Left With Scars: The Greatest Victim The UFC Ever Created, Jose Aldo
On Sunday, it was announced that Conor McGregor – the only man who seems to be talked about in MMA these days – would be vacating his Featherweight title. This came as somewhat of a surprise because, while it was hinted at throughout the lead up to his Lightweight title bout with Eddie Alvarez, the decision never felt like an inevitability. Now it has proven to be.
The repercussions so far been met with a muted response. Max Holloway and Anthony Pettis have been elevated into the main event at UFC 206 for an interim version of the belt. While Holloway is a tremendous fighter, Pettis hasn’t disproven a fall from grace that started well over two years ago. This move proves to be more of a promotional tactic than anything, undermining the bout as much as bolstering it.
The greatest victim in all of this it the man McGregor beat to win that Featherweight belt, Jose Aldo. As part of McGregor's vacation, Aldo has been elevated from interim status to full-fledged champion. If Aldo was a boat rocking precariously in the wake of McGregor’s sizeable wave of attention, he has now taken on heavy water.
Who could imagine that being awarded a belt could be as damaging as this? Without being given the chance to defeat man who took it from him, Aldo comes across more as a usurper than a victor. Aldo comes across like a Vice President elevated to the top post because the President decided the job just wasn’t cool enough anymore (Trump! Trump! Trump!).
The first insult came when McGregor beat him. The injury to that insult was when the UFC opted not to award him an immediate rematch, despite a decade without a loss. When McGregor was booked to fight Rafael Dos Anjos at Lightweight, Aldo was left with little choice but to fight on or wait. He chose to wait, perhaps banking on McGregor being sent packing by his fellow Brazilian.
Then Diaz showed up and made Aldo’s life worse. Losing to Diaz sent McGregor off on a tangent, obsessively setting his sights on a chance at revenge (which only comes across worse and worse since the UFC gifted McGregor his own chance to reclaim a loss after he was bested by Diaz - but didn't do the same for Aldo).
Aldo was once again left with no choice but to fight on or wait. This time, he chose to fight on. Aldo would easily defeated Frankie Edgar, taking home an interim belt in the process. The paper belt that Aldo took home that night now hangs like a chain around his neck.
Aldo’s reputation was then clipped, perhaps beyond repair, when McGregor walked away from UFC 205 with the Lightweight strap. With the Irishman officially moving on from the division, Aldo was once again left adrift. His nemesis, the only man to best him, the man who beat his reputation into the dirt, had moved on to new challenges.
Throughout this entire process, Aldo has taken the viewpoint that the UFC needs him. His actions have assumed that the UFC should value him like they value McGregor. In this regard, sadly, he is wrong. Threatening to quit or sue hasn’t done him any favors – if anything it has hurt his reputation among hardcore fans.
Then on Monday, after news of McGregor being stripped, Aldo spoke. And the words were hardly different. He said he 'never stopped being the champ' and his loss to McGregor was an 'accident'. When asked about going after McGregor, Aldo said it's 'a certainty that it will happen.'
Then Aldo turned tail. He claimed he had business to attend to at Feathwerweight first. He had to defend his belt. Then he would jump up after McGregor.
If McGregor is Aldo’s ultimate objective, Aldo is making the wrong statement. He's making the victim's statement. Aldo can’t continue to sit and wait or take on the next best at Featherweight (especially now with a UFC belt wrapped around his waist made more of silver than gold).
Aldo needs to jump up to Lightweight now. Not later. He needs to fight the number one contender. He needs to call Dana White and tell him that he doesn’t care who they pick, he’ll paste them. Then go out and paste them, just like he claims he doesn't see himself 'losing to anyone in my weight class or any other one.'
Then why stay? With McGregor having left the featherweights in disarray, Aldo should abandon the division. Be selfish. Tell the rest of that division tough luck. McGregor did and on one seemed to care enough to until now. Staying to fight another 145 pound fighter does nothing for him. It does nothing to erase the 13 seconds that have haunted him.
This is about self-respect. McGregor is going to talk more sh*t than anyone could imagine. He’ll trot out the number 13 on a chain and wield it like a weapon, swinging it in every direction. Aldo needs to nod his head, accept that it happened, and say it isn’t about winning. Convince the viewing public you’re the underdog – they’ll consider you one anyways.
If anyone had fears about what McGregor’s influence would do to the UFC, this is it. It's turned a once great, soft-spoken champion into a victim. While the promotion can and should ride the Irishman’s coattails to green pastures, it undermines virtually any and all booking decisions underneath him. The most ideal scenario for a hyped fight – Holloway unifying the strap in conjunction with McGregor losing his own, thus setting up Holloway v. McGregor, the Irishman’s toughest former opponent after Diaz – is unlikely.
The Featherweight division will take a good year to recover from McGregor’s absence, as anyone who may carry belt will inevitably have to explain the asterisk beside their reign. The biggest victim in all of this is the once-and-former king, Jose Aldo Jr. It is up to him to disprove this characterization. Victims after all, don’t fight back.
Rhys Dowbiggin @Rdowb
Rhys has worked six years in the public relations industry rubbing shoulders with movie stars (who ignored him) to athletes (who tolerated him). He likes tiki-taka football, jelly beans, and arguing with Bruce about everything.