Time doesn’t work the same way in the fight game as it does other places. It’s like that water planet in “Interstellar.” An hour or two is sometimes the equivalent of years elsewhere. That 13 seconds Jose Aldo spent in the cage with Conor McGregor back in 2015, for instance? The weight the MMA world gave it, you’d have thought that it swallowed up five years of Aldo’s career in either direction.
How about now, though? After his win over Rob Font in Saturday’s UFC Fight Night headliner, are we ready to revisit our prior judgments on Aldo’s career? Especially in light of recent revisions we’ve made as to our opinions on McGregor’s resume, are we ready admit that Aldo was more than we gave him credit for? Are we ready to come right out and say that, while long-ass winning streaks and title reigns are awesome, it takes something different to find longevity and consistency in this game – especially when you have to pick yourself up and put yourself back together a time or two in there?
Back way up and take a big picture look at your dude Jose Aldo da Silva Oliveira Junior. For about nine years, that man didn’t lose. Not fucking once. He went undefeated for his entire run in the WEC, which only ended when that organization was dissolved by its parent company and mostly absorbed into the UFC. Then he reeled off seven straight title defenses as the UFC featherweight champ.
Even if he’d retired then on some straight-up Khabib shit, he’d be remembered as an all-time great. No question about it. But then came those 13 seconds against McGregor, and suddenly a lot of people were ready to forget about all those years before it.
This was the dark time in Aldo’s career. Days of struggle and woe and what not. He beat up Frankie Edgar a second for an interim belt, then lost twice in a row to Max Holloway, at which point we were mostly ready to thank him for coming and bid him good day. Fucking idiots, is what we were.
Because you look up now and Aldo, at 35, is on a three-fight winning streak in a division below the one he dominated a decade ago. That shit simply does not happen in this sport. And it’s not like he’s beating up old guys are also-rans, either. These are ranked opponents, all seemingly on their way up, and then they ran into the dude who was champ back when this shit was on Versus with nothing but energy drink ads and condom sponsors on the TV. (Okay some stuff hasn’t changed all that much.)
But think about Aldo’s career arc compared with McGregor’s ever since that fateful night. Two weeks out from it – even two years out – we all would have said that Aldo had tanked while McGregor soared. Now look. McGregor has drifted into part self-parody and part inside joke, while Aldo has scratched and clawed his way to industry-wide respect. And it’s the kind of respect you can’t get just with money fights and marketing gimmicks. It is paid for in blood – your own and other people’s – and Aldo has earned his.
If you’re the kind of fighter who’s only in it for glory and paychecks, you don’t make it to where Aldo is right now. You’d have to be either stupid or delusional to look at this sport and expect something like this for yourself. To be in your mid-thirties, with 17 years as a pro, almost all of which came at or near the very highest level and against the toughest competition, and still find way to gut out wins against hungry contenders on Fight Night cards? It just doesn’t happen. It’s fucking special. It also makes you think we owe that man an apology.
We were the ones who could only see what was right in front of our faces. We lacked perspective, is one way of putting it. One guy lands and the other guy drops facedown on the mat? Must be the new pecking order forever and ever amen. Aldo’s career shows us that time still has the ability to wring the truth out of people. We just have to be patient enough to let it.
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(Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)