"This is the moment of truth. I'll try to make a very explosive fight and we’ll see what happens." - Jose Aldo
A few years back, not so long ago, UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo had a very different routine than he does now, leading up to his UFC 136 title bout against two-time lightweight challenger Kenny Florian. And we’re not just talking about Aldo's days without interviews and appearances as WEC champion and then UFC kingpin in the 145-pound division. The issue here is his roots, the poor start, and how he struggled to be where
he is today.
And even though Aldo is grounded when it comes to the changes of the last two years, he never had the opportunity to witness the extreme circumstances of other people suffering with some of the same issues he did. But in January, Aldo visited the earthquake devastated nation of Haiti, and it was a very new experience for the champ. Joining with other sportsmen from Brazil as part of the Haitian Journey of Sports for Peace, an initiative to re-socialize the survivors of that catastrophic event, Aldo was now in the position to help people with the same life history as his own.
"What I saw man… the country was in total misery," he said. "The trip to Haiti made me really appreciate life, and it reminded me of everything I've achieved and everything I will conquer. Of course I can't compare my situation in the beginning with their situation - but we made sure we showed them that a few of us came from the same difficulties and broke down some barriers. Obstacles are put in front of us to be taken down. I was happy to give them a message, to put a smile on their faces. I visited schools and orphanages and every positive message we passed to them, the reaction we received was in the same proportion."
Injured and sidelined from his first title defense against Josh Grispi at UFC 125 in January, Aldo used more than his good mood and smile to let the Haitian people know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
"They didn't have water, can you believe it?" he asked. "When I saw that, of course I gave what water I had, but I also had an old film of the difficulties I had at the beginning of my life and told them that with willpower and some help you can shine."
A model of humility and perseverance outside the cage who still possesses the textbook ability to defeat opponents inside it, that's the life of Jose Aldo. We’ve already seen his brutal and quick performances, and most recently he was tested deep into the fifth round of his first title defense against Mark Hominick at UFC 129. In that bout, the champ stayed
underneath the challenger for nearly five minutes of the last round, eating punch after punch, but he still came out of the bout as the featherweight belt holder. Asked about his lack of cardio late in the bout, Aldo said during a recent media teleconference that his difficulty cutting weight was the issue.
"The process is about the same every time. But before that fight we were working a lot on gaining muscle mass and it might have taken a little bit longer to get the weight off."
After five rounds of war, Aldo agreed with the old adage that it's harder to keep the title than to win it.
"I always heard this, and I agree 100% with it," he says. "But since the beginning I was tested and this is part of my life. I just want more of them [challenges] coming."
Aware of the hard test he would face against Hominick, he prepared in Holland with kickboxers, sharpening his already lethal fists and kicks with one of the best in the business in Andy Souwer. For the man standing on the opposite side of the cage on Saturday night –Florian - he added some... swimming?
"Yes," he smiles. "The only alteration this time was that I started swimming. I am focused on what I can do well in training and I emulate it in the fight. I need to be well-prepared, that's it."
It’s not a lack of respect from the champ to a fighter with the caliber of Florian. But the reason he’s not issuing specific details this time is because in his last camp, the media had full access to practically every single movement of Aldo leading up to his battle against Hominick. So Aldo's mentor, UFC vet Andre Pederneiras, stated that he'd establish some limits for accessing the champ - making it a little harder to those who wanted to peek at part of the detailed preparations for the bout against a veteran such as Florian.
And this time, Aldo knows what he needs to do in order to keep his belt and start his legacy in the Octagon, and it’s the unique and intimidating pressure he brings to this fight that makes him dangerous.
"He said that he can impose his age and experience on me inside the UFC," said Aldo, who has fought in his home country of Brazil, as well as Japan, England, Canada and the USA. "He fought well at 145 as well as at 155, so he didn't feel the difference. But this is the moment of truth. I'll try to make a very explosive fight and we’ll see what happens."