The King Of Rio Returns … But Why?

Let me be clear off the bat: I’m quite happy that Jose Aldo is back in action at UFC 301 this weekend (Sat., May 4, 2024) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The Brazilian Hall of Famer didn’t leave at the absolute peak of his game, but that’s because his peak is utterly unreachable for mere mortals. No, even at 35 years old in a young man’s division, Aldo walked away from his UFC career after barely losing to Merab Dvalishvili in a title eliminator match up. Prior to that, Aldo had beaten up three ranked fighters in a row, building a better case for a title shot than T.J. Dillashaw and his imploding shoulder.

In my experience, there is a direct correlation between how long somebody has been a fan of the sport and how much respect they have for Jose Aldo. Long-time fans — those who remember the blue World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) cage — hold Aldo on a pedestal. He’s the G.O.A.T. … or at least the clear-cut choice for best Featherweight of all time. To watch Aldo’s entire career is to watch an unbelievable athlete dice through numerous top contenders in various styles and fashions. Aldo reinvented himself three or four times, and each reinvention was better than almost everyone else.

Newer fans don’t have that perspective.

Some see his losses to Max Holloway and Alexander Volkanovski (respectively 13 and 15 years into his professional career) as disqualifications from greatness. Others only see the Conor McGregor knockout loss and are probably tired of hearing about how great his low kicks used to be.

Now, Aldo is back in the cage at 135 pounds, a career move that initially seemed like a death sentence yet landed Aldo a title shot and Top 5 position in arguably the deepest division in mixed martial arts (MMA). After two years away, where does Aldo land in the division, and what are his overall goals in returning to action?

Jonathan Martinez is a difficult task for any Bantamweight.

He’s won eight of his last nine and hasn’t lost in more than three years. The fact that he’s not Top 10 is indicative of the division’s depth, but there are certainly possible Aldo opponents ranked more highly that seem to be easier fights (like No. 8-ranked Rob Font). It’s not as classic a match up as “Aldo vs. Cruz,” but it’s a litmus test of whether Aldo is still an elite Bantamweight, because that’s what it takes to beat “The Dragon” at this stage of the game.

Assuming Aldo does defeat Martinez, however, what’s left for him to accomplish at Bantamweight? There are two paths forward: chasing the title or legacy match ups. The former sounds unlikely. Sean O’Malley is a brutal style match up for Aldo — too fast, athletic and high-volume. Or, Dvalishvili could be champion by the end of the year, and nobody is clamoring for that rematch.

The other path sounds a lot more fun.

If Aldo is really back and wants to rack up paychecks without committing to the title run, let’s get him in the cage with name opponents. The Dominick Cruz fight is evergreen, but I also would find a match up against former champion, Deiveson Figueiredo, wildly interesting, too.

What happens if Aldo loses though? For the first time since like 2008, Aldo would be fighting and not considered Top 10 in the world. The Cruz fight could still happen — EVERGREEN — but it’s difficult to imagine Aldo wanting to continue fighting if he’s not doing so at a remarkably high level.

Maybe this return is a one-off or maybe it’s the start of the next iteration of Aldo. One way or another, UFC 301 should offer some insight into the legend’s future.

LIVE! Watch UFC 301 PPV On ESPN+ Here!

RAUCUS RETURN TO RIO! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to Farmasi Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Sat., May 4, 2024, featuring Flyweight champion, Alexandre Pantoja, defending his belt against undefeated challenger, Steve Erceg, in the pay-per-view (PPV) main event of the evening. UFC 301’s co-main event features “The King of Rio,” Jose Aldo, returning to the Bantamweight division for the first time in almost two years to take on Jonathan Martinez. UFC 301’s PPV main card (see it here) will also feature Anthony Smith vs. Vitor Petrino, Michel Pereira vs. Ihor Potieria and so much more. It’s must-watch action! UFC 301 start time scheduled for 6 p.m. ET (Prelims) and 10 p.m. ET (PPV).

Don’t miss a single second of EPIC face-punching action!

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 301 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET (simulcast on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. ET), before the pay-per-view (PPV) main card start time at 10 p.m. ET (also on ESPN+).

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 301: “Pantoja vs. Erceg” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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