Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweights Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes are set to scrap for the strap this Saturday (Oct. 25, 2014) at UFC 179 inside the Ginásio do Maracanãzinho in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Since losing to Aldo in January of 2012, Mendes has been on a tear. First, he violently dispatched a pair of lower ranked fighters in less than three minutes combined. He followed that up with another two knockout finishes of increasing tough competition and capped his win streak off by handing Nik Lentz his first defeat in the featherweight division.
On the other hand, Aldo has been facing some criticism. It's not that he hasn't been dominant -- he still shows flashes of his old explosive violence from time to time -- but there's talk that Aldo is too conservative and may even be on the deteriorating as a fighter.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for each man.
Key Wins: Nik Lentz (UFC on Fox 9), Clay Guida (UFC 164), Cub Swanson (WEC 50)
Key Losses: Jose Aldo (UFC 142)
Keys to Victory: A two-time Division I All-American and Pac-10 conference champion, Mendes is perhaps the division's best wrestler. To make matters worse for his opponents, the explosive Team Alpha Male-trained product has quickly developed into a nasty striker with clear finishing ability.
Mendes will likely utilize much of the same game plan that he attempted in the first bout. Though he was clipped by a knee and finished at the end of the first round, Mendes was actually doing okay prior. He was not winning the fight, but he's evolved since then, meaning that may no longer be the case.
In the first bout, Mendes was quite active with his own leg kicks. Not only do these score points and slow Aldo down, but his kicks ensure that Mendes is not stranded at the outside of the kicking range, as he has his own weapon from that distance.
Then, Mendes would attempt to close the distance with a combination of punches. This is the area that "Money" has most improved on, as his ability to switch stances as he punches is very useful. If he's not able to land anything significant or latch onto the Brazilian at the end of his combo, Mendes would be wise to finish with a kick.
To land a takedown -- which is undoubtedly Mendes' ultimate goal -- Mendes should wait for Aldo to lead with punches. He cannot afford to simply trade leg kicks with the champion, but the combination of Mendes' kicks and distance closing combinations could force "Junior" to press forward with punches of his own.
When Aldo leads, that's Mendes best opportunity for a takedown. Aldo is simply too athletic and slick with his limp leg defense to get taken down with little setup or off of a leg kick. However, it's much easier to get a grip on Aldo when he steps forward and plants his feet.
Taking down Aldo consistently is the true key to victory for Mendes and will likely decide whether he wins this bout.
Key Wins: Chad Mendes (UFC 142), Frankie Edgar (UFC 156), Ricardo Lamas (UFC 169)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Despite his jiu-jitsu black belt, being able to stay off of his back is quite obviously a major factor in this fight. If he can do that, Aldo can fully utilize his vicious Muay Thai game, which has lead him to out-strike each of his opponents thus far in his career.
Due to his difficult weight cut, Aldo is not likely to ever be able to fight five rounds at a torrid pace without slowing down. However, he can eliminate that disadvantage by doing enough damage early that his opponent cannot capitalize when he is fatigued.
For the most part, Aldo's leg kicks do that job quite well. Even when his opponent does start to shift the momentum, Aldo is able to coast without much difficulty. His opponent is simply too beaten up and sore to effectively push hard enough to finish Aldo, even in his fatigued state.
This is especially important against Mendes, as none of Aldo's recent opponent's have really possessed one shot knockout power. If Aldo were to significantly slow down in the fifth round while Mendes was still fresh, it wouldn't be quite so easy to survive his opponent's haymakers.
Just another reason why Aldo's leg kicks are so vital to his success.
In addition, Aldo's use of the uppercut should work quite well here. Mendes is the shorter fighter -- and though he actively moves his head while pressing forward -- could get countered while he moves in. Even if the punch misses, the threat of the uppercut will help Aldo force Mendes to stand taller, making it more difficult for the talented wrestler to land takedowns.
Bottom Line from Brazil: Obviously, any match involving the title is huge for either man's career.
This is Mendes second chance against Aldo. Quite simply, this is do or die for "Money" as long as Aldo continues to hold the belt. With a loss, Mendes is stuck in an awkward position, as it's extremely difficult to sell a match in which the challenger has already lost to the champ twice.
However, a win would be life changing. Not only would it bring all of the UFC straps to the United States -- and a second to Team Alpha Male -- but the winner will likely defend his title against Conor McGregor in the near future, one of the biggest "Money" fights available in any weight class.
Aldo is facing a lot of pressure, even for a champion. In his last bout, Aldo was in complete control of a legitimate top 10 talent in Ricardo Lamas and made it clear he was the superior fighter, but still dealt with criticism. If Aldo were to lose to Mendes, it may be time for Aldo to move up to lightweight.
There are, of course, benefits to remaining featherweight champion of the world. A rematch with either Frankie Edgar or Cub Swanson is approaching, and Aldo matches up well stylistically with both athletes. Plus, Aldo would definitely love to be the man that shuts McGregor up, and the extra cash wouldn't upset him either.
At UFC 179, two of the best featherweights in the world will battle over UFC gold. Which man will walk away with the belt?