Jose Aldo will enter Rio De Janerio under pressure to finally show UFC fans what he’s truly made of. While 2011 saw him beat highly regard Mark Hominick and former lightweight title contender Kenny Florian his performances lacked the dynamism and energy of his defenses in the WEC. Indeed whereas Urijah Faber was his only opponent in WEC to hear the final bell, both his UFC defenses have gone to a decision. The dip in performance has caused people to question whether Aldo is starting to feel the effects of how much weight he is trying to cut or whether he’s not yet fully recovered from the neck injury that caused his first defense inside the Octagon to be cancelled.
The criticism and specualtion is perhaps slightly unfair given that he entered UFC 129 struggling with a virus and at UFC 136 he was up against a fighter in Florian who hasn’t been knocked out since he met Diego Sanchez in the first-ever The Ultimate Finale. That said, for a fighter largely unknown and unproven to the wider sport’s fanbase he needs to put in an impressive performance tonight against Chad Mendes. And that may well be possible but the key will be whether he can meet the challenge posed by Mendes.
Hailing from the same Team Alpha Male camp (that is led by former Aldo challenger Faber) Mendes poses a very clear but singular threat to Aldo. A former NCAA Division I runner-up he has the best wrestling credentials in the lower weight classes. He matches speed and power with an excellent double-leg, and has shown an impressive ability to rapidly change levels where necessary. While he’s never appeared on a UFC main card, he is undefeated and has gone 10-0.
The last fight of that run is crucial. Against Rani Yahya he showed a decided disinclination to go to the ground against a fighter with a known grappler. That option was open to him due to Yahya’s complete lack of functional striking, something that allowed Mendes’ to dominate with his competent if limited boxing. The strategy and the noticeable lack of flair he demonstrated whilst implementing it casts significant doubt on his ability to win this fight. If the fight stays standing then Mendes is going to be in serious trouble as Aldo is clearly superior than him or anyone he’s ever face when it comes to fighting on the feet. But if Mendes takes Aldo down then he’s exposing himself to the very submission risk he was so clearly wary off against Yahya. While we’re yet to see much evidence of it inside the Octagon, Aldo is a Black Belt in BJJ and in his youth achieved success in competition grappler.
Much more than that, there’s no guarantee that Mendes will be able to get Aldo down or keep him down. Aldo’s takedown defense is generally strong and Mendes’ teammate Faber was barely able to get close enough to shoot given the Brazilian’s mastery of distance and the fearsome power of his leg kicks. And in preparation for this fight he’s been working with Gray Maynard to approve it even further.
Because of Aldo’s takedown defense and the latent grappling threat he poses on the ground, no one can be sure that Mendes take him down let alone safely control him on the ground for five rounds. What we do know is that given the chance Aldo will dominant the fight on the feet and expose the technical limitations in Mendes’ game. Mendes limitations will give him that chance and Aldo will finally get that impressive performance to announce him on the UFC stage.
Tags: Brazil, chad mendes, Jose Aldo, Mixed Martial Arts, UFC 142, UFC Featherweight Division