Why Jose Aldo needs to fight Anthony Pettis in champ vs. champ fight
FEB 09, 2014 4:34p ET
Anthony Pettis hasn't even begun doing something as simple as weight exercises, yet the fight world is up in arms about the negotiations over his next fight. The jockeying between his camp and that of UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo is a way to pass time, but for now, that’s all it is. None of their public statements are an end-all and be-all, they are simply a means to an end.
The public has valid reasons for being so antsy about this. Since lightweight champion B.J. Penn and welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre fought in 2009, there has been frequent talk of other superfights, yet none has materialized. All sizzle and no steak is no way to feed the hungry.
If the UFC has its way, that famine will end later this year with two of the most dynamic talents in the sport. Aldo is a blur of speed and power, almost preternaturally gifted in the many disciplines that make up mixed martial arts. Good fighters excel in one and are proficient in the rest. Great ones excel at most and disguise whatever one thing they’re average in. But Aldo is almost without peer in athleticism and overall skill. Pettis fights in bursts of improvisational creativity while commanding the cage like a general. He’s built upon the basics but has a singular flair that cannot be taught or restrained. It’s the kind of magnetic thing that is the basis of stardom.
“He’s a role model to everyone. I want to emulate him and become just as famous if not more famous than him.”
So what happens if these two meet up? Nobody knows, although the general consensus is that the two are just the kind of opponents to draw something magical out of each either.
That is exactly the kind of fight that Aldo needs. Why? Because his goal is world domination. He wants to surpass the achievements of the greatest champions. He wants to be the best ever.
While Aldo comes off as a quiet and humble man, he does exhibit some edge from time to time, as he did when I recently asked him about his ambitions.
“For sure I look up to Anderson [Silva],” he said then. “He’s a role model to everyone. I want to emulate him and become just as famous if not more famous than him. I’m very young but I still have a lot to accomplish. I think I can be the greatest yet.”
In the moment, my mind began churning, mostly wondering if something like that was possible for him. Aldo has beaten Urijah Faber, Frankie Edgar, Kenny Florian and Chad Mendes, yet he hasn’t completely connected as a superstar. Why was that? I wondered. What does he need to do to become more famous than Silva? So I asked him.
“I have to win fights,” he said. “The better the opponent, the more famous, the better it is for me as well. It’s a combination of fighting well and fighting the right people. If I do that, it’s going to come naturally.”
Yet superstardom doesn’t come completely naturally. It takes the right set of circumstances to be in place, sometimes even manipulated. When did Silva, for example, become a superstar? I would argue that the label first began attaching itself to him when he thoroughly clowned and destroyed former UFC light-heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin. Silva was so good that he could ignore nearly every rule of defense, so powerful that he could knock out an elite level opponent with a jab, so stylish that he could do it while enjoying the experience along with us. I was in the Wachovia Center that night and the buzz in the crowd was adrenaline-inducing. It was like, Did we really just see what we think we saw?
He went next level with a comeback for the ages against Chael Sonnen, and went stratospheric when he knocked out Vitor Belfort with a front kick that was not supposed to work at the highest level of MMA. With that, everyone realized that this guy was Michael Jordan in a cage.
Aldo has that kind of talent. When a simple left hook, leg kick combination sends an audible gasp through the crowd due to its sharpness and force, well, that’s a special thing. Forget about when it happens 11 fights into an evening. By then, we’ve all seen some things. Aldo has that specialness about him, but it sometimes must be brought out.
“If he truly wants to be seen as the greatest and surpass Silva’s level of fame, he has to go and hunt down the biggest available game.”
And so that’s why he needs Pettis. There is something about a champion vs. champion fight that captures public imagination. The sum of them becomes far greater than the two individual parts. That gives Aldo the forum he’s looking for. If he truly wants to be seen as the greatest and surpass Silva’s level of fame, he has to go and hunt down the biggest available game. He’s already powered through Mendes and Cub Swanson, the two most likely candidates to fight him next if he stays at featherweight. There is not much to gained from either fight.
Pettis doesn’t need him in the same way. He just became champion. Nearly every matchup is fresh for him. Gilbert Melendez would make a great foil. The exciting Khabib Nurmagomedov appears to be on the way.
So the matchup is much more valuable, much more meaningful to Aldo. Moving up to 155 and fighting a champion there? Seizing upon an opportunity to become a two-division champion? Well, that’s superstar stuff right there. That takes him right towards his intended path. Vacating the belt is a bold step, and probably a scary one, but as long as he gets the assurance of returning to the featherweight division as the top contender if he loses and has the financial terms of his deal met in the same way, there is only upside to this move. Forget the featherweight belt, forget the 150-pound catchweight. Move on to bigger and better.
Aldo wants to be the best ever, and the most famous, and staying at 145 isn’t likely to get him there. The greatest are also among the most fearless and the most willing to accept risk within reason. If he’s serious about chasing down his lofty goals, fighting Pettis in a champion vs. champion fight is exactly the step a legend would take.