This was supposed to be the one.
When Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) announced that reigning featherweight champion Jose Aldo would defend his 145-pound title against top division contender Chad Mendes, a sizable portion of the mixed martial arts (MMA) fan base took notice.
It was expected to be "Junior's" toughest test to date.
Mendes had rocketed his way up the ranks with an aggressive wrestling-based offense, good enough to carve out a perfect record of 11-0. Ricardo Lamas? Erik Koch? Both were considered major players in the crowded featherweight division, yet "Money" ran through them both with relative ease.
In a sense, there was Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes ... and then there was everyone else.
While Aldo had regained control of his aura with a five-round unanimous decision win over Kenny Florian, questions about his durability still lingered following a near-collapse against Mark Hominick at UFC 129. How would the tall and muscular "Junior" hold up against the frenetic pace of an elite wrestler like Mendes across a grueling, 25-minute fight?
There was only one way to know for sure.
The stage was set for the UFC 142: "Aldo vs. Mendes" pay-per-view (PPV) event, which took place at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, back on January 14, 2012. Naturally, the Brazilian bomber had the hometown crowd behind him, but lost nearly 50 points in the betting lines in the week leading up to the fight.
Here's what happened.
Touch of gloves to get the action underway and Mendes seems content to bang it out on the feet, firing off four consecutive leg kicks within the span of 30 seconds before getting one in return. Aldo working a wide stance in anticipation of the shoot and it pays dividends.
"Money's" first takedown attempt is shortchanged.
Aldo begins stalking his prey and takes an errant foot to the nuts. The challenger immediately throws up a hand to acknowledge his infraction, but the Brazilian is unfazed. Once again they bump leather to get the party started and for the second time in as many tries, a shooting Mendes is stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey.
Undaunted, he goes for a third, but to no avail.
A close-quarters tie-up finally grants the Team Alpha Male product his first real chance at getting the fight to the floor; however, Aldo locks his fingers in the fence and prevents what could have been a bone-crunching slam. Referee Mario Yamasaki warns him for the foul and Mendes struggles to drag the champion to the canvas.
In one fluid motion, Aldo spins free, uncorks a knee and puts his Mendes on queer street.
Aldo would spend nearly a year on the sidelines before returning to Las Vegas for a successful five-round title defense against lightweight import and former 155-pound kingpin Frankie Edgar. After giving fans "The Answer" about his stamina, he looks to replicate that performance -- or perhaps the one against Mendes -- this weekend at home.
Where "The Korean Zombie" awaits.
Chan Sung Jung has been tapped to fill in for the injured (and re-booked) Anthony Pettis as one half of the UFC 163 main event this Saturday night (Aug. 3, 2013) at the HSBC Arena in Rio. While he's a worthy contender, polishing off two very game opponents, he will have an uphill battle against what many pundits consider the third best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet.
See you in Brazil.