Despite a flawless reign as featherweight champion and constant mentions as one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the sport, Jose Aldo has never been a massive attraction with fans.
There could be any number of reasons why he hasn’t drawn at the box office when it comes to pay-per-view sales. Is it because he’s a featherweight? Lighter weight fighters have always traditionally drawn lower numbers unless your name was B.J. Penn.
Is it because he’s Brazilian? While Aldo certainly draws a huge fan base in his home country, he never speaks a word of English and that could possibly alienate some of the audiences in the United States.
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Is it because he doesn’t promote his fights? UFC president Dana White would say talk is cheap and all that matters is what happens in the Octagon, but the paying public would argue that Aldo has never really had any heat with past opponents and only the lure of a "super fight" against former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar really drew a ton of interest.
Saturday night at UFC 179 might have changed all of that in one fell swoop but not for the reason you might be thinking.
Aldo engaged in arguably the greatest fight in featherweight history against Chad Mendes as the two best fighters in the world at 145 pounds battled it out for 25 straight minutes. Mendes dropped Aldo early and the champion fired back with a flurry of his own. Mendes pushed the pace. Aldo pushed right back. Mendes gave everything he had. Aldo gave just a little bit more.
First of all, my kingdom is full now. I’m the king, Chad’s the prince and there’s a joker in the court. He’s a guy that just talks. He hasn’t fought anyone
— Jose Aldo on Conor McGregor
As nice as domination sounds on paper, watching a champion get pushed to the limit and forced to find a way to win is a thrilling experience. Aldo needed the kind of fight he had at UFC 179, but that’s still not why his star power might finally reach the stratosphere.
It was Aldo’s post-fight speech coupled with the comments he made at the post-fight press conference when talking about Irish bad boy Conor McGregor that finally made the champion interesting outside of his spectacular performances inside the cage.
"I didn’t speak his name," Aldo said about McGregor as if he was kin to Lord Voldemort. "First of all, my kingdom is full now. I’m the king, Chad’s the prince and there’s a joker in the court. He’s a guy that just talks. He hasn’t fought anyone. He hasn’t fought anyone as tough as us. So to get here right now and talk, I’ve heard that a lot.
"Chael Sonnen did that in his weight class and always lost. You can talk as much as you want. Chad and I, we know what the weight class is like. We’re athletes who have to respect each other. We know that in there we make it happen and that’s what I wanted to say."
Aldo — normally one of the most soft-spoken champions in the entire sport — actually sounded fired up and angry when talking about McGregor. To describe Aldo’s usual pre- and post-fight interviews as subdued would be like calling Propofol a mild sedative. Despite being a terminator inside the Octagon, he’s more like Mr. Rogers outside of it.
But McGregor has managed to spark a flame inside Aldo that got the champion talking about him in his post-fight speech while the cage floor was still glistening with the blood he and Chad Mendes just shared minutes earlier. Even Mendes couldn’t resist calling McGregor out (by name) when he got the microphone following his decision loss to Aldo.
Aldo’s been accused of complacency lately because of the lack of competition he’s received in recent title fights. Mendes physically pushed him to the brink on Saturday night. McGregor might send Aldo into a mental tizzy before they ever actually walk into the cage together.
McGregor is the foil that Aldo has always needed. The buzz will be palpable and the money will flow like a river to the UFC’s front door when they finally meet.
A few months ago I made the argument that title shots aren’t about what’s "deserved." If it was solely based on merit, Cub Swanson probably would have fought Aldo on Saturday night instead of Mendes, all things considered. He’s won six fights in a row with his last three coming over top 10 opponents. Sure, he has a loss to Aldo, but that was five years ago in a promotion that doesn’t even exist anymore.
But Swanson is missing the one key ingredient that McGregor has in spades — hype.
McGregor is definitely the most hyped fighter the UFC has had since Ronda Rousey debuted, and he’s by far the most talked about competitor at 145 pounds not named Jose Aldo. He had the fans in Brazil in a feeding frenzy on Friday during a Q&A session prior to the weigh-ins and he’s a rock star in every interview he conducts around the world.
Now he’s likely the No. 1 contender in the UFC featherweight division and poised to put on the biggest fight the weight class has ever known.
Jose Aldo may despise McGregor’s tactics, but he’ll definitely be thanking him when he sees the check he’ll get to cash when their fight is over.