Poor Jose Aldo. Ever since Conor McGregor wrested away the Featherweight Title from the longtime kingpin, there has been all sorts of talk about who McGregor should fight next. McGregor’s desire to fight for the Lightweight Title only added to the intrigue. Would Frankie Edgar get his long-deserved shot at the featherweight title? Would Aldo get a rematch based on the strength of his long and dominant reign? Would McGregor move up to lightweight without a title defense at featherweight?
By now we all know that McGregor will be challenging Rafael dos Anjos for the Lightweight Title at UFC 197, silencing the debate over what he would do next. However, the debate over who gets the next featherweight shot hasn’t been silenced. Will it be Edgar or Aldo who meets McGregor when the champ returns to featherweight?
There really won’t be a wrong answer no matter who the UFC picks, as both have very strong arguments. There isn’t a more deserving title challenger in any weight class right now than Edgar as he has not only won five straight, but done so in absolutely dominating fashion. Aldo may have lost the title in record time (13 seconds), but a six year reign and nine title defenses (counting his time as WEC champ as well) as champion would normally mean an instant rematch for the belt.
When it comes down to it, I struggle to see the UFC picking Aldo. Even worse, I feel as though he has no one to blame but himself.
The UFC is a business, and as a business it’s going to make matches that make them the most money. While it is true that Aldo headlined what appears to be the second highest selling UFC card in history, no one for a second believes that Aldo was the one fans were paying to see, as McGregor has made himself into a promotional phenomenon. To further prove my point, McGregor headlined UFC 189 with an approximate 825,000 buyrate. Aldo’s previous pay-per-view had a mere 180,000 buys by comparison at UFC 179. Aldo doesn’t sell, and never tried to sell.
There are two ways that fighters can sell themselves: reaching out to the fans or hyping up fights, often with trash talking. Aldo’s attempts to do either have been rare. Aldo does have a kinship with the Brazilian fans, as was clear following his first victory over Chad Mendes at UFC 142 when he ran right out of the cage and into the crowd in what was a very special moment for him. But what about North American fans, the heart of the UFC’s audience? Aldo has resisted learning English despite encouragement for him to do so. I understand the frustration of being told by management that you would be benefiting them if he learned a foreign language, especially one as difficult as English. But wouldn’t it benefit him as well financially?
The answer would obviously be yes. When Aldo does an interview, it’s always in Portuguese. There are translators, but is the translator able to state verbatim what Aldo is saying? Even more important, the soul of his message is lost when the listener is unable to understand, and there ends up being a disconnect between fighter and fan. Hardcore fans have always given Aldo mad respect, but they are a small group. The majority of fans are casual and they have no connection to Aldo.
History has proven that fans greatly appreciate a fighter willing to make the effort to connect with them. Since we got so used to Georges St-Pierre speaking in his slightly broken English, it was easy to forget that French was his first language. When GSP dropped to his knees and begged Dana White for a title shot in his thick French Canadian accent, are you going to tell me that fans couldn’t get behind him? Fans loved that! It showed heart and desire to be the champion… and there wasn’t a middle man to deliver the message.
What about hyping fights? The only instance I can think of in which Aldo went out of his way to hype a fight before his saga with McGregor was a shoulder bump initiated to Chad Mendes during a face-off before their second meeting. He himself admitted the only reason he did so was to hype the fight. A single shoulder bump? That ain’t going to do the trick buddy. That was before the aforementioned UFC 179 event that sold a mere 180,000 buys. Otherwise Aldo has only done the obligatory press conferences and public appearances. Then again, even if he did trash talk he would need a translator to tell the fans what mud he’s slinging.
Do I really need to point out what trash talking can do for a fighter’s career? McGregor has become the biggest star in the UFC based on the sting of his tongue. What about the Gangster from West Linn? Chael Sonnen went from a career mid-carder to one of the UFC’s biggest stars once he started selling a persona that made the fans either want to see him win or get his face smashed. Love him or hate him, fans wanted to see him.
