Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight strap-hanger, Jose Aldo, will attempt to unify the titles opposite interim 145-pound champ, Max Holloway, this Saturday (June 3, 2017) at UFC 212 inside Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Around this time last year, quite a few people had written off Aldo.
The 13-second Conor McGregor knockout has been talked about enough, but it was really demoralizing ... perhaps even legacy-defining. After all those years as champion, could Aldo bounce back from such a brutal defeat? Plus, all the injuries and layoffs over the years were on the minds of questioning fight fans.
At UFC 200, Aldo definitively quieted those folks, putting on perhaps the best performance of his career. Opposite Frankie Edgar, the Brazilian completely shut down his elite foe with gorgeous technique, essentially retaking his place atop the Featherweight throne. He may never get his chance to rematch with McGregor, but Aldo can still face off with a great talent in Holloway.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Aldo is one of the most effective kickboxers in the sport. He’s brutally powerful and fast, working in short, explosive movements that allow him to suddenly do huge amounts of damage. In recent years, Aldo has really streamlined his game. He doesn’t rely as frequently on flashy techniques, instead dominating his opponent with smart boxing and his infamously punishing low kick.
At range, Aldo is a really nasty boxer. Since his first bout with Edgar, Aldo has relied on the jab more often. He uses the punch masterfully, jamming his opponent’s attempts to close the distance with ease. He also feints the punch well, allowing him to land the punch more accurately and throw off his foe’s head movement.
In addition, Aldo did a fantastic jab of drawing “The Answer” into counter punches. After cracking him with a good jab, Aldo would back off, inviting Edgar to lead. When that happened, Aldo would plant and counter with a cross or look to attack with a pivoting hook.
Speaking of Aldo’s pivots, the champion’s footwork is a huge part of his success. Whenever his foe is looking to move forward, Aldo is either pulling his lead leg back or executing a quick pivot. Either way, he’s creating distance or a new angle, which prevents takedowns and creates opportunities to counter.
When Aldo leads, many of his combinations stem from the left hook and cross. It’s very classic Muay Thai, as Aldo uses these power punches to get his foe moving before he rips home a low kick. Once these weapons begin to work in sync with one another, Aldo will actively begin feinting with them and toy with his opponents (GIF).
Aldo’s low kick is a brutal weapon, and just a few of them can drastically change a fight. For this technique highlight, we identified a few of the details that make Aldo’s low kick so effective.
Opposite Ricardo Lamas, Aldo commonly waited for his opponent to kick. After absorbing, blocking, or dodging the strike, Aldo would immediately return with his own kick. Aldo’s was much more damaging, and it’s very difficult to move quickly immediately after throwing a kick.
Aside from his low kick, Aldo may not commit to any one kick as much, but he does have a deep arsenal. He can fire off hard kicks to the body or head without issue, and Aldo has also found success with the occasional jumping or spinning kick. More often, Aldo will mix a straight teep up the middle, which discourages any wrestling from his opponents.
Aldo has several weapons in his game that are designed to make wrestling difficult. For example, he commonly throws hard knees up the middle, limp legging out of any attempt to catch the strike. Additionally, if a wrestler shoots from way too far out or covers up ducking, Aldo will fire off a hard uppercut (GIF).
It’s been a while since this part of his game has come into play, but Aldo is pretty violent in the clinch as well. In his bout with Kenny Florian, for example, Aldo defended takedowns then jammed knees into his opponent’s midsection, sucking the life out of “KenFlo.” In one of the more unique knockout wins on his record, Aldo managed to end Chad Mendes’ night early in their first contest. After breaking his foe’s grip from the back clinch, Aldo spun out and immediately fired a knee. Mendes was looking to hang on or transition into a double leg, but instead he ate full power shot to the jaw (GIF).
Aldo is perhaps the best wrestler in UFC who does not have a scholastic wrestling background. Despite facing a litany of credentialed wrestlers and talented takedown artists, Aldo has been able to remain standing for the vast majority of each of his fights.
Offensively, Aldo is an above-average wrestler. He rarely turns to his wrestling unless he's fatigued or injured, like his bouts with Mark Hominick and Chan Sung Jung. In both cases, Aldo relied on a running double leg and often used clinch takedowns against "Korean Zombie."
It really helps Aldo that most opponents are not expecting takedowns from him. He's such a vicious striker that shooting is normally unnecessary and comes as a surprise. Plus, a reactive double leg is always effective against an opponent looking to close distance, which is a common strategy against Aldo.
More important, Aldo's takedown defense is superb. Aldo's hips are very strong, allowing him to sprawl out on the vast majority of takedowns. Alternatively, he’ll pivot his feet and take an angle, allowing him pressure hard on a whizzer and stop the shot (GIF).
Trying to land a single-leg takedown on Jose Aldo is a fool’s errand. The second his opponent shoots, Aldo immediately begins framing the face and turning away, often punishing his foe for their attempt (GIF). More often than not, Aldo is gone so quickly that his opponent slides right off and falls to the mat.
Aldo's ability to do damage as he defends takedowns is also very important. Whether it's his knees in the clinch or hammer fists while his opponent clings to a leg, Aldo makes it difficult to continue to grapple and transition. When being bombarded by hard shots, focusing on the takedown becomes a struggle. In addition, this damage deters his opponents from shooting in the future, as they're more likely to simply absorb free punches than successfully complete the takedown.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
Though he's a Nova Uniao black belt and actually had some hype as a prospect on the Brazilian jiu-jitsu scene, we rarely see Aldo's ground skills. Even when he does drag the fight to the mat, Aldo is not very aggressive with his jiu-jitsu.
From the top, Aldo is defensively sound with his hand position and posture. He's active with his guard passes but little else. When Aldo takes a dominant position, he usually looks to land ground strikes, with his pair of rear naked choke attempts on Lamas as the exception.
Off his back, Aldo is rarely using jiu-jitsu. When he's fresh, Aldo is able to explode back to his feet easily, and thus does not have to play guard. Then if he gets tired and taken down, Aldo is too fatigued to do anything other than close his guard and hold on.
It’s simply not a huge part of his game anymore.
Aldo is easily one of the greatest fighters of all time. He’s an elite fighter in all areas with tremendous athleticism, and his seven-year undefeated run through World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) and UFC matches up well with any of the other great win streaks in the sport. The McGregor loss may have taken some shine off that, but rebounding to regain the title opposite another great like Edgar helps move him past that. If he can build on that by ending Holloway’s win streak, it really improves his legacy even more.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.