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The Blueprint - Aldo vs. Mendes

Michael DiSanto breaks down Saturday night's UFC 142 main event between UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo and unbeaten challenger Chad Mendes...

Jose Aldo has something to prove on Saturday night.

That got your attention, didn’t it? Follow along for a couple of paragraphs before getting all crazy in the comment section, because the reigning UFC featherweight champion certainly does have something to prove in my honest opinion.

Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre are universally regarded as the top two fighters in the world, pound for pound. Yet, both are currently sidelined by injuries that will keep them out of action for a while and may or may not have a lasting impact on their respective abilities moving forward.

For the first time in years, there is finally a crack in the pound-for-pound door. Two men instantly come to mind when thinking about the next in line behind Silva and GSP—Jon Jones and Jose Aldo.  Jones had such an amazing 2011 that many are ready to anoint him on par with the two reigning pound-for-pound kingpins. But the fact of the matter is that Jones has only recently entered the world of the elite. In 2010, Jones wasn’t even a footnote in the pound-for-pound debate.

Don’t get me wrong. Jones has always been a fighter with seemingly limitless potential. I was calling this guy out as a future champion as early as his 2009 win over Stephan Bonnar. But nobody, other than maybe Jones’ immediate family, was referring to him in pound-for-pound terms until he won the championship from Mauricio “Shogun” Rua last March.

Jose Aldo, on the other hand, has been part of the discussion since at least the middle part of 2010. Aside from a gut-check win over Mark Hominick last April, the Brazilian bomber has seemed largely invincible during his current 13-fight, five-plus-year winning streak. Go back and check out his wins over Cub Swanson, Mike Brown, Urijah Faber, Manny Gamburyan and Kenny Florian. You’ll understand what I’m talking about. This guy is scary good—absolutely scary.

The problem for Aldo is that Jones’ 2011 was one of the best years that we’ve seen in the UFC in a long, long time. And we all know that mixed martial arts is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sport. Aldo’s 2011 was good, but not that good.

Nonetheless, Aldo’s body of work over the past five years suggests that he is more deserving of pound-for-pound glory than his younger, larger fellow champion. None of that matters, though, if he cannot put on a stellar performance on Saturday night against undefeated challenger Chad Mendes.

Aldo can’t just beat Mendes if he wants to reinsert himself into the pound-for-pound discussions. He needs to destroy him, which is exponentially easier said than done.

Many believe that Mendes is the best wrestler that Aldo has ever faced. That is a gigantic statement considering the fact that Aldo already owns a lopsided win over Faber, a very successful collegiate wrestler in his own right. And he made it look like just another day at the office.  

The question is whether he can do the same thing to Faber’s Alpha Male teammate on Saturday night. The answer all depends on whether Aldo can stop the takedown. If so, the champion will undress his opponent with a violent array of strikes. In fact, it will probably seem more like target practice than a fight, if the action remains standing.

But that is a big IF. Remember, we are talking about the 2008 Pac-10 Wrestler of the Year. That means he is no joke when it comes to putting opponents on their backside with takedowns and slams.  

More on that in a minute.

If Aldo wants to stop the takedown, he should go right back to the same game plan he used against Faber, which means dishing out a heavy dose of kicks.

Aldo is a master at using kicks to both control the distance and exact damage. He knew that he needed to avoid the takedown against Faber in order to maximize his chances at defeating the former collegiate wrestling star. That same logic applies against Mendes. Thus, Aldo should put on the same clinic on how to control the distance with lightning fast leg and body kicks.

Aldo’s lower body attack was so effective against Faber that he actually scored multiple knockdowns from leg kicks, something rarely seen at the highest level of MMA. There is no reason to believe that he cannot do the same thing against Mendes for two reasons.

First, Aldo delivers his kicks with such insane speed that they are unbelievably difficult to time and catch. Second, if Mendes drops his hands in an unsuccessful attempt to catch an Aldo kick, he opens the door for a one-punch knockout loss.

Not only is Aldo the best puncher in the division; he is also the best at feinting with a kick and then unleashing a nuclear right hand, something that will always be in the back of Mendes’ mind throughout the fight.

That isn’t to suggest that Mendes can’t take the fight to the ground. I actually think quite the opposite is true. Mendes is eons better than Hominick in the takedown arena. Yet, the Canadian scored multiple takedowns in his April bout against Aldo. He was able to succeed where others failed because of his willingness to stand in the pocket and trade with the champion.

