could do a lot worse.

So where do I rank him? I don’t know if he’s the best ever, but at his peak he was as good as anyone. And adding it all up, I’m hard-pressed to keep him out of my all-time top five. I don’t know what yours looks like, but it better have Aldo in it.

Gallery Photo: UFC 156 photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Martin: Jose Aldo is most certainly an all-time great, but it’s tough to call him the greatest of all-time.

Now, that’s not a slight on a career filled with accomplishments, including Aldo being the longest reigning featherweight champion in UFC history. But when talking about the best to ever do it, there are several of his contemporaries who have just done better — and arguably in more dominant fashion — against better competition.

That’s really where Aldo suffers when you stack him up against somebody like Jon Jones, who has not only run roughshod over an entire division for the better part of a decade, but did so while also taking on a laundry list of ex-champions and bona fide legends. Georges St-Pierre dominated a deeper and more dangerous welterweight division before eventually becoming a two-division UFC champion. Fedor Emelianenko put up ungodly numbers at heavyweight — a division where just winning more than a few fights in a row seems like a serious accolade.

When he first arrived in the UFC, Aldo basically brought the WEC featherweight division with him, but the 145-pound weight class still needed time to really fill out. Make no mistake, Aldo earned plenty of impressive wins over names like Mark Hominick, Kenny Florian, Chad Mendes, and Frankie Edgar, but he was heavily favored to win all of those.

According to oddsmakers, Aldo didn’t really draw a serious threat until he faced Conor McGregor in 2016 and, sadly, the result in that fight probably still haunts The King of Rio to this day. There are plenty of good wins on Aldo’s record, but he suffered a bit from the UFC still building and growing the featherweight division while he reigned as champion.

It’s the same reason why Demetrious Johnson — in my opinion — struggles to gain footing in this conversation when compared to names like Jones, St-Pierre, or Anderson Silva, who all fought and won consistently in more established weight classes. Aldo did amazing things at featherweight, but he got in early before the division was completely loaded with killers.

That said, Aldo deserves tons of praise for not only ruling over the 145-pound weight division for the better part of six years, but also managing to reinvent himself as a bantamweight in the second stage of his career. He never quite became a champion, but he certainly rose up the ranks to threaten as a top contender — and some would argue (and by some, I mean me) that he should have gotten a title shot against Aljamain Sterling over T.J. Dillashaw.

Still, Aldo serving as the GOAT at featherweight and then becoming a damn good bantamweight makes him far and away a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but that’s still not quite enough to say he’s the greatest fighter to ever do it.

Meshew: If you don’t rank Jose Aldo as the greatest fighter of all-time, that’s fine. It is largely a matter of taste, after all, and there are plenty of people in the world who don’t like peanut butter or chocolate. But Reese’s are the best and if you disagree, you’re wrong, just like with Jose Aldo.

I’ve said it countless times but the most difficult thing to do in MMA is to defend a title time after time, year after year, against the best that your division has to offer. It’s an impossible task because every time out, you’re getting the culmination of your opponent’s entire life, all of their hopes and dreams and energy has been focused on this one task, while for you, it’s another day in the office. Add in that in a lot of these fights you’re competing against fighters who have spent literal years planning to fight you, while you have been busy fighting other killers, and it’s remarkable that anyone has more than five title defenses, which is probably why more people have walked on the moon than have done it.

So starting from there, the GOAT talk can really only include six names, the list that Shaheen already gave plus Fedor Emelianenko (Fedor only actually defended a belt five times, but that was because Pride was weird – he won 18 times while being broadly recognized as the best fighter in the world at his weight class, which is what matters here). And off that list of six, Jose Aldo has by far the least baggage attached to his GOAT case.

Fedor fought in a very different era and beat a ton of cans. Anderson Silva popped for PEDs. Twice. Demetrious Johnson fought in a division that barely existed. Georges St-Pierre lost (not when his career was tailing off, literally when he had just ascended). And as for Jon Jones, aside from his host of outside-the-cage issues, he also popped for PEDs and the “established weight class” he reigned over was filled with middleweights and old, washed dudes. Seriously, of Jones’ 14 wins in UFC fights since becoming champion, six of them were against opponents who at one point in time fought at 185 pounds.

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Contrast that with Aldo, who beat a former lightweight champion and a former lightweight title challenger before he himself dropped to bantamweight, and well, I know which of those things I consider to be more impressive. (Also the idea that being a betting favorite is a knock on someone’s career is one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard. Literally every champion in consideration was a massive favorite over their opposition. That’s how it works! If Jon Jones was a pick’em against Chael friggin’ Sonnen, that would invalidate him from this conversation entirely!)

Jones may well be the best fighter to ever live, but he isn’t the greatest. At least not yet.

Look, if you don’t want to put Aldo as the GOAT, I mean, do you. But he’s my GOAT for one main reason: If I could choose to Freaky Friday myself into one fighter and get to have the career they had, it would be Aldo. The UFC doesn’t count Aldo’s WEC run, which is insanely stupid since they were owned by the same company and Zuffa even ran a PPV event using their UFC people, but still called it WEC. But if you factor that in, Aldo:

  • Was the youngest champion in Zuffa history, 23 years and 69 days
  • Is tied for third all-time in promotional title defenses (9)
  • Has the second longest title reign in history (2215 days) behind only Anderson Silva
  • Holds the record for the most days as promotional champion, 2,544.

And he did it all without a single controversy or real criticism. And apparently he did it all competing up a weight class. There’s a reason Jose Aldo is universally beloved and why he’s your favorite fighter’s favorite fighter: He’s the f****** GOAT.


Where does Jose Aldo rank on the all-time list?

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