José Aldo walked into World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) as an unknown. His first two fights weren't even televised. But after he displayed a natural penchant for destroying his opponents in spectacular fashion, the higher ups couldn't put the young Brazilian phenom on the main card fast enough.
Five fights, five brutal stoppages.
After a jaw-dropping eight-second knockout over Cub Swanson, Aldo was pegged as the number one contender to WEC Featherweight Champion Mike Brown. To read about his ascent into WEC royalty, click here.
They say that every fighter's next fight is his biggest and that certainly rings true for Aldo. Facing off against Mark Hominick at UFC 129: "St-Pierre vs. Shields" on April 30, he defends the UFC featherweight title for the first time.
That is due, of course, to a cosmetic name change. When WEC was swallowed by its bigger brother, the featherweight and bantamweight titles became UFC titles. In reality, "Scarface" is set to make his third defense.
But how did he get here? We've already discussed the fights leading up to his shot at Mike Brown's belt; let's dive into the title fight as well as the following two bouts that only served to tighten the Brazilian's stranglehold on the 145-pound division.
The featherweight title bout was set for WEC 44: "Brown vs. Aldo," the Brazilian’s first chance to shine in the headliner. Brown was no pushover himself. Yes, he was the champion but he also beat Urijah Faber not once, but twice to win and then retain the belt.
He also knocked off the always dangerous (at least if it goes to the judges) Leonard Garcia by submission.
Both fighters looked good – damn good – going into the match.
The first round was very much a feeling out process. Each fighter trying to find their range with "Scarface" finding some success with those femur-shattering leg kicks.
What’s most impressive is that being quick in the featherweight division is almost a prerequisite and yet Aldo’s quickness makes the others look like they’re fighting in slow motion. And it’s the same with Brown. The Brazilian is catching the champion two, three, or even four times for every strike Brown throws.
"Scarface" lands an organ-shifting body kick that forces the champion to shoot in for a takedown. He grinds the challenger against the cage and is able to flatten Aldo on his back. But the Brazilian pops back up quickly and it’s back to the drawing board for Brown.
The second round starts and Aldo immediately begins chopping Brown’s leg down with kicks. The champ shoots in and is rebuffed. Shocking everyone, and especially Brown, "Scarface" shoots in for his own takedown and follows through.
From there, he takes the champion’s back and unleashes that killer instinct we’re all so familiar with. It’s isn’t long before the referee is kneeling over the battered Brown and we have a new champion.
José Aldo was now the king of the featherweight division. But when you’re at the top, you’re no longer the hunter; you become the hunted.
And who else but the former featherweight champion to challenge Aldo first? Waiting in the shadows was none other than Urijah Faber.
Faber had decimated nearly everyone he faced in his career and in fact, had only lost once; a 2005 bout to UFC lightweight stud Tyson Griffin. When he won the featherweight strap, he performed no differently.
Until he ran into Mike Brown’s fist.
Faber suffered his second and third losses to Brown but was still considered a threat to the title. People equated Faber and Brown to Matt Hughes and Dennis Hallman. As good as Hughes was, Hallman just seemed to have his number.
A third fight with Brown seemed ridiculous but now that Aldo was champion, Faber was suddenly back in the title picture. It was a fight that seemed too good to be true. Both were dynamic strikers known for their exciting style.
It was the biggest fight in WEC’s history and it was hyped as such. Previously making their home on the Versus Network, WEC was free to basically everyone with cable. With WEC 48: ‘Aldo vs. Faber,’ the small company made their jump into the pay-per-view (PPV) game.
A huge marketing push by big brother UFC, a sneaky one-time rebranding of the event, and an amazing battle between Leonard Garcia and Chang Sung Jung on Spike TV immediately preceding the PPV all helped the show get 175,000 buys, a huge number for a non-UFC show.
What was supposed to be an instant classic between the current and former champion turned out to be a one-sided beatdown by "Scarface."
Minutes into the first round, Aldo’s leg kicks were knocking Faber off his feet. The champ would also attack the body but his focus remained on the American’s lower limbs. With almost stubborn-like focus, Aldo repeatedly and relentlessly attacked Faber’s legs.
The former champion was already visibly limping by the end of the second round. When you’re fighting on one leg, it’s hard to get any offense started. Aldo knew this and now so did Faber.
You know that heavy, sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you see a car accident on the road ahead? You don’t want to revel in what horrible scene you may bear witness to but at the same time, you can’t help yourself to look away. The same feeling sinks its way into you when you watch this fight.
The fourth round was especially brutal. Faber’s lead leg was all but shot at that point and another kick sent him crashing to the mat. Aldo gained side control and was able to crucifix his opponent, trapping one arm between the champion’s legs.
With only one hand to defend himself, the American tried his best to block the barrage of punches and elbows landing flush on his face. The fight was nearly stopped in this stanza but Faber made it out. His cornerman scooped him up and literally carried him to his stool. Faber was essentially done. Aldo just didn’t have the heart to pull the trigger.
The MMA community online was then treated to a series of grotesque pictures of Faber’s leg via his Twitter account:
Now, Manny Gamburyan had to have been either fearless or nuts – or maybe both – because he signed on to fight "Scarface" next at WEC 51. Call me any name you’d like but there’s no way in hell I would step into the cage with Aldo after seeing those pictures.
Gamburyan was the The Ultimate Fighter 5 (TUF) runner-up and had mixed results at 155-pounds in the UFC. He dropped down to a more natural weight of 145-pounds and found immediate success in the WEC. He won his first two fights by unanimous decision and knocked out former champion Mike Brown to earn his title shot.
"Pitbull" was a fitting moniker for the Armenian. His style was relentless and he pushed his opponents to a brutal pace that few could keep up with. Aldo was more than up to the challenge.
The Armenian actually had "Scarface" in a bit of trouble early, landing a few punches that seemed to have knocked the Brazilian out of step. He was able to shake the cobwebs early but became more hesitant after feeling the challenger’s power. "Pitbull" was hesitant himself as Aldo’s reputation had clearly preceded him.
Aldo began to open up much like he did in his previous fight with kicks to the leg. He landed a few and then slammed a kick into Gamburyan’s body. Not much action in the first as neither fighter wanted to make the first big mistake.
The Armenian shot in for a takedown to start the second round but the champion shrugged it off. Another leg kick landed by Aldo and Gamburyan was starting to feel them. They exchanged and the Brazilian sent an uppercut crashing onto his opponent’s jaw that floored him. Opponent prone on the mat, Aldo unleashed devastating ground and pound until the referee called a stop to the bout.
Three months later, WEC would be dissolved into the UFC and one of the best promotions on the planet would cease operations. A sad day indeed but it did mean that fighters like Aldo would have the chance to display their amazing brand of violence on a much bigger stage.
He was officially awarded the UFC featherweight championship at UFC 123: "Rampage vs. Machida" when he was handed the belt by the big bossman, Dana White. He was set to make his Octagon debut two months later at UFC 125: "Resolution" but a shoulder injury -- an injury he said he's had since his fight with Brown -- forced him off the card.
Now, totally healthy for the first time in a year and half, he is set to take on Mark Hominick at UFC 129. SB Nation's own Luke Thomas is hesitant to place Aldo on the Pound for Pound rankings, citing a weak division as the reason.
But with top-tier lightweights such as Kenny Florian and Tyson Griffin now making the drop, no longer afraid of taking a pay cut, the 145-pound playground has suddenly gotten more interesting.
Aldo is king but for how long?
"Heavy is the head that wears the crown."