It hasn’t been an easy week in the world of MMA. Fighters are dropping off the UFC’s first card in Mexico like flies thus leaving the most important belt in the promotion undefended for over a year. Part of this was the UFC’s own doing my tossing Cain and Verdum on some foreign iteration of TUF, yet I digress… If Saturday’s UFC 179 main event could captivate the collective MMA community, the UFC might be able to breath a sigh of relief. I’ll break down the Featherweight title scrap between Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes after the jump.
Let me start out by saying this is exactly how a rematch should be booked. No more of this immediate rematch junk. The UFC has reverted to the instantaneous rebooking in title fights all too often lately. Looking at you Barao/Dillashaw II… These two dudes first touched gloves almost three years ago. Even though that fight ended in devastating fashion, Mendes has earned another shot and clearly established himself as the #1 contender by laying waste to the rest of the division.
Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo fought almost 36 months ago now and it led to one of my favorite moments in the history of the sport. Aldo’s whirling knee landed flush with Mendes’ chin ended the Sacramento scrapper’s night. Jose proceeded to leap into the rabid Brazilian crowd. It was pandemonium. It was a moment of pure spontaneity in a sport that seems so canned and over-produced at times.
Sadly, for my sake, little can be gleaned from that fight. Mendes went right to his bread and butter wrasslin’ early and often against the Champ, but Aldo mostly shook it off (with some help from an agregious fence grab…). As noted MMA pundit Chad Dundas declares almost weekly on his highly entertaining Co-Main Event Podcast, ‘if you ain’t cheatin’ in an MMA fight, you ain’t tryin to win.’
Since Mendes took an unplanned siesta that night in Rio, both fighters have taken drastically different paths back to the rematch. Mendes seems to have found himself a functional striking game that allowed him to decimate some lesser fighters in the division. He had a four fight TKO streak that was an absolute master class in destruction. If you look closely, Chad has picked up some of the movement that his teammate TJ Dillashaw has become a proponent of. Though, Chad’s striking is noticably less fluent, there is some serious pop behind his shots. It has become a useless phrase at times, but Chad Mendes is actually a completely different fighter than the last time he faced off against Aldo.
As for Aldo, he hasn’t risen to the superstar status that you would have thought was the next logical step after that cacophonous night in Rio. Even though he has successfully defended his belt three times, none of those performances have been all that impressive. It is obvious that Aldo is happy with getting ahead on the scorecards and coasting to a finish (see the Lamas fight). Over all three opponents he has beat since the initial Mendes tilt, there has been an obvious talent gap between Aldo and his opposition. He will fly in for a blinding flurry: inside leg kick, right jab, left hook, knee and your jaw will freakin’ drop at the precision and speed on display. Then after his opponent is asking when Herb Dean let a second Brazilian in the ring, Aldo will just circle out and keep distance until the round bell tolls. You know he has the skills of a say, Anderson Silva, but they are being kept in check by some sort of MMA brutality governor.
Now how do I think this fight will go down? I think Mendes has improved ten fold since UFC 142 and Aldo should expect to work for much longer than 5 minutes. Vegas has Aldo going off as a -210 favorite and I think the sharps may be selling Chad a little short. Aldo finished around -300 prior to their last bout and this version of Money Mendes is much improved, while Aldo has spent the last two years looking lackluster. There is no doubt that Mendes will be in impeccable shape for this tilt. His squad is one of the hardest working in the business and since Dillashaw got his own belt, I see something similiar happening tomorrow night.
Aldo may come out and wow us with some striking early, but we know by now that he fades late. I’ll chalk the last two rounds up to Mendes’ ability to wear Aldo down on the ground and keep him there with impeccable cardio. The fight will be won or lost in the first three rounds. Can Mendes withstand the initial barrage and competently defend himself on the feet? If he can, and squeak out a round with some grinding grappling, I could see a second belt returning to the Team Alpha Male gym. There is some magic going down in that gym now and this is the time for them to capitalize. I just haven’t seen enough motivation of out Jose Aldo (or the Nova Uniao camp) to think he will dominate again. American wrestling is becoming the dominant martial art among UFC Champions, and that trend will continue on Saturday night when Mendes gets his hand raised. Unanimous decision for Mendes.
Still, does it really matter? There will be a certain Irishman cageside, no doubt dressed to the nines, ready to take on the evening’s victor. Can anyone stop the McGregor train? We’ll have to wait and see…