Jose Aldo took a huge step toward becoming the next mixed martial arts (MMA) superstar Saturday night (Jan. 14, 2012), delivering a crushing first-round knockout of challenger Chad Mendes in the UFC 142 main event at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
With his fifth defense of his title, and third in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Aldo's performance before a cheering Brazilian crowd ended nearly as quickly as it began.
In the co-main, Vitor Belfort overcame the challenge of the much-larger Anthony Johnson with a hard-nosed performance, overpowering "Rumble" to win via first-round rear-naked choke. There were several other fighters on the card who shined, as well as several who didn't, turning in a menagerie of grab bag-like of moments (and fights) that were memorable and controversial alike.
The pay-per-view (PPV) main card featured 10 fighters, who aced, passed and/or failed their respective tests in "Rio." Here's a closer look at each of them graded out with the UFC 142 report card.
Here's a closer look at how the competitors graded out:
Edson Barboza -- A
The talented lightweight bumped his ledger to 10-0 with a third-round spinning back kick knockout of Terry Etim. Barboza's ability to control range and stuff occasional takedowns was tested last night, as Etim swarmed him to the mat twice, but Barboza's quick technical response -- a well-placed butterfly hook in both instances -- promptly returned the fight to standing position. Using a patient approach and his trademark booming kicks to the lower leg, the set up for the spectacular finish was a classic.
Barboza unleashed a magnificent spinning back kick that knocked out Etim instantly, sending him crumpling to the floor.
There aren't many 5'11" lightweights with a 75-inch reach, and Barboza has the stand up mojo physical tools to apply both those advantages to full effect. He also showed his potent hands in this bout, and rescued what may have otherwise been a forgettable decision win with a kick that will live forever in highlight reels.
Rousimar Palhares -- A
In a relatively thin 185-pound division, champion Anderson Silva likely fights the winner of the Jan. 28 Chael Sonnen/Mark Munoz. But after that, there wasn't a lot in terms of bench strength. That changed last night as Palhares took an impressive win, albeit against an overmatched opponent. With another submission victory via heel hook, Palhares has made pulling guard an offensive move once more, akin to the early days of the UFC when nobody knew what the hell to do there. Built along compact lines with crushing strength, he seems capable of finding lower-leg submissions from virtually any position, and his reputation only grows off this latest victory.
Palhares also showed a little more stand up variety with his performance, landing some thumping leg kicks, prior to the finisher. He's not going to be a betting favorite should he face Silva, but his combination of raw power, outstanding submissions, and cast-iron chin (see the Dan Henderson fight) make him an interesting proposition challenging Silva for the title. Or, anyone else, for that matter. Another good spot was that Palhares kept his emotions in check and let off the submission once fight was called. With his ability, the last thing he needs is more controversy accompanying his performances, and it was nice to see him do well in that department.
Jose Aldo -- A
This was the return of the Aldo we knew and loved. The guy who turned leg kicks into a dominating weapon, and culled together highlight reels from brutal finishes. The champ's takedown defense was outstanding, though a blatant fence grab moments before the knockout stopped and obvious slam-takedown, which was precisely what Mendes needed to do to generate momentum.
That being said, the ending sequence was classic Aldo, operating on a tactical level only he and other master strikers can comprehend: With Mendes clutching him from behind, Aldo used a basic over-under grip to spin out, and while keeping hold of Mendes' left hand, flung forward with a bull's-eye knee. It was a perfect set up and essentially ended the match right there.
Aldo also turned a neat trick last night that's been the realm of fellow champs like Georges St. Pierre and Jon Jones: In dismantling highly-credentialed challengers, he makes the possibility of them getting a rematch a remote one, at least in the near future. Mendes would probably be a betting favorite over anyone else presently competing in the UFC featherweight division, but Aldo's blowout win will mean a long road back if he wants another crack at the belt. That's how good Aldo is, and a quite a statement to the world, that he did it against an unbeaten and talented challenger.
