Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweight champion Jose Aldo will put his belt on the line when he faces Ricardo Lamas in the pay-per-view (PPV) co-headliner of this Saturday night's (Feb. 1, 2014) UFC 169 event from Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Aldo has won his last 16 mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts. He was last seen finishing Chan Sung Jung at UFC 163, but it wasn't exactly pretty. Both Aldo and Jung were badly hurt in the bout. "Korean Zombie" separated his shoulder while Aldo broke his foot. After a six-month absence, "Junior" is coming back to show everyone why he's the best in the world at 145 pounds.
Lamas has been patiently waiting for his shot at the title.
"Bully" has won four straight UFC bouts over tough competition, his last being a technical knockout finish of Erik Koch at UFC at FOX 6 way back in January 2013. He was scheduled to fight Jung at UFC 162, but "Korean Zombie" was moved to UFC 163 after Anthony Pettis pulled out with a knee injury.
Only time will tell if the layoff will help or hurt Lamas.
The featherweight division has quickly become one of the most talented and evolving in all of UFC. We're going to find out who is the true king this Saturday night.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Aldo vs. Lamas:
Record: 23-1 overall, 5-0 UFC
Key Wins: Frankie Edgar (UFC 156), Chad Mendes (UFC 142), Chan Sung Jung (UFC 163)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Long thought to be one of the world's greatest pound-for-pound fighters, Aldo ran through World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) and has gone undefeated since UFC promoted him to its inaugural 145-pound champ.
At this point in time, it's no secret that Aldo brings arguably the most lethal striking game in all of MMA. His leg kicks and razor-sharp knees are legendary. Many wondered why he went away from those kicks against Jung, but it was later revealed that he suffered a broken foot.
Aldo needs to show up to UFC 169 with no lasting effects from that injury. He had some improved wrestling against Jung, but it was largely due to him not being able to unleash his full arsenal of strikes. Lamas is a gritty wrestler who will test Aldo's vaunted takedown defense every chance he can get, so "Junior" has to be ready to maintain a strong base.
If Aldo is healthy and the weight cut doesn't drain him too much, Lamas could be in for a very short night. Lamas hasn't lost many bouts, but when he does, it has been by striking stoppage. Aldo can make a huge statement if he finishes yet another highly-ranked contender.
But, Aldo has gassed in several of his UFC bouts, prompting much speculation about him moving up to lightweight. While that talk has been heating up thanks to the unfinished business between Aldo and UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, he can't look past Lamas.
There's a chance this fight could end up being a long, grinding affair. Aldo needs to bring every ounce of energy he can muster.
Record: 13-2 overall, 4-0 UFC
Key Wins: Cub Swanson (UFC on FOX 1), Erick Koch (UFC on FOX 6), Hatsu Hioki (UFC on FX 4)
Key Losses: Yuri Alcantara (WEC 53), Danny Castillo (UFC 42)
Keys to Victory: Lamas is in for the fight of his life in New Jersey. His striking defense will undoubtedly have to be at an all-time high. He destroyed Koch, but "New Breed" is a far cry from the challenge that Aldo presents.
Lamas should look to catch Aldo's low kicks and turn them into takedowns. He's a former NCAA Division III All-American wrestler, and wearing out Aldo with a heavy top game will be paramount to victory.
Aldo has only lost one bout in his entire career, a submission by rear naked choke back in 2005. Despite his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Lamas will be hard-pressed to submit the longtime champ, so he's going to have to stay in his face with an aggressive, disrupting strategy.
His wrestling is obviously a big part of this. If he can bypass Aldo's vaunted takedown defense, he should be able to whittle away at "Junior's" energy levels.
We haven't really seen Aldo in that much trouble throughout his UFC career. Truth be told, he's only shown moments of weakness in tiring out from the massive weight cuts he endures to make the division's 145-pound weight limit.
If Aldo shows up in a similar state at UFC 169, Lamas could be able to close the gap. He's usually in extremely good shape, but Aldo has a huge advantage in terms of experience in five-round bouts.
Lamas has won six fights by decision; however, Aldo has never been taken the distance and lost. Lamas could have a perceived edge in conditioning if the fight lasts more than three rounds, but he has to last that long first.
All told, Lamas has the deck stacked against him in New Jersey. His best bet to win is to maintain an insane pace that tires Aldo and keeps him from unleashing his trademark strikes. If he can do that, a chance to shock the world will be his.
Bottom Line from New Jersey: The bottom line for this fight is that if Aldo wins, he'll own victories over the top five contenders in his division. That's pretty much the definition of having cleaned out a weight class, so a move up to lightweight to face Anthony Pettis has been rumored for "Junior" in the near future.
But he'll have to beat Lamas first, and that's no easy task.
Despite most people looking past "Bully" due to his status as a massive underdog, Lamas has the grinding strategy that could potentially give Aldo fits. He's looked like a bulldozer as of late, but it goes without saying that he'll face a different animal at UFC 169.
If Aldo comes in and dominates Lamas in the early stages of this fight, there's really nowhere else for him to go but up to 155 pounds. He's long been rumored to make the transition up to lightweight, and the time will be right if he notches a sixth straight title defense.
On the other hand, if he somehow loses to the last top five-ranked contender on his hit list, he'll most likely become embroiled in a very time consuming feud against Lamas. There are bigger and better things in the cards for Aldo, so he needs to prove his takedown defense is second to none. He also needs to prove his cardio doesn't fade in later rounds.
If he can do those things, he'll add another chapter to his already considerable legend. Even if he can't, he still might win, albeit in lackluster fashion.
Not many are picking Lamas to win. He has to get in Aldo's face without over-committing and make the fight unfold according to his gameplan. Doing so may be one of the toughest tasks in MMA. But, as a huge underdog, Lamas may feel that the pressure is more on Aldo's shoulders than his.
Aldo has repeatedly proved he can handle that pressure, but maybe Lamas finally holds the key to defeating him. We'll find out on Saturday night.
Ricardo Lamas will finally have his long-awaited title shot at feared featherweight champion Jose Aldo. Can he "Bully" his way into an unlikely title reign, or will it be business as usual for the dominant Aldo?