After suffering a devastating 13-second knockout to Conor McGregor in 2015, José Aldo’s future was in question. Would he come back? Would he retire? Would he transfer sports to boxing?
However, the talk soon settled down and Aldo returned to fight for the interim UFC featherweight title against Frankie Edgar at UFC 200 while then-champion McGregor was taking a detour against Nate Diaz in a rivalry that would eventually turn into one of the most anticipated rematches in the history of MMA.
Aldo looked fresh against Edgar. The Brazilian controlled the pace of the fight throughout, stuffed all of Edgar’s takedown attempts, and outstruck his opponent for 25 minutes to walk away as the interim champion.
All seemed well in Aldo’s world. He appeared to be back with a vengeance and ready to fight McGregor again. That was, until McGregor was stripped of the title after winning the lightweight belt. Instead of a rematch with the Irishman, Aldo was promoted to the status of undisputed champion.
The Brazilian’s first title defense as the new undisputed champ came against young up-and-comer Max Holloway at UFC 212. Aldo, who was 30 years old at the time, held the home-field advantage. He had all the support from the fans in the arena, but that did not stop Holloway from finishing Aldo in the third round to become the new undisputed featherweight champion.
Once again, the doubts surfaced. Will Aldo bounce back again?
Once again, it didn’t take long for Aldo to answer this question. He was schedule against Ricardo Lamas at UFC Winnipeg in December, but then he got a call to step in for an injured Edgar at UFC 218 to fight Holloway again for the title.
As UFC 218 approached, Aldo was extremely confident. Now 31, the former champ had people believing that his youth and prior dominance gave him a prime opportunity to bounce back. He looked hungry, like the Aldo of the WEC days. He had a newfound passion to become the champion again.
This time, though, heart wasn’t enough.
Aldo came out with a much different game plan than in their first encounter. He sought to conserve energy and take a much more calculated approach, but it didn’t take long for Holloway to take over. The fight ended in the same fashion as their first fight: a third-round TKO victory for the 26-year-old Hawaiian champion.
It was tough for many fans to watch Aldo lose in devastating fashion in back-to-back outings. He’s a legend in the sport. He’s the inevitable greatest of all time in the featherweight division, and the longest-reigning champion in the history of the division. Aldo has long been viewed as one of the best fighters to ever grace the Octagon. Aldo has nothing left to prove to anyone, so we must ask: Is it time for him to walk away?
Most certainly, an argument could be made for either side. If you say no to this question, then you’re likely basing it off Aldo’s youth and that he is still one of the best fighters in the world. But let’s think about it for a moment. Aldo has been fighting professionally for nearly 14 years now, and through all those fights, he has had plenty of wars and has taken a lot of damage. Now, after losing to Holloway twice, it is highly unlikely he will receive a title shot as long as Holloway is around the game.
Also, historically, once a long-reigning champion falls to a fast up-and-comer — in Aldo’s case, both McGregor and Holloway qualify — that long-reigning champ has a hard time returning to their old form. This has held true for Anderson Silva and Ronda Rousey in the past, and now it seems true of Aldo as well.
With the featherweight division developing into as good a division as any in the UFC, Aldo will have plenty of young challengers coming up that will be very tough to beat. He could see the likes of Brian Ortega, Yair Rodríguez and Doo Ho Choi. Is it really worth it for Aldo to stay around and take damage as an elite gatekeeper with a very low chance of a title shot anytime soon?
The decision is up to Aldo himself, and we probably won’t have to wait long to find out what that answer is. Aldo just needs to remember that he is the greatest featherweight of all time. There’s is no need to risk tainting his legacy at all.