Jose Aldo (16-1 MMA, 6-0 WEC) is a mix of tradition and rebellion.
The WEC featherweight champion’s parents did not want him to move to Rio de Janeiro to learn fighting. They thought he was crazy; he should get a regular job and blend in. But at 16 years old, Aldo had already made up his mind. He wanted to be a world champion in jiu-jitsu.
Aldo’s love of Capoeira, which started at the age of 14, had transformed into a desire to learn jiu-jitsu when he visited a local dojo in his hometown of Manaus, Brazil. Capoeira was beautiful, but it was soft. And though he was a nice guy and made good grades by Brazilian school’s standards, Aldo could hardly be considered soft.
On the soccer field – his first love in sports – Aldo was the enforcer among his friends. Neighborhoods played each other in semi-professional games and instant rivalries were born. When an opposing team made trouble, Aldo was called to fight the offending player. He fought so much that he missed every other game from being benched so much. There was no future in that.
“At some point, I said I’ve got to stop this,” Aldo recently told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) through an interpreter.
It’s Tuesday, and the Blackhouse gym that Aldo trains at while in the U.S. is empty. It’s pouring rain outside and cold inside. He’s slow to shadowbox for pictures but obliges for a short series. It’s the beginning of his day before he heads to wrestling practice and he’s happy to sit on the couch and take it easy.
In person, Aldo is a young man of stark contrast. He’s youthful and shy and polite. Then there’s the other side: the cold-eyed competitor who walks opponents down and punishes them – the man that featherweights are afraid to fight.
On April 24, he passes another milestone in his career at age 23 when he headlines the WEC’s first pay-per-view effort at WEC 48 against promotion mainstay and former champion Urijah Faber.
The first move he learned in jiu-jitsu class in Rio was an armbar. He didn’t train for a month when he first got there; he just wanted to watch and make sure he knew what he was doing. He started to follow the sport and knew that jiu-jitsu could afford him a chance to be the best at something and maybe even make a living.
He became friends and training partners with Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro, who was then fighting in Shooto and making a name in the mixed martial arts world. He lived at the Nova Uniao gym and got a job as a part-time busboy to pay for food between classes. At night, he was alone.
“On one hand, I was always early for practice,” he said. “But on the other hand, at night, it was very lonely and hard to get through.”
While on a training trip to England, some of Aldo’s teammates told him about a girl that trained Muay-Thai at a Chute Boxe affiliate in Curitiba, Brazil, that was working at Nova Uniao. When he got back, he offered to help her with her training. They became friends, started dating, and later married.
Former UFC fighter Andre Pederneiras – the patriarch of Nova Uniao – was the first person to believe in Aldo. In practice, he groomed Aldo to be aggressive in the cage and act like a world champion.
When he joined Nova Uniao, Aldo made a resolution to make his stand-up the centerpiece of his game. The gym’s other fighters were mostly known for their ground game (Aldo said they are celebrities in Japan’s grappling-friendly MMA scene) and he wanted to be different. He knew a stand-up fight was a pleasing fight.
Pederneiras’ teaching is reflected in Aldo’s style. Aldo cedes little ground and makes his opponents pay for any incursion into range. His kicks and knees end fights.
“I feel like maybe we didn’t get the recognition we deserved because of some of the other teams that have heavier weights, and people seem to forget the lighter weights,” Aldo said of his gym. “But now a lot of our guys are going up in the rankings.”
In his most recent fight, Aldo destroyed Mike Brown to win the featherweight title, his sixth-straight TKO victory since his WEC debut in June 2008.
After Aldo stopped Cub Swanson with a flying double-knee at WEC 41 this past June, guest commentator and two-time UFC lightweight title contender Kenny Florian said, “this is why everybody at 145 (pounds) wants to avoid this guy.”
Aldo’s teammates threw him a surprise party at Nova Uniao when he returned to Brazil after winning the title.
The sisters who gave him a telltale scar across his face when they threw him in a barbecue pit at a young age are split on his MMA celebrity. One buys everything that has his picture on it, while the other is aloof about the sport.
And while Aldo likes the attention his success has brought him, he’s at odds with some of the bigger clichés known to champions.
Aldo is Catholic but attends church every Sunday at a Baptist church when he’s at home in Rio. He hates the club scene inherent to the fight game and thinks a night out is a night that could have been spent sleeping.
During a recent trip to San Diego, Calif., Aldo and small group walked past a dance club where people were being kicked out for drunken brawling. He shook his head disapprovingly and walked on.
At home, he hardly watches any fights; mostly, it’s soccer.
Aldo’s wife has a purple belt in jiu-jitsu and has fought twice professionally in Muay-Thai. When they started dating, though, he said she had to stop fighting.
“If she’s going to be my kid’s mom, she’s got to take care of the kids and take care of the house,” Aldo said. “That’s pretty chauvinist, but I have nothing against females fighting, but just not her.”
Likewise, his mom won’t watch him fight. She didn’t see him win the title against Brown; the idea he could get hurt was too much.
His sisters saw his dad cry for the first time when he watched his son win the title on television.
Aldo’s upcoming fight against Faber has predictably been labeled the “biggest fight in WEC history,” mainly because of Aldo’s status as a world-beater in the featherweight division and Faber’s potential Cinderella story as the promotion’s former champion and posterboy getting another crack a title gory.
The two sat across from each other at a media gathering this past Saturday and were as cordial as two fighters who are about to fight can be.
Aldo believes he is faster than Faber and will win if he avoids the former champion’s takedown and aggressive standup.
“I’m going to be watching for every move that Urijah does and I’m going to be throwing some shots to see how he responds,” Aldo said. “I feel that when Urijah exposes himself, I’m going to be able to take that to my advantage.”
Stateside, he’s worked with Kenny Johnson, Rob Emerson, and Jason Parillo, but will undergo the bulk of his camp back at Nova Uniao.
He recently picked up tennis with a training partner and arrived Saturday to a group of reporters wanting to be called “Jose Nadal Aldo,” after tennis star Rafael Nadal.
But after all he’s been through on the road to a championship, Aldo is fiercely protective of his belt.
“Urijah wants to take away my dream and wants to take away my belt, and I’m not going to let that happen,” he said.
Aldo smiles a bright, youthful smile as the interview comes to an end. Though it’s raining outside, it’s still the calm before the storm.
Source: MMA Junkie