Almost eighteen months ago, Jose Aldo’s time as champion came to a sudden and dramatic end. After six years as the Featherweight king and a decade without a loss, Aldo entered the octagon that night for his grudge match and super fight with Conor McGregor. Following immense hype, build-up and anticipation, the long-awaited title fight ended in just 13 seconds, all with a single McGregor left hand. The captivating and charismatic Irishman had claimed the throne in spectacular fashion but whilst the world watched his celebration, a demoralized Aldo tried to come to grips with the biggest disappointment imaginable, all in front of our very eyes.
The defeat not only took Aldo’s title but the nature of it meant that the Brazilian wouldn't get an immediate rematch and more than that, called into question his whole future as an elite fighter. For years Aldo had been one of the most violently graceful and free flowing mixed martial artists walking the earth and that style had translated to virtually unparalleled dominance. It was hard to imagine that success continuing following the McGregor defeat though as whilst Aldo’s skills wouldn't erode overnight, the mental effect of the knockout loss seemed almost certain to be seriously damaging to his future as a fighter. Those concerns wouldn't go away when Aldo was booked to fight Frankie Edgar either.
Aldo had defeated Edgar three years prior but the American had since gone on an impeccable win streak and had all the momentum on his side. Due to the new champion McGregor’s decision to rematch Nate Diaz at Welterweight, the Aldo-Edgar fight would be for the Featherweight interim title. As was proven in their first contest, Aldo certainly had advantages in the matchup but the way his recent form contrasted with Edgar’s was alarming and for many, spelt another defeat for the long-time divisional kingpin. On fight night that prediction proved false though, as Aldo looked as sharp as ever in almost completely shutting down Edgar’s revered game and coming out the unanimous decision victor.
Though he was perhaps slightly less aggressive than in years prior, Aldo’s skills and reflexes still looked immaculate and his relative dominance over Edgar revealed a lot as far as his current standing. Regardless of what happened against McGregor, Aldo was still one of the best pound for pound fighters around and arguably better than every Featherweight other than his Irish conqueror. The victory not only reinvigorated his career but also got gold back around his waist, even if only the interim title. Winning a UFC interim title is a legitimate achievement but for a man of Aldo’s ilk, it almost seemed like a relegation.
The reason for that wasn't because of what the belt represented in comparison to Aldo’s past either, it was more due to the man holding the real Featherweight crown. No matter what Dana White told us, it was pretty clear that McGregor’s days at 145lbs were likely finished. Heading into another Welterweight super fight with Diaz, McGregor didn't look likely to return to Featherweight regardless of result but once he won the rematch, the chances diminished even more. That win positioned McGregor for much bigger fights than an Aldo rematch and that would come to fruition with him instead challenging Eddie Alvarez for the Lightweight strap, a fight that gave the promotion a fitting headline fight for their first show at Madison Square Garden.
Aldo wasn't happy with the decision and understandably so as for as long as the rematch doesn't take place, that interim belt had little meaning. Unsurprisingly, soon after defeating Eddie Alvarez, McGregor would be stripped of his Featherweight title which in turn elevated Aldo to full champion status. Though he was once again the king at 145lbs, Aldo’s aura had been diminished by that nightmare moment opposite McGregor. The reality is though, the chances of a rematch are now almost non-existent so it’s simply time to move on to the next chapter of Aldo’s illustrious career. Luckily for Aldo, this Saturday he gets the opportunity to restore his title run with some of its prior greatness, as he takes on Max Holloway at home in Brazil.
Holloway enters with a ten fight win streak and the reputation of one of the sport’s most dynamic and exciting young stars. In all likelihood, the direction of Aldo’s career hinges on the result this Saturday night. To successfully defend his crown, Aldo will need to be at his very best and with that kind of showing, he would quickly re-establish himself as the true champion. However, with a defeat Aldo’s future comes into question as suddenly, he’ll find himself 1-2 in his last three. We are either at the beginning of the end or at the start of another Aldo reign of greatness. Aldo’s future finds itself at a genuine crossroads as the legendary Brazilian now has to restart at the very top, first with this Saturday’s title defense against the excellent Max Holloway.