The Bottom Line: Untrendy Trajectory

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There’s a familiar trajectory to so many great MMA fighters’ careers. They rise through the ranks, beating increasingly difficult competition. They look their most dangerous leading up to winning the championship and defend it a few times. At that point, they look at their most indestructible. Then, of course, comes the fall. Occasionally, a fighter will get out while still on top. That’s one of the more remarkable aspects of Georges St. Pierre’s career. However, much more commonly, losing the title is followed by a barrage of additional losses. There is no plateau, just a long ascent and then an equally steep decline. This has become such a built-in process that it’s no longer greeted as much of a surprise when a longstanding champion follows a title loss with another defeat to a much less acclaimed opponent.

What’s interesting about the career of Jose Aldo is the ambiguity in his post-Conor McGregor run. On the one hand, you can look at the fact that he was 25-1 heading into the McGregor fight and that he is 5-6 since with four losses via knockout or technical knockout and see a fighter who was at one level and is now at a markedly lower level. That is more likely how it will be remembered because the record leads someone who wasn’t paying close attention in that direction and because, at 35, the broad trend isn’t likely to reverse itself. However, in watching his fights, it’s clear there’s still plenty of sharpness to Aldo’s performances.

Each of Aldo’s wins in recent years has been over a highly credentialed opponent and they’ve largely been quite convincing. He ended the five-fight winning streak of a prime Frankie Edgar, was the first man to knock out a 13-1-1 Renato Carneiro and bested a surging Marlon Vera. Aldo will take on another tough opponent in Rob Font in the UFC on ESPN 31 main event this Saturday in Las Vegas. Font has won four straight bouts, his victories coming against a former UFC champion, Bellator MMA champion, World Series of Fighting champion and Legacy Fighting Alliance champion.

Aldo’s recent wins were not quite as impressive as those that came when he was champion, but they were not that far off from his lofty standards. His defeats likewise tell a story. In their first fight, Aldo was beating Max Holloway in each round on all three scorecards before the Hawaiian finished him in the third. The majority view was that Aldo deserved the decision against Marlon Moraes at UFC 245. His UFC 251 defeat against Petr Yan was much more conclusive, both in the tenor of the fight and the ultimate TKO result, but it could still be argued that Aldo gave the Russian a tougher fight than anyone else in his UFC career.

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It’s thus much more of an open question with Aldo than most fighters in his position as to where he stands in the sport at this stage of his career. He has suffered enough setbacks and his chin has diminished to where it’s hard to not acknowledge he’s no longer at his fighting peak. However, he is also clearly not at the stage where he can be expected to simply pad the record of younger, up-and-coming opponents. It’s a spot that makes for fun fights from a fan standpoint, but there’s good reason why star fighters don’t end up in Aldo’s current position for very long.

When star fighters have more leverage and start to decline, their handlers will often react by positioning them to fight softer opposition. That’s the natural reaction to protect both the athlete and the investment. They can preserve their drawing power and avoid taking beatings against the next generation of elite competition.

Fedor Emelianenko’s last decade in MMA since leaving Strikeforce has been spent largely facing name opponents who aren’t massive threats. It has been by and large a pleasant affair where people are happy to see him and he usually wins. After finally getting his legacy fight with Manny Pacquiao done, it was no accident that Floyd Mayweather’s 49th and 50th wins came against safely selected opponents in Andre Berto and the aforementioned McGregor.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship, on the other hand, is not a promotion where the fighters have the leverage. This benefits the fans in many ways, as the fights fans want to see get made at a much higher rate. However, there is little attention paid to the idea that fans might like to see aging legends matched against easier competition. The mentality instead is everyone always gets tested. Thus, former champions like Aldo get fed a continual diet of dangerous foes.

It’s tough to tread water for long in your mid 30s when that’s the situation with which you’re faced. It’s impressive that Aldo has been able to plateau to a much greater degree than most; the UFC system is just not conducive to that. How much longer he will be able to do so remains to be seen. It’s a tricky task, but there have been few fighters in the history of the sport with the qualities Aldo possesses. Advertisement


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