It's lonely at the top, especially when you are decimating challengers.
That's definitely applicable to current featherweight boss Jose Aldo, whose January knockout of Chad Mendes made the case for future challengers seem hopelessly remote. Troubled in his previous two defenses with a tough weight cut, the Brazilian seemed somewhat human in taking decisions against Mark Hominick and Kenny Florian before returning to vintage form in his last outing.
Watching the next best guy, Hatsu Hioki, plow through an over-matched Bart Palaszewski at UFC 144 last night (Sat., Feb. 25, 2012) in Japan, I couldn't help but contemplate Aldo moving to up to 155-pounds. That's no knock on Hioki, a tough fighter who's put together a solid set of performances, including a big win over Marlon Sandro, a stablemate of Aldo's. I just didn't see anything in any phase of the game that would remotely threaten Aldo, who possesses perhaps the best takedown defense in the game along with incredible stand-up skills.
Aldo's takedown defense is so good, in fact, it has effectively obscured his jiu-jitsu, which may, incredibly enough, be the best weapon in his arsenal, at least credentials-wise. He was a four-time Brazilian champion, and won a world title, as well. We'd probably know a lot more about it if it weren't for the fact that he dominates people on the feet and is so incredibly hard to take -- and keep -- down.
At a certain point of dominance, champions can still be marketable if they're exciting in dominant wins. That's pretty much where Anderson Silva has been for many of his nine title defenses, though he's had a couple of forgettable duds in there.
A look at the USA Today/SB Nation rankings only strengthens the case for Aldo moving up.
Of the top 10 fighters -- and we're bumping up Chan Sung Jung from 11 to 10 in place of Palaszewski -- there isn't a lot of viable promotional material to supply compelling contenders.
Mendes was built on an undefeated record and a solid streak of wins over increasingly tough opposition. With Jung squaring off against Dustin Poirier on May 15 as the headlining attraction at UFC on Fuel TV 3, that supplies a contender in the short-term. But while those two are decent fighters, I doubt the victor would be less than a 6-1 dog at the betting window against Aldo.
When pretty much every existing challenger is a long shot like that, the pressure to move up only grows.
Ironically, I'd still make Mendes the best shot to beat Aldo. But the champ won so quickly, he effectively scuttled any rematch talk until Mendes puts together an unreal streak of wins mixed with exciting performances to merit another shot.
It also simply makes sense for Aldo to move up. He's having trouble making the weight at 145-pounds, and his style probably translates better than any existing champion. It could even be similar to Silva's moves up to light heavyweight, where Aldo takes on a respectable contender to test the waters and create some additional buzz.
Who wouldn't want to see him against Clay Guida? It's also a no-lose proposition. If he's beaten, he can always return to featherweight for the time being. It's just another promotional angle to help showcase an extremely talented fighter, one running out of challenges in his division, and a guy that is definitely deserving of all the attention he can get.
Dominick Cruz is dug in at 135-pounds for the time being. The lightweight title is going to be hard for anyone to hold, much less send them to welterweight. Georges St. Pierre is never moving to 185-pounds as long as Anderson Silva's there, in my opinion. And Silva has made it clear that he's not overly interested in tackling Jon Jones just yet (give each of them two more defenses, though, and circumstances will be ideal for a Silva vs. Jones superfight). And Jones, while perhaps eventually destined to compete at heavyweight, is in the beginning of what could be one of the greatest title runs ever. There's no need to fix what isn't broken, there.
I'd give Aldo as good a shot as any of them at capturing a belt in the next weight class up. It's definitely preferable to seeing him keep destroying outmatched challengers, because that's pretty much all you can envision given the featherweight rankings.
Jason Probst can be reached at Jason@jasonprobst.com or twitter.com/jasonprobst.