Jose Aldo was a hot prospect in June of 2008, but entering his WEC debut in Sacramento, he was the underdog and the unknown against fellow newcomer and longtime Shooto champion Alexandre Franca Nogueira.
Not that Manaus native Aldo was thinking about perceptions or rankings. Asked about that moment in his life, the man who now holds the UFC featherweight championship simply says “It was hard times.”
That was almost six years ago, and Aldo wasn’t a star in his native Brazil, financially secure, or one of the true stars of mixed martial arts. He had left Manaus to live and train in Rio De Janeiro, and every day was a struggle. A contract with the WEC was his ticket out if he could cash it in, and he wasn’t going to be denied, not by Nogueira, not by anyone.
“I needed to get where I am now and wanted it more than anyone,” he said.
And he fought like it. Nogueira made it to the 3:22 mark of the second round before getting stopped. Jonathan Brookins, Rolando Perez, Chris Mickle, and Cub Swanson were also victims of Aldo before the Brazilian picked up the WEC featherweight crown with a second round TKO of Mike Brown in November of 2009. After two more wins, he was in the UFC and the promotion’s first 145-pound champion.
Aldo had arrived. Yet nearly three years after he walked into the Octagon for the first time, his fire has not dimmed. Sure, he’s been unbeaten since 2005, but as he approaches his UFC 169 co-main event against Ricardo Lamas, he’s as hungry as ever.
“I train harder for every fight and face each one as my last,” he said, and that’s not just fodder for the media. There’s a quiet intensity to Aldo, even when he’s not in the gym. In a recent press event in New York City, Aldo was the polar opposite to his teammate, the quick to smile bantamweight champion Renan Barao. And when talking about those aforementioned hard times, it wasn’t a Bruce Springsteen song, a reason to look back on everything and see it all as funny. Those days are a part of him forever, and they show up every time he fights. So even though he’s dominated 95% of his opposition, he says that “all my fights have been tough.”
This attitude may make him the most dangerous titleholder in the UFC today, and even though he can easily be considered the best featherweight ever, he’s not done yet, saying there are still challenges for him at 145 pounds even though there has long been talk of him moving up to the lightweight division.
“Lamas is a great fighter and he deserves this opportunity, and there are other good fighters getting back on top like Cub (Swanson), and Chad (Mendes).”
Yet who would be favored to not just beat the champion, but even give him a fight? That kind of dominance can make anyone complacent, but not Aldo, who, at 27, may not even be in his physical prime yet.
“I keep bringing in new guys to train and I listen to people with more experience,” he said when asked how he keeps things fresh for himself. What about the mental game though, and the idea that every top featherweight in the world is dreaming of one day fighting and beating him for the title?
“I keep dreaming like them,” said Aldo, who finally lets his guard down and smiles when asked about his first love of football (soccer) and whether he believes he could have one day turned pro had he stuck with that sport and not moved to MMA.
“Of course,” he said. “I know football like MMA - imagine José Aldo on your team.”
He laughs, but when you think about it, you get the impression that whatever Jose Aldo put his mind to, he was going to be the best in the world at it. Funny what hard times can do for the determined.
Jose Aldo's Triumph Over Hard Times
"Lamas is a great fighter and he deserves this opportunity, and there are other good fighters getting back on top like Cub (Swanson), and Chad (Mendes)." - Jose Aldo