It wasn't Max Holloway's savage third round blitz nor was it necessarily Conor McGregor's 13 second knockout that signaled the fall of Jose Aldo. And not to take away from what Holloway and McGregor did to Aldo, but the former UFC featherweight champion and the man once considered to be the best pound for pound fighter in the world has nobody to blame but himself for his precipitous fall.
Before we begin, let's be clear that Jose Aldo remains one of the greatest fighters to compete in mixed martial arts. However, something changed in Jose Aldo a few years ago that altered the narrative and changed him from an unbeatable monster to a supremely talented points fighter. He went from a man that was constantly on the offensive to one who simply tried to protect his domain. That's a totally different Jose Aldo that most of us remember rampaging through the WEC.
For the uninitiated (or those who started watching in the UFC and wondered aloud what the big deal was), Jose Aldo was an absolute monster when he arrived in the WEC on June 1st, 2008. He was calculatedly aggressive and was always fishing for the finish. Despite his lack of mainstream recognition, most saw him as the best fighter in the world. Being unbeaten for a decade will do that.
The MMA world hadn't seen anything like Aldo. He was a smaller fighter who lived in a perpetual seek and destroy mission. From his 8-second knockout of Cub Swanson to his masterful annihilation of Mike Brown to claim the WEC featherweight title, everything Aldo did was meant to inflict pain.
Notice something in the above video? For the most part, Aldo's greatest performances were earlier in his WEC/UFC career where he attacked with a certain ferociousness seldom seen on any level. His tear through the WEC was a frightening one that found every opponent facing Aldo with a reserved fear of what might happen. That level of intimidation and execution that Aldo fought with had many MMA pundits forecasting his greatness once he arrived on the big stage of the UFC.
However, although he went unbeaten in his first seven UFC fights, he only managed to score two knockouts (one courtesy of Chan Sung Jung suffering a shoulder injury) after going 8-0 with six knockouts.
Well, for one, he became a protector instead of an aggressor. If you look at how Aldo approached a majority of his UFC fights, what was originally a ferocious sprint became a measured pace that led to a less explosive approach. He needed to conserve energy for the later rounds in the event that his early blitz couldn't rid himself of his opponent. Some blame it on Aldo's weight cut, which he admitted was becoming more difficult.
This led to more and more fights ending in decisions as the fear of Aldo slowly evaporated over time. He was still a difficult fighter to deal with due to his excellent reflexes and above average speed, but fighters didn't necessarily have to worry about the explosion anymore. Instead of surviving for five rounds, they could concern themselves with how to beat him. The fear was gone. Fighters that most assumed he could stop within the distance (Kenny Florian and Mark Hominick) hung around a lot longer than expected. Obviously, the level of competition had increased, which could lead to a lower knockout rate. But Aldo just didn't seem like the savage that he was in WEC.
Another reason for Aldo's fall?
It's no secret that Jose Aldo's leg kicks were once the most feared weapon in his arsenal. Ask Urijah Faber about those kicks.
Here are the number of leg kicks Aldo landed in his UFC fights.
- 18 leg kicks vs. Mark Hominick (UD)
- 8 leg kicks vs. Kenny Florian (UD)
- 4 leg kicks vs. Chad Mendes (1st round KO)
- 9 leg kicks vs. Frankie Edgar (UD)
- 1 leg kick vs. Chan Sung Jung (4th round KO)
- 20 leg kicks vs. Ricardo Lamas (UD)
- 6 leg kicks vs. Chad Mendes (UD)
- 0 leg kicks vs. Conor McGregor (KOed)
- 4 leg kicks vs. Frankie Edgar (UD)
- 1 leg kick vs. Max Holloway
For whatever reason, Aldo decided to not use his leg kicks when they could have very well been effective. They would have been necessary in a fight with Conor McGregor, where he puts a majority of his weight on the front leg. The same can be said for Max Holloway, who was able to close the distance and use volume striking against Aldo without fear of a shin digging into his calf and thigh. Any fighter will tell you that leg kicks are extremely painful and can be a game changer that limits mobility and the ability to sit on their punches.
It makes sense for Aldo to throw less leg kicks against a wrestler like Chad Mendes. But against fighter who primarily strike and rarely look for the takedown, it makes little sense why Aldo moved away from his greatest weapon. One leg kick landed against Max Holloway was partially the reason why he lost. The other reason was that Holloway didn't fear the Aldo onslaught.
In recent years, Aldo has decidedly become a counter striker (except against McGregor, where he was incensed into becoming the aggressor). If you watch his performance against Holloway, with no fear of a leg kick and knowing that Aldo wouldn't launch into an assault, Holloway ever so slowly inched closer and closer to Aldo. Once in striking distance, Holloway would force Aldo into an uncomfortable situation where he threw defensive punches. Eventually, the Hawaiian's busy approach overwhelmed Aldo and opened the window of opportunity for him to land the combination that put the Brazilian down and eventually out.
While some may suggest that Aldo is older, he's actually in his prime years at the age of 30. This has become something mental for Jose Aldo. Like Mike Tyson, the veil of invincibility is gone. More importantly, the fear of being locked in the cage with Aldo no longer exists. He's far from done physically, but if he cannot figure out how to go back to what made him great, our memory of Jose Aldo will be reduced to his biggest losses rather than his greatest victories.