Earlier this year, Glover Texeira shocked the world when he choked out Jan Blachowicz to become the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion at the ripe old age of 42. It was a moment that defied logic, turning the tide on the previously undefeated Father Time and proving to the world that greatness can be attained no matter the age, no matter the setbacks.
Glover’s surprise victory fueled Aldo’s fire to build on a legacy that’s already amongst the greatest to ever. Former lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov criticized Aldo on the heels of his victory against Pedro Munhoz, throwing water on the claims that Aldo was defying the odds and making a real comeback en route to another bantamweight title shot. According to Khabib, fighters don’t peak twice.
Aldo’s response? “He’s saying you can’t peak again, but we just saw an example with Glover, who got there, lost, and got there again at age 42 and won [the UFC title], completely dominated the champion, took him down and submitted him,” translated from his appearance on the Trocação Franca podcast.
Aldo has remained steadfast in his determination to become UFC champion yet again, proving the doubters (and Khabib) that even an ‘old’ fighter can keep getting better.
The thing is, Aldo isn’t really that old. He’s just been in the game so long that he seems like he is. It’s to be expected when you turn pro at the age of 16 and have been fighting in the UFC since the WEC merger.
It may be a weird realization for many fans, but Aldo is younger than TJ Dillashaw, Stephen Thompson, Francis Ngannou, Luke Rockhold, Thiago Santos, Ryan Hall, just to name a few. In fact, he’s only a year older than the man he just whooped pillar to post in Rob Font. The 35-year-old Aldo may have a lot of mileage, but for all intents and purposes, he isn’t ‘old.’
Screenshot Via COMBATE
Aldo’s resume speaks for itself. As the popular saying goes, he’s your favorite fighter’s favorite fighter. He is the consensus featherweight GOAT, having been undefeated in that division for a decade with a whopping 9 title defenses between the WEC and UFC.
There was a lot of doubt cast on the man when he announced a move down to bantamweight. Many feel he was too over-the-hill, too old and too big to be cutting weight down. Fighters like Darren Till even suggested that he should be moving up to lightweight instead (though moving up hasn’t seemed to help him much).
Then there was doubt he could hang with the top of the division after losing a championship bout against Petr Yan at UFC 251. That doubt even crept into Aldo’s mind, who stated in an interview with MMAFighting that he contemplated retirement after losing to the Russian back in July, 2020.
It was a fleeting moment of doubt and pain for the Brazilian legend, who found a renewed sense of self after training with young boxers in the Brazilian Navy. The Brazilian Navy is world renown for their boxing program, creating quite a few Olympians over the years.
“those [Brazilian Navy] kids lit a fire inside me, brother. I have so much will to fight these days. I’ve been with the Navy for almost two years now, since the [start of the COVID-19] pandemic. Man, I’m feeling like a boy again, learning every day, changing my fighting style. That renewed me to fight again, lit the fire I needed.” - Jose Aldo during his interview with MMAFighting
The evolution in Aldo’s game is certainly paying dividends. During his prime featherweight days, Aldo's game was well known: hellacious leg kicks, explosive power and speed, and suspect cardio. He wasn’t exactly known as a tactician, relying more on his physical prowess rather than setting up his shots. And for years, it worked to great effect.
But the new wrinkles in Aldo’s boxing approach have taken him to the next level. Feinting is something featherweight Aldo rarely did, but it is now a staple of his game. Throughout the Font fight, he would routinely parry Font’s jab, then set up traps with feints. It was a thing of beauty.
Font was struggling with Aldo’s power, getting rocked by every right hand that landed. Jose’s long time head coach Andre Pederneiras told his fighter to bust out the classic leg kicks in the middle rounds. The result? Jose knocked down Font with a crushing calf kick in the third round.
Another fold in Aldo’s fight game that’s distinct from his featherweight days in his use of grappling. Jose Aldo has legendary takedown defense, but was known for a guy who avoided the ground so he could beat you up on the feet. Bantamweight Aldo is a new beast, controlling Font on the ground in the later rounds.
The use of dominant grappling wasn’t just impressive because of his ability to maintain superior positioning, but it also demonstrated a high fight IQ. Jose used to be a guy who started fading fast by the third round. However, Bantamweight Aldo paced himself, using his grappling on top to conserve his energy.
It was a good lesson for the young Leonardo Santos to observe. Earlier in the night, Santos gassed himself trying to light up a hurt Clay Guida, only to get choked out the next round.
After the fight, Jose stated through his translator that he wanted to prove that he was a 5-round fighter, and he did exactly that. His callout was perfect, asking for a bout with another vaunted UFC veteran in TJ Dillashaw. A win over Dillashaw would likely earn Aldo what he wants most: another chance for gold in his new division.
Meanwhile, Khabib will have to contend with the fact that Aldo’s resume is already lightyears ahead of his. If Aldo becomes champion again, he may put himself in the number one spot for greatest to ever compete in MMA, which may be a hard pill for the Dagestani to swallow.
Whether or not he can overcome Yan in a rematch is a different subject, but there’s no denying that against all odds, Aldo is proving that even ‘old’ fighters can continue to get better.