After going some 13 years between trips to Brazil from 1998-2011, the UFC will journey to its new international home-away-from-home for the second time in fewer than five months this weekend.
While Saturday’s UFC 142 doesn’t have nearly the buzz behind it as last August’s UFC 134, the fight company is following a very similar game plan. The card is stocked with homegrown talent, the very public prefight events are being held at scenic outdoor locations in front of rabid crowds and the main event features a Brazilian fighter the UFC is hoping to turn into a star.
If UFC 142 isn’t causing the same commotion as the previous summer’s effort, it’s probably only because Jose Aldo isn’t quite as far along in the king-making process as, say, Anderson Silva.
Silva’s thorough crushing of Yushin Okami at UFC 134 was more of a coronation than a coming out party. After five years on top of the sport, the UFC middleweight champion’s homecoming couldn’t help but be a major event. Aldo, on the hand, might be looking to simply introduce himself to mainstream MMA fans – even Brazilian ones – when he defends his featherweight crown against Chad Mendes on Saturday.
Good news for Aldo, the UFC and Brazilian fans – he’s set to go off as 2-to-1 favorite and many analysts don’t seem to think it’ll even be that close.
Few are giving Mendes much of a shot, but that’s probably less of a commentary on the undefeated Team Alpha Male fighter himself than on our perception of Aldo being impervious at 145-pounds.
Through eight fights in the now-defunct WEC, he gave every impression of being the first breakout superstar in the lighter-weight classes. He knocked people out with gravity-defying double flying knees, attacked the opposition with the ferocity of a heavyweight and staked a solid claim as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in MMA. He looked so good that the UFC didn’t even bother having him fight for its new 145-pound title when it absorbed the WEC at the beginning of 2011, instead just awarding it to Aldo no questions asked.
Funny how those things work out, though. Aldo’s first two fights in the Octagon have made him look increasingly mortal – he won unanimous decisions over Mark Hominick and Kenny Florian – and his young career has been slowed by lingering neck injuries. In short, Aldo needs this one over Mendes to prove he’s as good as we thought he was.
Mendes brings to the table some skills – particularly the caliber of his wrestling – that Aldo hasn’t seen before. He also has the benefit of being teammates with Urijah Faber, who took Aldo to decision at WEC 48 in April, 2010. There have been questions lately about Aldo’s cardio and what is looking like a more and more difficult weight cut to the featherweight limit as he gets older. If Mendes can use his wrestling to wear on him and get Aldo into the championship rounds, things could get interesting.
Conventional wisdom, however, says that Aldo is too complete and too talented not to take this fight. The real question might be how much a win will help his stock among MMA fans in Brazil, where the UFC appears to be putting down roots and planning a long-term future.
Photo credit: Sherdog.com