UFC 301, The Morning After: Retirement Isn’t Real!

Jose Aldo defies logic.

The Brazilian made his professional debut in 2004 — that’s 20 years ago. Elite mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters are looking to last a decade in the sport, and they only spend a handful of those years actually being particularly good. Even for the best, windows at the top are short, which is why contenders and champions alike tend to hit their stride, achieve their peaks, and fade away within a few short years.

Prior to UFC 301 last night (Sat., May 4, 2024) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aldo had proven himself an athlete of exceptional longevity. It’s especially extraordinary when we remember that Aldo came up through the Nova Uniao gym, notorious for hard sparring. Remember Renan Barao, Aldo’s team mate and former UFC Bantamweight king? Barao won his interim belt eight years into his professional career, scored three defenses, and lost two fights with T.J. Dillashaw about 10 years deep into his pro career.

He would then finish his UFC career with a 1-7 run. That’s far closer to the typical career cycle of an elite, gifted fighter.

Aldo, conversely, has seen wave after wave of talented opponents. Jonathan Martinez is what, his fourth generation of opponent at the top level? There’s his World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) come up, UFC title defenses, then various post-title victories. That’s three different generations of oppositions, but Martinez is supposed to be the future, a 30-year-old contender just now riding a big win streak and coming into his own.

By all rights, this should have been a wash. That’s because 37-year-old cage fighters do not win at Bantamweight, the most talent-rich division in the sport. Again, let’s compare Aldo to a peer: Rani Yahya. The 39-year-old Brazilian looks more like what we expect from a late 30s Bantamweight two decades into his career: vulnerable. Flawed. Fatigued. Yahya is a gamer in his own right, but Victor Henry put him out to pasture last weekend (watch highlights), because that’s what was supposed to happen.

Aldo was preparing for a boxing match, nearly two years into his retirement from MMA when UFC called him up to save the desperate UFC 301 card — which, as predicted, was fun to watch even if not particularly worth the price tag. That’s another knock against his chances, and it didn’t matter in the least.

There were real moments of vintage Aldo in the cage last night, far more than any rational fan could have expected. Sure, Aldo’s timing on the counter isn’t as sharp as it used to be, but the Brazilian still fires nasty combinations of power punches in response to his opponent’s aggression. The torque on his body shots are lovely, and Aldo’s kicks and knees were tremendously effective here.

Martinez has a reputation as the best kicker at Bantamweight right now, and Aldo shut all that down with his checks and pressure (recap here). Fighters at the top of their game cannot stop half-decent low kicks, but 37-year-old Aldo checked so many that I can practically guarantee Martinez is the man limping this morning.

It’s just unreasonable.

Aldo has been a champion or Top 5 fighter in one division or another since 2009. His longevity is unheard of, and last night, Aldo proved that not even retirement is enough to slow him down.

Whatever his next move is, I can’t wait to watch.

For complete UFC 301: “Pantoja vs. Erceg” results and play-by-play, click HERE.

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