Max Holloway (L) battles Jose Aldo of Brazil (R) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena on December 2, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan.

Jose Aldo is in a thoroughly unenviable position that fighters like Stephen Thompson and Joanna Jedrzejczyk have also found themselves in; with two losses to the champion, Aldo probably isn’t getting a title shot any time soon, so he’s basically running in circles until Holloway falls off his perch. He faces a streaking contender in an attempt not only to stay on top of the rankings but to pull further away from the competition as the greatest fighter of all time.

On the other hand, Renato Carneiro (better known as “Moicano”) has been on a tear and on the brink of fighting for a belt. Defeating Aldo would be the push he needs to face Max Holloway for the championship at some point in the near future. A win over Aldo is a feat matched by only two all-time talents in the UFC, and Moicano has the chance to add his name to the list in Fortaleza.

It is a credit to Moicano to say that this fight is uniquely difficult to predict; in three of his last four UFC contests, Moicano implemented wildly different gameplans to come away with two wins and one closely-contested loss. Against Jeremy Stephens, a relatively plodding power-puncher, Moicano stayed laterally active, running Stephens onto jabs and landing leg kicks as Stephens was stymied on how to close distance, and even found some success counter-punching Stephens in the pocket (one particularly slick sequence in the third round saw Moicano land a jab and stay in the pocket to duck the return of Stephens, coming up with an uppercut and a clean left hook).

That counter-punching looked even sharper in his fight against Brian Ortega, who he consistently outslicked in the pocket for most of the first two rounds despite coming out with the loss. In his subsequent fight against Calvin Kattar, one of the strongest boxers in the division, Moicano put on a clinic; Moicano timed the jabs of Kattar with hard leg kicks and threw pocket combinations to set up kicks on Kattar’s exit, dealing severe attritive damage that allowed Moicano to pull away. The jab that Moicano showed against Stephens looked even more developed against Kattar, and in his most recent outing against Cub Swanson, who was dropped with a clean one and then submitted.

Moicano’s adaptability and his technical depth give him a solid chance against anyone in the division, including Jose Aldo, but even among impressive performances, Moicano has shown potential areas for a smart opponent to exploit. Most of Moicano’s vulnerabilities lie on the defensive end (in contrast to his opponent, arguably the most defensively-sound fighter in the history of MMA); both in terms of defensive instincts and footwork under pressure, Moicano has shown problems that Aldo can exploit. On the former, Moicano largely favors a high guard, which isn’t horribly rigid but does leave him open to body shots. Brian Ortega had Moicano sucking wind through stringing together combinations to the body after drawing his guard, and even the relatively rote Stephens jabbed to draw the guard of Moicano before trying to slot in a right hand to the body behind it late in the third.

The Stephens fight also showed a few relatively large flaws in the footwork of Moicano, which spell trouble for a fighter so committed to working off the back foot. Stephens was largely unable to drive Moicano to the fence due to Moicano’s commitment to moving laterally, squaring his stance to expedite his movement from side-to-side, but Moicano also squared his stance trying to escape bad spots, which allowed Stephens to cut him off easier than if Moicano’s pivot had been cleaner. Stephens caught Moicano enough in this way that Moicano turned to running off the fence, which worked, but isn’t nearly the best way to get off the fence (inefficient, takes him out of position, and not that hard to stop for a capable cage cutter).

Against a fighter like Aldo, a cleaner outfighter who has generally shown more power, Moicano’s route to a win isn’t immediately clear. The way Max Holloway took out Aldo was with an unmatched pace and boxing acumen that Moicano hasn’t really shown; the biggest flaw of Aldo has usually been his cardio, but it’s a flaw that Moicano shares (considering the Ortega fight), and Holloway is defensively more responsible than Moicano is. It’s possible that Moicano can use his jab to force reactions out of Aldo without expending much energy himself, but Aldo is a gifted enough boxer that it’s less likely than it seems (and in three rounds, Moicano won’t really have the time to force Aldo to coast unless he drives a pace like Holloway did, which Moicano probably isn’t capable of).

If Moicano is forced into a slow-paced kickboxing fight, it’s very difficult to favor him over Jose Aldo, who has a strong claim to being the best striker that MMA has ever seen. Aldo has gone through a fairly noticeable career evolution late in his career, perhaps to compensate for slightly declined athleticism; Aldo has pared his game down considerably, he isn’t kicking as much and has mostly turned into a boxer, but is still definitely elite. Aldo ran Edgar around the cage in the rematch with little but a right hand and a pivot, which he used to frustrate the rushes of Edgar and defend his takedowns, and both Holloway fights saw Aldo win early rounds with some of the best counter-boxing seen in the UFC. Regardless of whether he’s forced into a pressuring role by Moicano (who prefers to outfight) or he’s able to outfight, Aldo’s defense and his nuanced boxing make him a very difficult man for Moicano to beat. Aldo rips the body well, which is how Ortega was able to slow Moicano (and Aldo is a lot more equipped to consistently win pocket exchanges than Ortega was), and he defends kicks well enough that Moicano probably can’t deal with him the way he dealt with Kattar. Aldo has shown his ability to pressure and cut the cage well before, and he’s almost certainly more equipped to punish the sloppier moments of Moicano than Stephens was.

Overall, Moicano is one of the best prospects in the UFC, and it isn’t impossible that he finds a way to gameplan his way past Jose Aldo. However, Aldo holds most of the advantages and Moicano isn’t as equipped to attack his specific weaknesses as Holloway and McGregor were, so the overall edge lies with the King of Rio.

Prediction: Aldo via second-round knockout. This writer caps Aldo at -150.

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