Issue 204

April 2024

E. Spencer Kyte analyses Jose Aldo's profound impact on the featherweight division and how the echoes of his most famous fight still resonate in the world of MMA. 

Measuring the impact and legacy of a fighter doesn’t simply come down to their wins and losses. Nor is it the championships they collected, the established stars they defeated, or the marquee opportunities that didn’t go their way.

All those things are undeniably important, but with the true greats, there is an ineffable quality about them that makes this quality clear. And it comes down to the fact that you just had to be there to understand.

It’s why each passing generation struggles to come to terms with the fondness that previous and subsequent generations have for the athletes who dominated in their time. Achievements and experiences we witness resonate much stronger than those we only hear about second-hand or take in after the fact. And while we can all respect the stars of the previous era or the emerging set looking to make their mark on the sport we love, the competitors from our formative time will always stand out above the pack.

The career of Jose Aldo and his standing as one of the sport’s all-time greats perfectly represent this reality.


Aldo’s legacy is in no doubt to anyone who witnessed the rise of the electric Brazilian in the WEC, where he claimed and defended the featherweight title before matriculating to the UFC as the promotion’s initial 145-pound ruler. From this, he created a run as the first genuinely dominant featherweight champion in UFC history. 

Some fans see him as a dominant figure who went unbeaten for a decade, racking up 18 straight victories, 10 title fight victories, and nine finishes, while posting wins over former champions Mike Brown, Urijah Faber, and Frankie Edgar, while thwarting the advances of perennial contenders like Kenny Florian, Chad Mendes, and Chan Sung Jung as well.

Other fans see him as a guy who was knocked out in 13 seconds and struggled over his next eight fights, amassing a 3-5 record across two divisions as he searched to rediscover his previous, dominant form, and never quite found it. 

Yes, he did regain the featherweight throne, registered some solid wins, and eventually fought his way into contention in the bantamweight division with victories over Marlon “Chito” Vera, Pedro Munhoz, and Rob Font. However, Aldo’s second act in The Octagon will always feel to those who only discovered him during that time as moderate success from a guy a whole bunch of people swear was great in the past.


What truly underscores how great Aldo was isn’t the wins he accumulated or the two different stints atop the featherweight division in the sport’s biggest promotion. Instead, it’s how his presence impacted the careers of those who crossed his path.

Chad Mendes was a tremendous talent. He was a standout from the Team Alpha Male crew who quickly rose through the WEC ranks and maintained his winning ways after transitioning to the Octagon. Unsurprisingly, he posted 11 consecutive victories to begin his career and earn an opportunity to challenge Aldo for the featherweight crown.

He was positioned — rightfully so — as the toughest test of the Brazilian champion’s career to that point, but after a cheeky fence grab to defend a takedown, Aldo planted a knee in his forehead in the closing seconds of their UFC 142 main event battle to end the fight. Mendes won his next five fights to work his way into another championship showdown with Aldo, and this time, the top two featherweights on the planet gave each other hell for 25 minutes in a bout that won the Fight of the Year honors at the 2014 World MMA Awards.

Aldo retained the title, but Mendes showed he wasn’t too far behind the dominant champion. When he wrapped up his career in the cage four years later, he did so with an 18-5 record, having gone 17-2 through his first 19 appearances, with Aldo standing as the only man to beat him.


Frankie Edgar moved down in weight after losing and failing to reclaim the UFC lightweight title in a pair of tight, contentious battles with Benson Henderson. “The Answer” was so good and respected that he entered a featherweight championship fight with Aldo to begin his time in the 145-pound weight class. Edgar was promptly handed a unanimous decision defeat.

Like Mendes, Edgar picked himself up and posted victories in each of his next five outings, capping the run with a first-round knockout win over Mendes to place himself opposite Aldo once more, this time in a battle for the interim featherweight title at UFC 200. Aldo won with scores identical to those he had in their first encounter, but it wouldn’t be until three fights later that Edgar suffered his first featherweight loss to someone other than the Brazilian superstar.


At his peak, Conor McGregor was a force of nature. However, his ascent and explosion into superstardom wouldn’t have been as sudden and undeniable without having Aldo to chase down and ultimately defeat.

The Irishman started gathering steam with his triumphant return to action in Dublin following a year on the sidelines after tearing his ACL. He built further momentum by stopping Dustin Poirier in the first round of his pay-per-view debut at UFC 178. Still, it wasn’t until the opportunity to face Aldo became a real possibility that things picked up.

All of 2015 was focused on the budding rivalry and inevitable matchup.

