In toughest test yet, Jose Aldo gets by Chad Mendes to retain UFC featherweight title

There was nothing safe about Jose Aldo on Saturday night. He was as dangerous as ever.

In one of the best fights of the year, Aldo bested Chad Mendes by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 49-46) to retain his UFC featherweight title in the main event of UFC 179 in Rio de Janeiro. Aldo was pushed as hard as he has ever been, rocked on multiple occasions and answered all of his critics with one of his most complete performances.

Aldo (25-1) has now won 18 straight fights overall and 15 in a row under the Zuffa banner. He has defended the UFC/WEC belt nine times. Anderson Silva owns the record, defending the UFC middleweight title 10 times.

Coming in, he was criticized for being complacent. There was none of that Saturday night.

Aldo, 28, got wobbled in the first round, but then nearly finished Mendes near the end of the frame with ground and pound from the mount. Aldo landed a combination after the bell that dropped Mendes before referee Marc Goddard could step in, drawing some controversy. But the blows didn’t end up mattering too much.

The Brazilian didn’t come on as strong in the second round, but took it to Mendes in the third. Just about every round was back and forth, but Aldo seemed to win the first, second, third and fifth. Mendes put him in trouble on several occasions, though, and opened up a nasty cut above Aldo’s left eye.

I think the court is complete here. I’m the king, Chad is the prince and now we have a joker.

-Jose Aldo

Afterward, Aldo made a thinly veiled reference to challenger Conor McGregor talking to commentator Brian Stann. McGregor, who was in attendance in Rio, meets Dennis Siver at UFC Fight Night on FOX Sports 1 on Jan. 18 and if he wins he will likely get the next featherweight title shot.

"I think the court is complete here," Aldo said. "I’m the king, Chad is the prince and now we have a joker."

Mendes (16-2) clearly improved immensely from his loss to Aldo in January 2012. He won five straight coming into this fight and his striking has evolved. The 29-year-old Team Alpha Male product was almost strictly a wrestler until working with Duane "Bang" Ludwig, who has also done wonders for current bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw.

He fell a little short, but there’s little doubt that the UFC could sell a rematch between the two.

"Holy s*** was that fun, dude," Mendes said afterward.

There has been talk of Aldo possibly moving up to lightweight at some point, but perhaps that would be premature. With McGregor knocking at the door, Mendes still on the table and maybe someone like Dennis Bermudez waiting in the wings, there is still plenty of work for Aldo to do at featherweight.

If that didn’t seem like the case a few months ago, Mendes proved it Saturday night. And not because Aldo has lost a step. There’s no doubting he remains one of the top two best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet.