José Aldo announced yesterday his retirement from the UFC after 18 years in MMA. During that time, he established himself as the most feared featherweight on the planet – a division over which he relentlessly reigned for five years. A rare fighter, universally well-liked and respected among fans, Aldo will be sorely missed.
Few sports communities are as divided as MMA fans. Constant and heated debates erupt online over who qualifies as the “greatest of all time”, who deserves to be higher in the pound-for-pound rankings or even who is next in line for a title shot. However, on days like yesterday, when a true sports legend hangs up his gloves, we see this often fragmented fan base come together.
Consensual contender for the “Featherweight Goat,” Aldo will be remembered for his ferocious kicks, excellent takedown defense, and a grit and determination that you only find among elite athletes.
Perhaps most impressively, Aldo’s career was not defined by his devastating knockout loss to Conor McGregor at UFC 194 – arguably one of the most famous moments in the history of the sport. The Brazilian could easily have faded from memory as the champion he was, to become the “guy McGregor knocked out in 13 seconds”. Instead, Aldo struggled to win interim featherweight gold at UFC 200, before seeing his coveted belt fully restored to him after the Irishman vacated the belt.
He didn’t see himself as a guardian after his championship days were over, he stayed in contention; he gave Max Holloway two of the best fights the featherweight has ever seen at UFC 212 and 218, before taking on Renato Moicano, reigning champion Alexander Volkanovski and Marlon Moraes.
Losses to Volkanovski and Moraes forced Aldo to reconsider his future in the division, with several other featherweights ahead for a title shot. In almost all cases, wrestlers move up to their most “natural” weight when switching divisions, with very few successful examples of wrestlers moving down a weight class.
As he has done throughout his career, Aldo took the hard path and went down to face Piotr Yan to fight for the bantamweight belt at UFC 251. Despite being defeated, we saw a classic stubborn Aldo, who gritted his teeth and took a punishment seriousness of a fearsome Russian boxer despite a wild weight cut and no previous experience at 135 pounds in the UFC. Despite Yan’s sweeping victory, few could claim that Aldo looked out of place in a UFC title fight nearly three years after his last attempt to win a title. He was just beaten by the best fighter of the night.
A few eyebrows were raised, as Aldo might look a little young to hang up his gloves at just 36, but he’s been fighting for UFC titles since 2011 and the caliber of opponent he’s faced consistently since time has forced even more respect for the man. . His résumé is as impressive as anyone in the UFC – apart from maybe Jon Jones. Urijah Faber, Alexandre Nogueira, Jonathan Brookins, Chad Mendes, Kenny Florian, Frankie Edgar – and these are just fights he had before 2012!
Looking towards the end of his career – there was no spectacular fall from grace that we often see from elderly fighters. Aldo simply decided he had had enough. There was no patronizing ‘I think he should stop’ from Dana White as we saw with Junior Dos Santos, or calls from fans to end the day – and why would there be? It wasn’t until late last year that we saw Aldo beat a highly rated Rob Font. A genuine contender to the end, who has faced adversity multiple times and forged ahead, with minimal complaints and maximum entertainment value.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. There is concern among commentators and fans that Aldo will not receive a proper farewell; no chance to drop his gloves in the Octagon and give Joe Rogan a final interview before leaving to rapturous applause in a packed stadium somewhere.
However, one can take comfort in the fact that he is almost certain to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, where he will be able to take his rightful place alongside greats such as Georges Saint-Pierre, Michael Bisping and Forrest Griffin.