For all but 13 seconds, Jose Aldo has been the greatest featherweight fighter in mixed martial arts history.
Unfortunately for Aldo, his career can’t be discussed without prominently mentioning those 13 seconds between the opening bell and his knockout loss to Conor McGregor, who ended Aldo’s UFC title reign and 18-fight winning streak with one incredible punch.
Aldo (26-2) has fought just once since that loss in December 2015, but the Brazilian star has already regained the 145-pound title belt after McGregor moved up in weight. Aldo will attempt to defend it again Saturday at UFC 212 in Rio de Janeiro against rising star Max Holloway.
Even with a difficult fight against a well-deserving contender looming this weekend, Aldo hasn’t been able to get far from the specter of his loss to McGregor — partly because people never stop asking him about it.
“I try to see the good in it, the silver lining in everything,” Aldo said. “But the UFC tried to make this (rematch) happen, and it didn’t. The guy does not want to fight with me again. It may be the last time that people ask. He doesn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore and that’s fine. It happened. It’s in the past.”
McGregor taunted and infuriated Aldo throughout the promotion for that stunning upset. The Irishman went on to become the biggest star in MMA, and it seems improbable that he would ever want to get back down to 145 pounds, let alone to give Aldo another chance to erase the embarrassment.
Aldo knows he’ll have to live with it, and the only way to make the situation palatable is to resume his domination of the division.
After beating Frankie Edgar in his return fight last July to win the belt back, Aldo gets home-cage advantage when the Rio resident takes on Holloway (17-3) at the Jeunesse Arena in front of his fellow Cariocas.
“There’s definitely a different feeling to it,” Aldo said. “Everyone is rooting for me and they all speak Portuguese, so I can interact with everybody. There is a different side to that. It’s close to my gym. My family and friends can be there.”
During his entire fighting prime, Aldo’s work rate and skill have been too much for every opponent except McGregor. Yet he realizes the danger posed by Holloway, the Hawaii-born contender who stands 4 inches taller and presents confounding challenges.
“He’s one of the greatest to do it,” Holloway said of Aldo. “Since I was 17, I watched this guy. He stayed on top of the division. Now it’s time for a new era.”
Holloway is also well-tested after clawing his way to the top of a talent-jammed division. He has racked up 10 consecutive victories since losing a decision to McGregor in August 2013, even winning an interim version of this belt in McGregor’s absence.
What’s more, Holloway is a precise, creative striker whose superior height could put him in many advantageous situations against Aldo, who might need to increase his already formidable activity. Since Aldo has been nearly impossible to take down, Holloway could spend the fight on his feet — and that probably wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Holloway also is singularly focused on MMA. While Aldo has been open about considering retirement or moving on to a boxing career in recent months, Holloway’s hunger for the sport’s biggest prizes hasn’t been satisfied.
“Everybody can get a belt,” Holloway said. “I don’t care. I want an undisputed career. I want the best damn career. I want to be the best guy ever to do this. When I’m done a long time from now, (I want) people still talking about my name as being the undisputed (best) fighter in the world, not only of the featherweights.”
The rest of the UFC 212 card doesn’t pack the visceral appeal of the main event, although former UFC light heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort conceivably could be in his final bout against fellow veteran Nate Marquardt. Top-ranked Brazilian strawweight contender Claudia Gadelha takes on Poland’s Karolina Kowalkiewicz in an intriguing penultimate fight.