This showing was also a return of the high-energy Aldo, who disappeared for stretches against Mark Hominick and was barely present against Kenny Florian. Smaller guys have to do more to become big names, but right now Aldo's the best under-170 lb. guy in the game.
Vitor Belfort -- A-
Putting the weigh-in controversy aside, where Johnson scaled a whopping 197 pounds and had to restrain himself to 205 pounds the morning of the bout, Belfort put on an impressive performance. Taking Johnson's attack in stride, Belfort showed by his striking is so dangerous, regardless of whom he's hitting, by besting Johnson in some rapid-if-wild exchanges, prior to taking the back and sinking in the fight-finishing rear naked choke.
The only demerit Belfort gets here is some uncharacteristically wild striking, which a better fighter might have exploited. Either way, he gets a win that endears him to fans given how patently unfair the situation was to him. It's not quite the road he'll need to get a title shot secured just yet, but another win in vintage "Vitor" style and you can bet people will be willing to see him fight for the belt.
Chad Mendes -- C
The championship challenger was doing reasonably well until the fight-finishing knee, showing improved confidence in his stand up by landing a few leg kicks, while eating much harder ones in return. Mendes gets a C here for two reasons: he lost to an amazing champion, and was screwed by ref Mario Yamasaki giving Aldo a mere warning for an obvious fence grab that denied Mendes a huge takedown. Aldo's grab was beyond incidental as it completely changed the flow of the fight.
That aside, Mendes has a long path ahead of him to lock horns with the champ again. Like Vitor Belfort, who may be the most physically gifted challenger in his weight class, it'll be a tough sell on the immediate horizon to promote Mendes as a title challenger, but the good news is he still has the tools to knock off the required amount of top contenders to make his case.
Terry Etim -- C-
The British lightweight was game, but overmatched last night, unable to work his stand up effectively in what turned into an increasingly one-sided, albeit somewhat tepid bout, until the finish. Etim was impressive in actually taking down Barboza twice, but was quickly stymied by the Brazilian and couldn't keep the position. Terry's a willing if middling-level lightweight who's going to do well against a certain class of lightweights, and will definitely stay in the promotion given his style and English fan base, but he fell flat against one of the division's better guys tonight.
Mike Massenzio -- D
The middleweight simply couldn't deal with Palhares, either standing or on the ground. Now 2-4 in the UFC, Massenzio is on promotional thin ice, though in his defense, there aren't a lot of guys that would've escaped the fight-ending submission, either. Unable to work the vital stand up phase that might have given him a chance to win, limited options made the end seem inevitable.
Anthony Johnson -- F
Failure to make weight? Check. Coming in more over the limit than any UFC fighter in history? Check. Losing in one round despite these advantages? Check. Johnson missed on all cylinders here, especially given that his rise from welterweight was supposed to solve his much-chronicled problem at the scales, which made him a hit-or-miss proposition come fight time. This was a massive fail on all counts. He'll need to make some serious changes to his preparation regimen if he wants to keep fighting in the UFC. Sadly, his talent and upside make it all the more tragic, because when he's on, he's as imposing as a fighter can be. There's always tomorrow when you're a young fighter, but for Johnson, tomorrow sure as heck was not this night in Brazil.
Erick Silva and Carlo Prater: Incomplete
Silva looked impressive in his second quick UFC bout, initially appearing to knockout Prater with blows, while his opponent was turtled on the mat. But after a lengthy post-fight interlude, it was announced that ref Mario Yamasaki was disqualifying Silva for blows to the back of the head, which apparently he warned Silva about sometime between the offense and legal blows, at which point Prater was apparently unable to continue. A disappointing ending to what should have been a showcase fight for the talented Brazilian, but ultimately there's really not enough here to grade, given the incomplete nature of the bout.
For complete UFC 142: "Aldo vs. Mendes" results and blow-by-blow coverage of the main card action click here.