Should Aldo have been trying to sell himself? Well… if he didn’t want to and was fine with making less money, then I guess no. And so he didn’t. For a long time he was fine with that. Was the UFC? While they never said anything in public, you know that Aldo’s refusal to promote himself or make a greater effort to connect with the fans had to frustrate them. If Aldo isn’t making himself money, it also means that the UFC isn’t making money.
Which brings me to Aldo’s continued gripes about fighter pay. Aldo has made many complaints about fighter pay and many would say that he has a point. However, let’s stop to think about this. The guy who has done little to promote himself is complaining about fighter pay? I’m sure the UFC would have been more willing to listen to his gripes had he done more to push himself to the fans, but Aldo didn’t try. And let me state once again, by costing himself money he was costing the UFC money as well. So not only is he complaining about what he is getting paid when he could be doing more to fix that, but he is costing his employer money? That doesn’t paint the rosiest picture of himself in the eyes of the brass.
Aldo’s surly attitude towards management has done more harm to him than perhaps any other fighter. That doesn’t necessarily mean that his gripes are without merit. The issue is that Aldo hasn’t played nice with management, so why would they want to even bother trying to address any of his concerns when he hasn’t attempted to acquiesce some of the desires that they might have of him? Now he is making claims that he won’t fight again unless he gets a title shot. Would the UFC be willing to let him sit on the sidelines if he holds true to that vow? I wouldn’t be surprised if they did, at which point he is bringing in zero dollars for himself.
Once upon a time, Aldo could rely on the fact that he was a supremely exciting fighter. Anyone else remember his double flying knee to Cub Swanson back in the WEC? Pure violence gold. The beating he put on Urijah Faber was legendary as well. To be partial, Aldo has had some highlight reel moments in the UFC, as his KO of Mendes at UFC 142 was a thing of beauty, and the sequel was a “Fight of the Year” contender. But roughly half of his fights since coming into the UFC have possessed low entertainment value. Now he can’t really check off the fact that he is a highly entertaining fighter anymore.
Another thing that people will often point out is Aldo’s abundant injury history. While that is a valid point, and I do believe that it frustrates the UFC brass, but do they hold it against him? I don’t think so. Injuries happen in this sport. Everyone knows that. And if the UFC were to solely hold injuries against fighters that are plagued by them, why is Dominick Cruz getting a title shot after one fight in the past four years? Why has Anthony Pettis received the promotional push that he has when he has fought at a more irregular rate than Aldo? Injuries frustrate everyone, but the UFC isn’t holding that against Aldo.
So let’s review the situation. Aldo won the WEC Featherweight Title in 2009, which evolved into the UFC Featherweight Title, and he held it until 2015, a reign of over six years. During that time, he did little to pander to North American fans while continually playing hardball with the UFC. He was able to do this because he was champion. Now that he isn’t champion (and has lost his leverage), has he changed his tactics? Nope. He states he won’t fight unless he gets a title shot.
I like Jose Aldo. I think he is a phenomenal fighter, one of the best in the brief history of MMA. He seems like a genuinely good family guy. But he has no one to blame but himself by not doing the UFC any favors when he had the opportunity. Sure, the basic definition of a favor is doing something that isn’t required of you. But is the UFC required to grant him an immediate title shot? Nope. They would be doing him a favor by granting him that. Perhaps if he had made a play to acquiesce himself with North American fans, they’d be more vocal about Aldo getting an immediate title shot. Unfortunately, most of them don’t care enough about Aldo, as he didn’t bother to open himself up to allow the fans to get to know him. Years of not giving a damn about his public perception or his relationship with the UFC would inevitably catch up to him once he lost the belt. I don’t take Jose Aldo for a stupid man, and he had to know this was coming. Guess what? Time to pay the piper Aldo. If you want to know who to blame, go take a look in the mirror.
[Photo (c) Gary A. Vasquez via USA Today Sports]
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