Tracy Lee/Combat LIfestyle
For awhile there, it seemed like featherweight champion Mike Thomas Brown would never relinquish his stranglehold on the promotion's 145-pound strap. Then came a 23-year-old kid from Brazil named Jose Aldo, who was the fastest fighter the WEC had ever seen.
After all, the chiseled wrestler out of Portland, Maine, winner of 10 straight fights with seven finishes, had already made former 145-pound titleholder "The California Kid" look like just that, a kid, in a pair of dominant wins, first at WEC 36 and then again at WEC 41.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) import and former lightweight striker Leonard Garcia tried to get loud at WEC 39, only to suffer one of the worst first-round beatings in promotion history. Brown wasn't just dominant, he was downright frightening.
Then again, there was something different about that 23-year-old kid from Brazil.
Jose Aldo had only been competing under the WEC banner for a little over a year, but had already racked up five straight wins by way of knockout or technical knockout. The most notable of those was his eight-second destruction of Cub Swanson at WEC 41 by way of flying knee.
The same event that saw Brown retain his title in a rematch against Urijah Faber.
There was no question that "Junior" was the division number one contender. After all, both Brown and Aldo had pretty much cleared out the rest of the featherweight hopefuls. All that was left was each other, and the stage was set at WEC 44 on Nov. 18, 2009.
Here's how it all went down.
Aldo looks down and refuses to make eye contact as referee Steve Mazzagatti gives the fighters their instructions. He does, however, touch gloves as the action gets underway at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada. Both fighters bouncing around on their feet and Brown opens with a double jab at the 4:20 mark.
"Frank, this is about as slow as we've seen Jose Aldo move in any fight," remarks cageside commentator Todd Harris.
Shortly after, the Brazilian cracks the champion with an uppercut, who responds with a solid overhand right. Aldo smashes the lead leg of Brown with a sickening thud and they tie up, albeit briefly. Back to the center of the cage and "Scarface" is stalking.
Aldo uncorks another powerful leg kick, then follows up with a knee and a cross. A bewildered Brown puts everything into a wild overhand right that sails wide. Every time Brown tries to close the distance, his challenger simply scoots out of the way.
Another thunderous leg kick finds its mark. Guest commentator Frank Mir rhetorically asks, "He's quick, right?"
Brown lumbers in and Aldo makes him pay with a blistering combination. A cut becomes visible against the tattered brow of the frustrated champion. "Junior" goes high with his kick and Brown eats it, staggers briefly and dives for a single leg takedown.
Aldo will have none of it.
They muscle each other against the cage in a battle for position while Brown drives knees to the thigh and gut. Aldo finds separation and escapes. Time winds down and Aldo sneaks in a switch kick followed by a jumping knee that falls below the jaw.
They trade jabs at the buzzer.
Round two gives the champion a renewed sense of urgency and he charges forward with strikes, only to get stymied by a spinning back kick. Aldo follows up by chopping the leg and Brown gets backed into the cage. The Brazilian unloads and his victim is flummoxed, jumping on an ankle and trying desperately to get the fight to the floor.
Aldo refuses to budge.
Brown slings a wild right and Aldo ducks, bulldozes forward and dumps the champ on the canvas, who is forced to turtle when the challenger follows up with hell from above. Brown rolls into harm's way and gets beaned with hammer fists before giving up his back.
From there, it's academic.
Aldo has his prey flattened out and a barrage of punches follow to the side of the head. Mazzagatti screams for a response but Brown is listless and taking an inordinate amount of damage. The action is halted at 1:20 of the second stanza and Brown would never again see gold.
Ladies and gentlemen, Jose Aldo has arrived.
But is he here to stay?
That's what we're going to find out when he puts his 145-pound title on the line against former lightweight kingpin Frankie Edgar, who believes he can do what Brown couldn't when they hook 'em up this Saturday night (Feb. 2, 2013) in the main event of UFC 156, live from "Sin City."
The dawn of a new era? Or a legacy defined?
Time will tell.