Jose Aldo will carry a 17-fight winning streak into the cage. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Brazil on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro with its first pay-per-view event in the South American MMA stronghold since August 2013. This is a solid if not outstanding card that represents the average UFC effort on PPV in 2014, featuring a title fight at the top, a relevant matchup of top-10 fighters in the co-main event and a mixture of solid prospects and veterans -- but a dearth of ranked or high-profile competitors -- below that.
The main event showcases longtime featherweight champion Jose Aldo making the seventh defense of his UFC title in a rematch against Team Alpha Male product Chad Mendes. Despite Aldo’s increasingly conservative approach and his failure to truly grab the attention of fans, he remains one of the sport’s top pound-for-pound fighters. Phil Davis and Glover Teixeira meet in a fantastic co-main event, while action fights -- Darren Elkins-Lucas Martins, William Macario-Neil Magny, Christos Giagos-Gilbert Burns, and Andre Fili-Felipe Arantes -- litter the rest of the card with the promise of entertaining violence.
Let us take a look at each fight at UFC 179:
UFC FEATHERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIPJose Aldo (24-1, 6-0 UFC) vs. Chad Mendes (16-1, 7-1 UFC)
THE MATCHUP: Almost three years after their first meeting, Aldo and Mendes will square off once again for the Brazilian’s featherweight title. It has been a long time coming, as Mendes has rattled off five consecutive wins -- four of them by devastating knockout -- since that fateful matchup at UFC 142 saw the American crumple to the canvas inside of a round. Aldo has been plagued by injuries in the interim, fighting only three times and looking like the same hyper-technical machine. This is a fantastic matchup between two of the most athletic and skilled fighters in the game, so strap yourselves in for a good one.
Defense and efficiency define Aldo’s game. He is almost impossible to hit, as his head movement, pivots and footwork keep him away from his opponent’s strikes. That command of small, efficient movements and angles also renders it nearly impossible to find the correct distance and angle to shoot a takedown. Aldo’s defensive wrestling is incredibly sound from a technical perspective, but the fact that it is so difficult to get a clean shot on him in the first place makes it even more effective.
Offensively, Aldo’s game is all about efficiency. He throws little -- his output has steadily dropped since the Mark Hominick fight more than three years ago -- but what he throws lands, and it lands hard. The Brazilian has evolved into a nearly pure Dutch-style kickboxer, with the characteristic use of punch-kick combinations that work the head, body and legs in sequence. To give an example, Aldo executes his trademark combination, the left hook to the liver followed by the right low kick, with a textbook command of angles: He steps forward and to his left for an angle, which leaves him well outside his opponent’s right hand and minimizes the risk of the counter. This also leaves him free to pivot away to avoid reactive takedowns. Aldo also shoots a gorgeous double-leg with near-perfect technique, while his top game is heavy and replete with clean passes. Everything Aldo does, he executes with incredible speed and explosiveness; as his career wears on, however, the question increasingly revolves around when his suspect cardio and output will finally catch up with him.
Aside from T.J. Dillashaw, no member of Team Alpha Male has benefited more from Duane Ludwig’s instruction than Mendes. While “Money” has always been an explosive athlete with dynamite in his hands, Ludwig has drastically improved the underlying fundamentals of weight transfer, angles and footwork that transform power punching from “throw really hard” into a technically sound and repeatable process. Mendes could still stand to string his shots together into longer combinations, but he is powerful, covers distance well and is difficult to hit at range.
While he is a skilled puncher, the core of Mendes’ game has always been his All-American wrestling. He times his shots beautifully, sets them up with strikes and possesses outstanding drive and a variety of extremely technical finishes. His takedown defense is perfect -- he has never been taken down in a fight -- and his work from the front headlock is some of the best in MMA, as he transitions from strikes to positional advancements to his guillotine choke. From top position, Mendes is more of a grinder than a guy who will do damage or work for submissions, but his base is heavy and he eats up large chunks of time.
BETTING ODDS: Aldo (-260), Mendes (+200)
THE PICK: As much as Mendes has improved, I still do not think he has the tools necessary to exploit the small but obvious holes in Aldo’s approach. Mendes relies on backing his opponent to the fence to reliably land combinations, and his in-and-out movement matches up poorly against a quick and slick counterstriker like Aldo. The champion does his best work in open space, as does Mendes, but Aldo does it better. Most importantly, Mendes has no track record of pushing the kind of pace that might trouble Aldo. This will not be a repeat of their first meeting, though. In what profiles as a slow-paced fight interspersed with moments of crazy explosiveness and violence, Mendes will work Aldo against the cage, get him down once or twice and win a round or two, but the champion will do just enough on the feet to retain his title by decision.
Next Fight » Glover Teixeira vs. Phil Davis