UFC 142 huge opportunity for Aldo
Of all the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in MMA, Jose Aldo hasn’t captured the imagination quite like Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre or Jon Jones has in the past 24 months.
Aldo came to the UFC in the WEC merger, and his best exploits occurred while he was with the smaller promotion pre-merger. That’s why Aldo remains a bit of an enigma to UFC audiences en masse. Most haven’t seen his dismantling of some of the best featherweights in the world en route to winning the WEC title, or his clinical destruction of Urijah Faber on the WEC’s only PPV event, and it shows in audience reactions toward him.
So far he hasn’t been on top of a PPV card as a headliner, only as a co-main event to other title fights. For Aldo, the UFC’s second venture to Rio on Saturday represents a near-perfect opportunity for him to become a star atop UFC 142 in his native Brazil against Chad Mendes. Right now he’s a fighter’s fighter; those who do it for a living have been preaching his abilities long before his title run in the WEC, much less either of his featherweight belt title defenses in the UFC. It’s telling when guys like heavyweight contender Frank Mir preach about his abilities long before anyone took notice, and yet Aldo hasn’t taken hold of the MMA consciousness like he should.
For a guy many feel is potentially the second- or third-best fighter in the world regardless of weight class, Aldo doesn’t get the recognition or buzz from audiences that lesser fighters get. His rise to fame has largely gone unnoticed because his highlight-reel stoppages of guys like Cub Swanson, Mike Brown and Manny Gamburyan all occurred in front of diehard fans in WEC bouts instead of before the masses of the UFC.
Two dominating but uninspiring wins over Kenny Florian and Mark Hominick on UFC cards have done little to capture the magic of watching him mature on WEC cards. Thus his positioning on top of UFC 142 in his home country has given him that rare moment to become a star in the same manner the UFC has done before with other fighters in their prime in expanding markets.
And that’s ultimately what his positioning on top of the UFC’s return to Brazil has him poised to do. In a market that could become the equal to Canada for the UFC, and a native Brazilian coming back, Saturday’s event gives him a rare opportunity to become the equivalent in Brazil to what Georges St. Pierre is in Canada — a hometown hero who draws audiences down there en masse.
The UFC has also used this formula to turn Michael Bisping into a British MMA hero, as well, and one wouldn’t be shocked to see an expanding market like Sweden get Alexander Gustafsson in a same spot. Brazil, in the long run, means more than the UK and Sweden based on demographics and size alone, obviously, but Aldo represents something more in the grand scheme of things.
Aldo is part of the next generation of Brazilian fighters, alongside Junior Dos Santos, who can lead the way in Brazil like GSP has done in Canada. Anderson Silva and the Noguiera brothers may be more important fighters at this point in Brazil, mainly due to their past, but they never spent the bulk of their prime years fighting the best in their home country.
Silva and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira headlining the UFC’s first return to Brazil last fall was important but was rooted in nostalgia more than anything else. Big Nog is in the swan song of his career and Silva isn’t far from ending his own, either. Both men became famous to Brazilians while fighting outside of their homeland. They may have started there but a return fight in Brazil meant more in coming full circle than it does to their careers. Big Nog is going to leave as one of the great heavyweights of the Pride era, whereas Silva is easily in the discussion as the greatest fighter of his generation. But both accomplished virtually everything that made them that famous and successful outside of Brazil.
Aldo is young enough now that he could easily headline half a dozen UFC events in Brazil alone by the time he’s 30. The prime of his career could potentially be spent headlining events in Brazil and growing that fan base like GSP has done in Canada. Right now the UFC itself is a hot enough name that selling out arenas in Brazil isn’t as difficult a proposition as it could be. With a native son amongst the best, Jose Aldo’s name alone could be enough to eventually fill a soccer stadium on his own the same way GSP filled the Rogers Centre in Toronto.
That’s what this weekend’s card represents for Jose Aldo: an opportunity to become the sort of star in his country that the UFC needs for the long term.