Jose Aldo is trying to break through to the casual MMA fans, but he's yet to put on a signature performance since joining up with the UFC. He's defended his title twice thus far against Mark Hominick and Kenny Florian, but he's looking to put on a show for the Brazilian faithful who are showing up in droves to see him compete.
Chad Mendes not only is undefeated, but he's never even lost a round in his career. He dominated Sengoku star Michihiro Omigawa and then completely controlled Rani Yahya in his most recent two fights and he's hoping he can utilize his wrestling to grind the UFC featherweight title away from the champ.
Will Aldo have his breakthrough moment he's so desperately craving? Will the extremely hostile crowd strike fear into Mendes and affect his performance? How does each man win this title fight tomorrow night?
Let's find out:Jose Aldo
Record: 20-1 overall, 2-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: none
How he got here: After making waves in Brazil, Aldo migrated to the WEC and immediately began wrecking the place. He tore through his first four WEC bouts with deadly striking and decided to cap it off by earning a title shot with an unbelievable eight second knockout of Cub Swanson at WEC 41. Believe it or not, the time of the knockout was the least impressive part of it. Aldo flew through the air and connected on poor Cub's chin with not one but two flying knees at once and finished the stunned Swanson off with quick ground and pound.
The Brazilian made the most of his opportunity and manhandled then-champion Mike Brown, finishing the turtling titleholder with ground and pound from behind. His victory set up a WEC super-fight with the incredibly popolar former champion Urijah Faber at WEC 48. "Scarface" would work a different gameplan for that fight, massacring Faber's legs with sharp kicks until they turned into linguine and "The California Kid's" corner needed to carry him to his stool in between rounds. The champ retained his title one final time, viciously knocking out Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season five finalist Manny Gamburyan early in the second round.
After the UFC/WEC merger, Aldo was handed the UFC featherweight title and got an opportunity to defend it against Mark Hominick this past April. The Brazilian won a hard-fought battle over the course of five rounds in a "Fight of the Night"-winning performance. He followed that up by outworking a persistent Kenny Florian for five more rounds to retain his title this past October.
He gleefully accepted a bout with Chad Mendes on a quick turnaround in order to fight in his native Brazil for the first time in over four years.
How he gets it done: Jose Aldo has a very diverse set of skills. He's got heavy hands and some of the nastiest leg kicks you will ever see. His background as a soccer player may be a factor in that.
Look for Aldo to try to keep this fight standing and really go to work with his kicks, although he'll have to keep them low. He does a terrific job of closing off combinations with a leg kick. If he can connect a few times, it's going to slow Mendes down and take away a significant portion of his explosiveness and takedown ability. If Mendes begins to lose some of his lateral quickness, the champion could swoop in with a flying knee or some other devastating frontal attack.
Aldo brought in Gray Maynard to help him gauge distance better against elite wrestlers like Mendes so expect him to be extremely wary of "Money's" takedowns. The featherweight champ already possesses some pretty strong wrestling defense, so every little bit he can boost it not only helps his confidence, but makes the rest of his game that much more dangerous.
If taken down, Aldo needs to do whatever it takes to pop back to his feet as it's highly unlikely he'll be able to sweep Mendes or submit him off of his back. Aldo is such a terrific athlete that you could literally expect anything from him in this fight. At just 25 years old, he can definitely still be learning new tricks.
Record: 11-0 overall, 2-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Chad Mendes has been wrestling for a very long time. He was a two time All-American collegiate wrestler before teaming up with Urijah Faber at his Alpha Male gym in Sacramento. Just 14 months into his professional fighting career, "Money" Mendes was 5-0 and had earned an invite to compete in the WEC featherweight division.
He made his debut against fellow prospect and current top contender Erik Koch, handing him the only professional loss of his career. He would fight three more times in 2010, defeating all opponents handily and progressing in his skill-set.
Mendes made his UFC debut against Japanese star Michihiro Omigawa last February and handled the veteran with ease, out striking and definitely outwrestling him to win a dominant unanimous decision. He would forgo a title shot and proceeded to put up a strong showing against submission specialist Rani Yahya seven months later to again be crowned the number one contender for Jose Aldo's belt.
He gets his shot tomorrow night in hostile territory.
How he gets it done: The biggest key for Mendes is extremely obvious. He needs to take Aldo down with his wrestling and keep him there. If Aldo attempts a leg kick, Mendes needs to catch it and throw him to the canvas. If Aldo attempts a flying knee, Mendes needs to grab him in mid-air and slam him. If Aldo presses forward with a big combination, Mendes needs to duck down and shoot him into the ground with a takedown.
All roads to Chad Mendes defeating Jose Aldo include putting the Brazilian on his back. He might be able to stand with the champ for a brief period, but he can't afford to let Nova Uniao fighter get comfortable and start throwing his most dangerous strikes or Mendes is going to be in trouble.
Not only must the Team Alpha Male fighter put Aldo on his back, he has to keep him there. If Mendes can make the champ work off of his back and expend a significant amount of energy, he could tire him out. We saw how awful a tired Aldo can look in the fifth round of his fight with Mark Hominick at UFC 129. Mendes' goal should be to get Aldo that exhausted by round three. If he does, he could definitely be the new titleholder.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight is not just Jose Aldo's takedown defense, but it's his grappling endurance. We've heard stories of Aldo's terrific jiu-jitsu game, but it will it finally make an appearance tomorrow night? It certainly didn't look so great at UFC 129 when he took Mark Hominick down multiple times or when he spent nearly the entire fifth round on his back. It looked like, while he could strike with opponents for days, Aldo gets tired if he spends a significant amount of time grappling on the canvas.
Will he gas out if Mendes makes him work for an extended amount of time on the ground? That's something which could clearly turn the tide of the fight.
Bottom Line: I'd love to tell you that this fight will 100 percent be a barnburner, but I can't make empty promises. Jose Aldo is capable of being one of the most exciting fighters on the planet, but he hasn't delivered as of late. His most recent fight against Kenny Florian was a clinchfest of boredom and the challenger this time, Chad Mendes, has already stated his goal is to grind this fight out for five rounds. That's not exactly the recipe for entertainment. Unless Aldo can dominate with superior takedown defense and striking, there's a very real possibility this one could get ugly. Be prepared for both, but don't say I didn't warn you.
Who will come out on top at UFC 142? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!