Very few men at the age of 34 can look back on as accomplished a career as Jose Aldo. Coming up as a capoeira practitioner in his childhood years, Aldo would make the transition to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in his teens. At the age of 17, he finally transitioned to MMA at the prestigious Nova União gym in Rio De Janeiro.
Quickly making a name for himself on the national Brazilian scene, Aldo ran through his competitions in promotions such as Jungle Fight, Shooto Brazil, and even a one-off match in Japan’s Pancrase. Following this, he broke onto the international scene with a stint in the WEC, climaxing in gold, by dominating future UFC stars Uriah Faber and Cub Swanson. Once the WEC was evidently absorbed by the UFC, Aldo’s belt was carried over in the brand new UFC 145-pound division.
To sum up, Jose Aldo’s championship reign could never do it justice, with the dominance and the wars. But he defended the belt seven times, cementing himself as the greatest featherweight of all time all while he was only 27 years old.
Aldo became the face of Brazilian MMA by running into the stadium of fans after knocking Chad Mendes out at UFC 142, and has since been given the moniker “The King of Rio.” After losing the belt to Conor McGregor in 2015, Aldo rebounded against another former champion in Frankie Edgar to recapture his vacant ex-title. He would lose it once again, however, and eventually leave the division a 2x champion, in order to pursue a title in a second weight class. Most would have predicted a move north to 155, where years prior it was rumored Aldo had been looking for a fight with then-lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, but instead, Aldo would fight Marlon Moraes in his bantamweight debut.
Although a loss, the decision was so controversial Aldo was granted the title shot instead of Moraes. The subsequent title fight would leave Aldo once again on the wrong end result, having gassed in the latter rounds and TKO’d late, but with a rebound win over contender Marlon Vera, Aldo once again finds himself among the top-ranked gunning for another shot at gold.
But what was it in the way Aldo fights that carried him through such a historic career to date?
Aldo’s style is an oddity in the way that he comes from a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu background, made his run with some of the best Muay Thai in MMA, and now favors a more boxing approach. Even as an established UFC legend, Aldo is always evolving and every few fights massive differences can be picked up on.
Early on, Aldo’s career was defined by his use of leg kicks. Some of the most dangerous in the game, his fight with Uriah Faber is often cited as the greatest leg kick clinic in history. With explosive power, in the WEC Aldo would plot forward in a traditional Thai stance, high guard, and blast his kicks. Even against The Korean Zombie, it was a high kick to arm which rehabilitated the contender, with Aldo choosing to damage the guard rather than snipe through any opening.
However, in later years, Aldo has become boxing dominant. This is likely due to a recurring theme with his opponents to attempt takedowns off of Aldo’s kick. The result is a style in which Aldo works much more from a heavy stance, and using head movement to make up for the light footwork. By doing so, the lesser use of leg kicks, allows him to land the few he does throw without worrying about his opponents constantly timing them for counters.
However, the difficulty with this approach is that it requires immense fast-twitch small movements. Each time Aldo has to slip or weave through shots, he typically saps his own cardio leaving him deflated in rounds four and five when it gets there. When using leg kicks and footwork, floating to the outside was a more efficient approach endurance-wise, but in boxing range, he finds himself less able to keep up with combinations as his opponent lingers.
In terms of weapons, his leg kick is always there even if he may not throw it as much. It is by far the most devastating and feared in the octagon. However, aside from this he also has a particularly good body hook from both sides, from the lead a slip and angled hook, and from the rear and pure drive through power shot. When his opponents attempt the takedown, he is possibly the very best at scrambling away instantly or scrambling back to his feet before his opponents can assert control.
Most recently he has also shown maturity in his game, where early on he fell in love with striking and kind of neglected his solid background in Jiu-Jitsu, in his last fight with Vera, Aldo secured the victory handily through the use of his grappling basics. His back control held up for almost the entirety of the final round, another tool always in the ex-champ’s back pocket.
Ultimately Aldo has nothing left to prove in the sport. At the same time, a win over Pedro Munhoz this Saturday would put him only a fight or so away from another shot at gold in his second weight class. If he can accomplish this, it will be another massive feather in the cap of the King of Rio’s legacy.
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.