The sports world is full of them. Hard on their luck kids who grew up to reach the pinnacle of their sport.
Roberto Clemente stormed Major League Baseball from the barrios of Puerto Rico before dying in a horrible plane crash. Allen Iverson was born to a girl who couldn't even drive and managed to become one of the NBA's most popular players. Walter Payton, the greatest running back in NFL history, grew up in the 1950s and '60s in Mississippi.
And in mixed martial arts (MMA), we have José Aldo. Growing up in the slums of Brazil, he would often go to Wagnney Fabiano's training facility with an empty stomach. He would tell him to go eat first, then he could train.
It's always amazing when someone can take such hardship and turn it into drive, into motivation. And it's no less amazing in Aldo's case.
His rise to fame may seem as though it came overnight but the Brazilian has been fighting for the better part of a decade, making the rounds in his home country before being signed to World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC).
Now, just one week away from the biggest fight of his life at UFC 129 (April 30, 2011), we'll spend two days taking a look at this phenom's WEC career. Today will deal with his debut and the fights leading up to his title shot against Mike Brown.
In we go:
Sporting a 10-1 record and having traveled to England and Japan to showcase his abilities, "Scarface" was signed to WEC in early 2008 and made his debut at their biggest event to date, WEC 34: "Faber vs. Pulver." The event was intended to be a passing of the guard, where Jens Pulver, already a legend in the sport, would hand the torch to WEC posterboy Urijah Faber.
It accomplished that goal brilliantly. The gate and attendance broke records for the small promotion. Unbeknownst to anyone, except perhaps Aldo himself, the future featherweight champion was quietly doing what he does best on the preliminary card.
He faced off against fellow Brazilian and former six-year SHOOTO champion Alexandre Franca Nogueira. Aldo stalked his opponent the entirety of the first round, shrugging off each takedown attempt easily. The second round was more of the first until a failed takedown forced Nogueira onto his back.
From there, you saw the controlled chaos that is José Aldo. He landed crisp ground-and-pound, directly to the jaw like a tiny Fedor Emelianenko at his best. When he dove into the submission expert's guard, he did so with utmost care without losing a bit of intensity.
Aldo avoided letting the former SHOOTO champ wraps his legs around him as he administered brutal elbows and within seconds had slipped into full mount. In trying to free himself from the position, Nogueira got his left arm trapped between his opponent's legs. Only the referee's mercy spared the Brazilian any more damage from the debuting WEC star.
Aldo would then fight at WEC 36: "Faber vs. Brown" against future Ultimate Fighter (TUF) winner Jonathan Brookins. Brookins, wild hair and all, is actually able to attain at least a glimmer of offense in this bout. Midway through the first round, he tosses Aldo up and over, slamming him onto the mat. This small victory is short-lived as the Brazilian is quickly back onto his feet.
"Scarface" begins to put together devastating combinations in the second stanza coupled with crippling leg kicks and cringe-inducing body shots. There aren't nearly enough adjectives to describes Aldo's stand-up skills. Brookins, for his part, isn't crumbling and is able to land a few jabs. Of all of the Brazilian's opponents in his WEC career, the future TUF winner would put up the most fight.
Almost immediately into the last round, after landing a few leg kicks, a lightning quick Aldo catches his opponent with a right hand that reboots the old brain squirrel. Brookins drops and instinctively goes for a takedown while Aldo follows his instincts and swarms his fallen opponent. Punch after punch is followed by a flurry of hammerfists before the referee stops the fight.
"Scarface" was now 2-0 in the UFC's little sister promotion and was ready to bust free of his preliminary shackles and into main card television stardom.
He led off the televised card of WEC 38: "Varner vs. Cerrone" and finished his opponent, Rolando Perez, in less than five minutes. He, again, used his quick but precise and powerful striking to overcome his opponent. He -- again -- made it look easy.
The finish is enough to get an old school Extreme Championship Wrestling fan chanting. Perez either faked a shot or faints a little to low and Aldo's fast muscle twitch instinctively throws a knee up that catches Perez directly on the chin and drops him on his back. A few punches later and the fight is over.
His next bout at the very next WEC event saw him put on an even more impressive display. "Five minutes? Hell, I can do it faster than that," Aldo seemed to say. Chris Mickle fell victim to the future champion in less than two minutes.
Poor Mickle. With his awful footwork, sub-par striking, and chin sticking out as far he it could muster, he was tailor made for an impressive Aldo shellacking. Pinned up against the cage, the Brazilian let loose with just about everything until the referee jumped in.
The most impressive facet of all these victories is Aldo's killer instinct. I think of fights like Cain Velasquez vs. Brock Lesnar where one of the fighters is hurt and beaten on for an extended period of time. You know the fight is pretty much over unless a miraculous comeback can be achieved; you just have to wait it out.
It's not like that with the UFC featherweight champion. You get hit and it's only a matter of seconds before you go down.
Like a magician, Aldo had an even better trick in store for his fight at WEC 41: "Brown vs. Faber II." He finished his last two opponents in five and two minutes respectively. How could he top that?
Just sit there and count to eight. That's how long it took José Aldo to knee Cub Swanson in the face not once, but twice ... in the same jump.
Words can barely describe that beautiful destruction.
Following that "Knockout of the Year" candidate, Aldo was primed and ready for a title shot against champion Mike Brown.
We'll take a look at that fight and his subsequent defenses in tomorrow's edition of History in the Making. We've seen him rise through the ranks; tomorrow we'll go through his reign as featherweight king.