The second event of the year featured McGregor making quick work of Dennis Siver in Boston before jumping out of the Octagon and getting in the face of the Brazilian champ, who was stationed in the front row so such an incident could occur. A title fight was set for UFC 189 in Las Vegas during International Fight Week, and a multi-city publicity tour was launched. This tour gave the challenger numerous opportunities to get under the champion's skin and elevate his profile by rocking the mic and being his notorious self at every stop.

An elaborate trailer set to the Jay-Z and Kanye West track “No Church in the Wild” was created to hype their summer showdown. When Aldo was shockingly forced out of the pairing less than two weeks before the event, McGregor’s readiness to take on whomever the UFC called upon to replace him only added to his allure.

After dispatching Mendes in the second round to claim an interim title, the rivals finally squared off in the main event of UFC 194, the penultimate event of the 2015 campaign. Thirteen seconds into the fight, McGregor landed a left hand that put Aldo out cold and sent the MGM Grand Garden Arena crowd into hysterics.

A knockout like that would always resonate, but it carried even greater weight because it came against Aldo and ended his decade-long unbeaten streak.


After his incredible last-second walk-off win over Justin Gaethje last month at UFC 300, Max Holloway was asked where he ranked the victory in the list of his greatest career achievements.

“Blessed” said it came in second, citing his UFC 212 win over Aldo in Rio to unify the featherweight titles as the top win of his career. As jaw-dropping as his finish of Gaethje was, even that viral moment to claim the BMF title couldn’t top venturing to Brazil and beating ‘The King of Rio’ in his own backyard.

Even after his championship days were over, Aldo remained a guy you had to beat to ascend into contention, having shut down the advances of Jeremy Stephens and Renato Moicano before losing his final featherweight appearance to a streaking Australian named Alexander Volkanovski, who had earned six straight wins to begin his UFC career, including stopping Mendes in his previous outing, but still needed to prove he could get the better of the former champ before getting a title opportunity of his own.

There is a generation of fans who discovered Aldo through his bout with McGregor, and they may not recognize what a phenomenal talent and genuine icon the soft-spoken Brazilian was to the sport. A wave of athletes watched Aldo’s championship dominance as they began pursuing the sport and chasing their own UFC dreams. Many fighters continue to reference Aldo not only as one of the all-time legends in the sport but among their personal favorites and fighting heroes as well.

Time often chips away at the careers of departed standouts, records, and conquests, shifting in the reflected results of those former opponents, collections of new talents putting together their own impressive careers that push the icons of the past further into the background.

But make no mistake: Jose Aldo is an absolute legend who helped shape the landscape of the lighter weight classes in the UFC, and his contributions to the sport should never be diminished or forgotten.


When the UFC announced its return to Rio de Janeiro for the UFC 301 pay-per-view, a surprise name was featured in the co-main event.

On Saturday, May 4, Aldo ends a 21-month absence from the Octagon when he returns to face off with streaking dark horse contender Jonathan Martinez in the final non-title bout of the evening. The bout will mark Aldo’s first trip into the cage since his uneventful loss to top contender Merab Dvalishvili at UFC 278 in the summer of 2022 and his first bout in his adopted hometown of Rio since his loss to Volkanovski at UFC 237 a little more than three years earlier.

While Aldo is the homecoming legend, Martinez is far from a sacrificial lamb being led to the slaughter.

The Factory X Muay Thai representative enters on a six-fight winning streak, stopping Adrian Yanez with a barrage of punishing low kicks in his most recent outing. Though quiet and unassuming, the 30-year-old will touch down in Rio de Janeiro in the best form of his career, having won 10 of his last 12 appearances inside the Octagon. The first of those setbacks resulted from a highly debated split decision judgment in a clash with Andre Ewell at UFC 247.


To break down the action between the returning Aldo and the surging Martinez, I contacted respected striking coach Sean Madden from Easton Training Center in Denver for his expert analysis of this scintillating pairing.

“This fight to me is a striking coach’s dream fight,” began Madden, who has cornered numerous competitors in the UFC and throughout the sport, including guiding Bojan Velickovic to victory in the Oktagon MMA Welterweight Gamechanger Tournament finale last year opposite Andreas Michailidis. “Me coming from a Muay Thai background, there are not a lot of people in the UFC in particular that fight the way Jonathan Martinez does.

“To me, he’s pretty close to a traditional lefty, where he uses a lot of left-side weapons, but the way he uses his left leg — obviously, he’s known for his leg kick finishes. He’s had some prolific finishes with the low kicks, but when you watch him, it goes deeper than that. He’s got a great left high kick, a fantastic left middle kick that he hurt Cub Swanson with a couple of times. He’s got a great left knee that he hurt people with a couple of times, too, and a great stabbing left knee to the body as well.

