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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 44’s Jose Aldo

UFC 179: Aldo v Mendes 2 Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Former Featherweight kingpin, Jose Aldo, will duel opposite boxing specialist, Rob Font, this Saturday (Dec. 4, 2021) at UFC Vegas 44 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Can Aldo become champion again? Winning the Bantamweight title doesn’t seem likely for any 35-year-old combatant, but then, Aldo has been defying expectations recently. His drop in weight class is going far better than most expected, and more than that, Aldo’s training with the Brazilian Navy boxing team seems to have really reinvigorated “Junior.” Provided Aldo doesn’t fall off a physical cliff in the next 12 months, the Brazilian really does match up well with many of the division’s elite contenders.

Font will prove an excellent test of whether or not Aldo can still handle a hard-nosed challenge for five rounds, but let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

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Striking

Jose Aldo is a pretty damn-good striker in just about every range of kickboxing.

Boxing has more and more become the story of Aldo’s striking. Ever since he shattered his foot vs. Chan Sung Jung, Aldo has been far less willing to hammer away with low kicks — he now only throws his most famous weapon when absolutely sure of his timing and opening.

Dating back to his first fight vs. Frankie Edgar, Aldo has come to rely on his jab. 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.

UFC 200: Tate v Nunes Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

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). When Aldo finds his range and starts to set things up, his complete control is amazing to watch.

Body punching has become a relatively recent staple of Aldo’s game as well. The second Aldo lands a good shot upstairs and has his opponent covering up, Aldo is likely to shift his weight over his lead leg and start attacking the body with his left hook. In general, Aldo does a really tremendous job of forcing his opponent’s guard high before putting punches to the bread basket, stringing together great combinations to both targets.

Aldo’s low kick stands among the pantheon of great MMA weapons, somewhere between Georges St-Pierre’s jab and Kazushi Sakuraba’s low single. For several years, however, he really did abandon his signature kick. Now that he’s back at Bantamweight, it’s beginning to make another resurgence.

Aldo chopped up Petr Yan’s lead leg enough to convince the Russian to fight largely from Southpaw — that’s an accomplishment! Perhaps more impressively, Aldo kicked the hell out of Pedro Munhoz’s lead thigh and calf while denying Munhoz access to his own calf.

UFC 265: Aldo v Munoz Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Aldo’s dissection of Munhoz was really spectacular in general, and it began with his kick defense. To defend the calf kick, it’s essential to keep one’s foot low to the ground, rather than lift it up high as is common vs. a thigh kick. Aldo routinely would withdraw his lower lead leg but keep the foot planted, pointing his knee towards the incoming kick (GIF).

Munhoz kicked the knee a few times, and for some reason, he suddenly stopped trying to calf kick much. Without his primary distance tool, Munhoz was forced to rely on his boxing more, and Aldo was ready for him, firing back in beautiful counter combinations. Then, to add insult to injury, Aldo started spinning Munhoz around with his own low kicks!

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).

Wrestling

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.”

UFC 163 - Aldo v Korean Zombie Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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).

Aldo has defended literally dozens of single takedowns using some combination of a frame, whizzer, and limp leg (GIF). Without wrestling shoes to latch onto, foes have little chance of hanging onto a slippery super athlete as he clears his knee and rips his ankle free.

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

Though he’s a jiu-jitsu and Luta Livre black belt who actually had some hype as a prospect on the Brazilian jiu-jitsu scene years ago, we rarely see Aldo’s ground skills. Even when he does drag the fight to the mat, Aldo is not very aggressive with his Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

UFC Fight Night: Aldo v Vera Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC

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. On occasion, Aldo has been aggressive in chasing the back mount position, and he did stall out any potential Marlon Vera comeback talk by taking his back for pretty much the entire third round.

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 not a huge part of his game anymore.

Conclusion

Aldo is perhaps more skilled now than at his peak. However, he doesn’t quite have the same youthful viciousness of his WEC days or the proven five-round cardio of his UFC championship stint. He’s following the classic older boxer path to continued greatness, and it just might be enough to take another world title.

Either way, he’s one of the greatest to ever put on four-ounce gloves.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional 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.


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 44 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN at 10 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 44: “Aldo vs. Font” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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