Jose Aldo: Has Chad Mendes really evolved all that much?
For the first time in his storied career, UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo will finally tackle a rematch with an opponent he's beaten previously.
While rematches seem to be all the rage when it comes to UFC title fights these days, Aldo has managed to avoid them during his entire career both in and out of the Octagon. He's rarely been challenged to the point where anyone thought he may have lost a fight, and the contenders he beats just haven't been able to climb back up the ladder for another shot at him.
That all changes on Saturday night when Aldo faces Chad Mendes in the headline bout at UFC 179. It could be argued that despite five wins in a row since their last fight, even Mendes was a tough sell for a rematch considering how their first fight ended. Aldo knocked out Mendes in the first round. Still, it's not Aldo's place to question the UFC's matchmaking, so he'll fight whoever signs the dotted line -- whether it's somebody new or somebody old again.
"It's really not about my interest," Aldo told FOX Sports this week. "Whoever the organization thinks I should face is who I'm going to face. They thought Chad Mendes was next and that's who I'm facing. I've got to be focused on my own objectives in training."
Since the last time Mendes was in the cage with Aldo he's picked up five consecutive wins, four of them coming by way of knockout or TKO. Prior to this five-fight win streak, Mendes had never knocked out any opponent during his UFC or WEC career.
The newfound power and skill earned Mendes a second shot at Aldo, but the champion sees another side of the coin when looking at his opponent's recent wins. Mendes beat Cody McKenzie, who is no longer in the UFC. He took out Yaotzin Meza, who is currently 1-2-1 in the UFC. Mendes' biggest wins came over a trio of top 15 fighters including Nik Lentz, Darren Elkins and Clay Guida -- none of whom are known as prolific strikers, unlike Aldo, who might be one of the best standup fighters in the world.
"There's obviously those two sides. I don't think he fought anyone like a high caliber boxer or kickboxer for us to really be able to analyze where he's evolved," Aldo said. "Of course he's going to work on his weak points and I think that's what he's done, but you can't really sit back and analyze it."
Leading into this fight, Mendes has also turned up his trash talk when speaking about the champion. Mendes has accused Aldo of being complacent as a champion as well as lacking in any promotional skills to help build the fight in the public eye.
Back in August, Aldo even went as far as to shove Mendes during a pre-fight stare down in Brazil, which was definitely out of character for the normally cerebral featherweight champion. That lone moment convinced Mendes that Aldo's been listening to everything he's said lately. It convinced the No. 1 contender that he was already in Aldo's head.
The champion says not so much.
"There's no way he would get in my mind. He's definitely not in my head," Aldo said. "It just comes down to I'm going to go in there and beat him again. That's it."
If there is a mental block for Aldo going into this rematch it might stem more from his first fight with Mendes than anything else. Aldo knocked out Mendes in the first round with a knee strike that still makes a regular appearance on highlight reels.
One of the disadvantages of a rematch is trying to top the original performance. Aldo is aware of the expectations that sit on his shoulders, but really he's just worried about winning however that comes about.
"I think there's a lot of promotional things we need to do. In no way do I feel I need to top my performance from the last time. I don't even try to remember that fight. That's in the past. I'm looking towards the future. But there is a side that the fight needs to be promoted," Aldo said.
"The message that I want to send is with my victory. I want to be champion for a long time and that's it."
Staying champion for a long time also brings up another interesting answer from Aldo regarding his future. He's long teased the possibility of moving up a division and challenging for the UFC lightweight title. He's even engaged in a war of words with champion Anthony Pettis several times over the last two years.
Unfortunately it seems any dreams of that super fight happening any time soon may as well dissolve into nothing.
"I'm still at featherweight," Aldo said. "There's some new opponents, there's some new guys coming in. I think my future looks like I'm going to be in the featherweight division."