Jose Aldo will enter the cage on a 12-fight winning streak. | Photo: Sherdog.com
UFC Featherweight Championship
Jose Aldo (19-1, 1-0 UFC) vs. Kenny Florian (14-5, 12-4 UFC)
The Matchup: Few fighters in the game possess Aldo’s blend of dangerous striking and the willingness to apply it. The featherweight champion’s standup is so potent and precise that his outstanding grappling and submissions skills are largely overlooked, because he likes to make opponents fight on the feet. That said, his last defense against Mark Hominick at UFC 129 was revealing, showing that he is not unbeatable. Hominick weathered an early assault of booming strikes to mount a comeback over the second half of the bout, taking advantage as Aldo tired.
Florian is a compelling challenger. His experience at 155 pounds and at higher weights suggests that his difficult-but-manageable cut to 145 might make him the big man in the title-bout equation for once. Forever cursed by a lack of core wrestling ability, Florian’s technically pleasing standup and excellent jiu-jitsu skills were consistently stymied when he could not win the wrestling phase in bouts. His gutsy decision win over the talented Diego Nunes at UFC 131 was a showpiece of veteran savvy and strategy, as he executed his game plan perfectly.
Against Aldo, the key factor will be whether Florian can adjust and take it to the ground if he cannot keep it even on the feet. Aldo’s ability to stand in the pocket and deliver booming shots, particularly his numbing kicks that fire off without warning, is an enormous weapon. He simply paralyzes opponents that cannot figure out where he is going to drill them next. Plus, the Nova Uniao standout’s speed and accuracy are so good that he handcuffs their reactions, making further attacks that much easier to execute. Hominick, himself a gifted striker, was able to stand with Aldo because of his comfort in that phase of the game, but most featherweights simply will not have the skill to do so. Florian is a likely exception.
Aldo’s takedown defense is also superb, and his ability to slice through opponents when they are on their backs is clinical and efficient. Florian has to fight effectively from his southpaw stance, shooting hard counter punches as Aldo steps in to nail him, all while circling so his right foot remains outside of Aldo’s lead leg, opening up more angles for him to counter the champion.
Aldo’s weight cut may be as difficult as his challenger’s, but Florian only figures to get more acclimated to it; that could be a key in a five-round fight. On the ground, if it goes there, expect Aldo to have the advantage in jiu-jitsu; however, Florian’s size at 145 may allow him to be effective with ground-and-pound if he can soften up Aldo, particularly in a long fight.
This is real challenge for the champion, and he will have to be on his a game to turn back Florian. Expect a feeling-out process in the opening two or three minutes, as both talented strikers gauge one another’s range and capabilities. When Aldo feels confident, he will start unleashing his lethal punch-kick combinations, such as the wicked left hook to the body-right kick to the legs with which he consistently nailed Hominick. Florian’s three-inch height advantage should be a factor in countering Aldo’s early assault, however, as he answers with his own kicks.
Both men are great with knees; Aldo likes to shoot one down the pipe as opponents move in, and Florian excels at securing the clinch and ramming them home. A long-range striking match is Florian’s best range, with Aldo probably more dangerous in extended clinch and dirty boxing situations.
If there is one weakness on which Florian can capitalize it is piling up points, as Hominick did, with strikes that do not necessarily hurt Aldo but score and get the attention of the judges. Much like B.J. Penn was willing to stand around and get outworked by Frankie Edgar simply because he did not feel threatened, one gets the feeling Aldo might fall for the same strategy. It is the kind of game plan Florian is smart enough to pursue if a firefight proves to be to his disadvantage. He can also cement such work by hitting takedowns at the end of rounds.
However, Aldo is too explosive and dangerous, particularly with his sharp counters and leg kicks. He excels at countering in the pocket, and his wicked ground game, only glimpsed in small flashes, is outstanding. His takedown shots against Hominick looked like that of a college wrestler, and the manner in which he sliced through the guards of Mike Thomas Brown and Urijah Faber showed another level of jiu-jitsu entirely.
The Pick: Aldo has his hands full in this matchup, but he should be too accurate and powerful, hammering Florian on the feet and stuffing takedowns en route to a fourth-round knockout win.
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