Hominick is an expert striker in his own right, so standing and trading with Aldo wasn’t a crazy idea. It is the equivalent of single-night career suicide for Mendes. Yet, that is basically what he needs to do, if he wants to get the fight to the ground. Otherwise, Aldo will shuck his takedown attempts, just like he did against Faber and Brown.

The remainder of Aldo’s game plan will be the same as every other fight—stand and bang.  This guy has a thirst for thrilling the crowd with masterful displays that harken back to the gladiatorial days of Ancient Rome. He quenches his thirst with a variety of explosive strikes, including straight right hands, left hooks, leg kicks, high kicks and flying knees.  Personal safety is an afterthought, because Aldo is the type of fighter who believes that the best defense is non-stop offense.

Aldo’s offense-first mindset should actually open the door for takedowns, assuming Mendes is smart enough to keep his hands up and either walk through the initial barrage of kicks (ouch) or check them en route to a quick, explosive double-leg takedown attempt.

Keep in mind that I’m not talking about a haphazard shot. I’m talking about Brock Lesnar or Josh Koscheck freight-train-style shots. Mendes has to accept that the only way he is winning this fight, absent a lucky strike, is by taking the fight to the ground. Thus, he must change levels and explode with every part of his being each time the opportunity presents itself. He cannot worry about eating a flying knee. He cannot worry about eating an uppercut. He has to completely commit to the takedown attempt.

If Mendes fights with that sort of confidence in his own wrestling ability, then this fight gets very interesting very quickly. Conventional wisdom is that great wrestling defeats great striking more often than not. Why? Simple. A great wrestler can dictate where the fight unfolds.  A great striker cannot, unless he also happens to have great takedown defense.

Aldo has very good takedown defense, but it is predicated as much on hesitation from his opponents due to the fear of eating a fight-ending strike as it is his ability to drop quickly and effectively sprawl. If Mendes eliminates hesitation from the equation and makes sure he both sets up his takedowns and shoots from an appropriate distance, then I don’t see any reason why he won’t get the action to the ground. Again, that is far easier said than done, but let’s assume that he will be successful in scoring at least one takedown in Rio de Janeiro.  
Once on the ground, Mendes needs to work cautiously aggressive ground and pound.  Aldo is a black belt in BJJ and would almost certainly outpoint, or possibly even submit, Mendes in a submission grappling contest that allowed or required a gi.  But this is MMA, and there is neither a gi nor a prohibition on strikes, which changes everything.  Thus, any perceived superiority in Aldo’s practical ground skills are largely a myth in the face of Mendes’ ground-and-pound attack. 

A healthy diet of pounding and slicing elbows would be my assault of choice.  By throwing elbows, even those that are thrown with real shoulder turn, which helps guarantee maximum force, don’t expose an attacker to triangles and armbars the way that punches do.  In addition, elbows tend to exact more damage when properly thrown because there is no padding, which means a higher likelihood of fight-ending cuts or, possibly, a true knockout.
A healthy diet of elbows is also a great way to grind down an opponent.  If he can tire Aldo during the first three rounds, then takedowns will become close to automatic in the championship rounds, which is where Mendes needs to bring the fight, if he wants to maximize his odds of winning. 


Jose Aldo
•    25 years old
•    5’7, 145 lbs
•    70-inch reach
•    20-1 overall
•    13-fight winning streak
•    Last loss November 26, 2005
•    70.0% of wins by KO/TKO/submission due to strikes
•    5.0% of wins by submission
•    25.0% of wins by judges’ decision
•    Lone career loss by submission
•    3 of 8 WEC fights won Knockout of the Night
•    Fight of the Night in UFC debut against Hominick
•    Two consecutive successful defenses of UFC title
•    Current layoff is 95 days
•    Longest layoff of career is 347 days

Chad Mendes
•    26 years old
•    5’6, 145 lbs
•    66-inch reach
•    11-0 professional record
•    18.2% of wins by KO/TKO
•    18.2% of wins by submission
•    63.6% of wins judges’ decision
•    First title challenge
•    First fight against a current or former champion
•    Current layoff is 161 days
•    Longest layoff of career is 182 days