“On the other side, I’m a massive fan of Jose Aldo. I’ve watched his entire career. I love his style. He comes from that Brazilian Muay Thai style where he’s a little more upright, pretty rooted in his stance, but he’s got phenomenal boxing, phenomenal kicks, great knees.”


For Madden, there are two critical points of interest that he’ll be paying close attention to when the bantamweights hit the cage in Rio — the open-stance battle between the southpaw Martinez and orthodox Aldo and how the American deals with the pressure of venturing to Brazil to face off with ‘The King of Rio’ in his own backyard.

“The thing that makes this interesting is the open stance, the southpaw matchup,” said Madden, citing the overall lack of exposure Aldo has had inside the cage to high-level southpaw talents in the past.

"I don’t know the last time Aldo fought a true southpaw. Obviously, he’s training with them, but training with southpaws is different than fighting them. Historically, one of the advantages that southpaws have always had is that they always train with right-handed fighters — they see that look, train with, and fight with right-handed fighters all the time — and it’s tougher the other way around. So I’m gonna be interested to see how Jose Aldo handles a southpaw matchup.”

When asked about Martinez going on the road and into what is sure to be hostile territory, the analytical and insightful coach began by praising his calmness inside the cage before shifting to the start contrast UFC 301 will be compared to what his fellow Colorado native will be dealing with in Brazil.

“To his credit, I think Jonathan Martinez, from what we’ve seen, does a really good job of maintaining his composure. He fights in a way where on his face, he almost looks bored sometimes. There is no expression, no emotion; he’s in there to do a job.

He fights in a way that almost nothing rocks him or bothers him too much, which is awesome to see, but that will be fully tested against Aldo. You can say whatever you want, but first-time UFC jitters are a real thing. First-time pay-per-view jitters are a real thing. Fighting in the APEX versus fighting in front of 20,000 — big difference. Fighting in the U.S. versus fighting in Rio — big difference.

This is an X factor for this fight, 100 percent. It may even be different if it were another Brazilian and not Jose Aldo because we’re talking about ‘The King of Rio.’ This is special, and it could very well be his last fight in his home, and so that changes things for sure.”


The announcement of this pairing came as a surprise to many, myself included, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I think I have a sense of why it’s happening and where things go after this fight, perhaps even regardless of the outcome.

To understand the future, we first have to look at how we got to this point, though.

Many bristled when Aldo was paired off with Dvalishvili at UFC 278, as he was riding a three-fight winning streak and coming off an excellent win over Rob Font at the close of 2021 that established him as a legitimate contender in the bantamweight division. Everyone assumed he was in the twilight of his career and that the time was right to hustle Aldo into a championship opportunity, as then-champion Aljamain Sterling had resolved his rivalry with Petr Yan and needed a new challenger.

Instead of granting the former featherweight kingpin a chance to challenge for the bantamweight title, he was paired with Dvalishvili, a high-motor grinder destined to smother and stifle Aldo’s offense and likely halt his winning streak. This happened while Sterling was paired off with former champ T.J. Dillashaw, who was returning from more than a year away after multiple surgeries.

Dvalishvili suffocated Aldo along the fence for 15 minutes in a tepid contest that became Aldo’s final appearance under the UFC banner at the time, and Sterling made quick work of Dillashaw, whose shoulder repeatedly popped out of its socket during the bout before he was finally stopped late in the second round.

A legend like Aldo shouldn’t go out with a whimper as part of a fight card in Salt Lake City, Utah, and I believe that’s why he’s returning here.

Win or lose, this profiles as an opportunity for ‘The King of Rio’ to make one final walk before an adoring, partisan crowd and a matchup with an opponent that, in theory, will step into the cage and trade in space with the now 37-year-old legend.


Very seldom do athletes get to tailor their exits from this sport, but this feels like one of those rare opportunities where an icon can take his final bow in front of an adoring home crowd.

If he wins, I expect Aldo to run into the audience as he did after defeating Mendes in their first meeting in Rio — and like he famously did after defeating Rolando Perez in the WEC long before that — but I do not expect him to be drawn back into action again. His legacy is established, his place in the pantheon of all-time greats is secured, and this is simply an opportunity for him to have the send-off a fighter of his caliber deserves.

Should Martinez collect the victory, I still expect the post-fight moments to be all about Aldo, with the Brazilian laying his gloves down in the center of the cage, embracing his longtime coach, Andre Pedernerias, and losing a battle to fight back tears.

UFC 301 doesn’t feel as much like a return to action for Aldo as it does a chance to say goodbye and depart from the sport in a much grander fashion than he did initially, and that feels right to me.