Jose Aldo, King of Rio

King of Rio: The Career of Brazilian Mixed Martial Arts Legend Jose Aldo

There is only one ‘King of Rio’, and that’s the greatest 145 lb mixed martial artist to ever walk the earth, Jose Aldo ‘Junior’.

By the time his career was said and done, some were left believing he’d stuck around too long, despite retiring after going 3-1 over his final four bouts.

Early Career

Jose Aldo’s love for sports began with soccer, or known to himself and the rest of the world as football, and he had aspirations of becoming a professional. He would be forced to pick up martial arts however, due to him growing tired of getting beat up in street fights.

This began with Capoeira, before he later tried Luta Livre and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, both of which he now boasts black belts in.

In 2001, Aldo won a bronze medal at the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships as a blue belt, before winning a gold medal at the Brazilian National Jiu-Jitsu Championships in 2003 as a purple belt.

Aldo would compete once more in BJJ, as a brown belt, where he claimed the CBJJO World Cup gold medal in 2004.

Success in grappling turned Aldo’s focus to mixed martial arts, where he’d debut in August of 2004, winning his first fight via KO (head kick) in just 18 seconds. Six more victories would follow, all coming via finish (five knockouts, one submission), before he’d lose for the first time.

Aldo was submitted (rear naked choke) in November of 2005, and it’d be another ten years before he’d lose again.

This was his eighth professional fight, and it was his first to make it past the opening round.

The soon-to-be Brazilian legend would make the proper adjustments following the first defeat of his career, as three-straight victories would soon follow, all three coming via decision over the course of 15 minutes.

Most Successful WEC Run in History

Following this new win streak of his, Aldo was then called up to the WEC with a record of 10-1.

Debuting in June of 2008 at 21 years of age, Aldo would storm straight through his competition.

This is how his journey to becoming an unparalleled legend came about.

Aldo’s inaugural WEC bout would come against fellow Brazilian legend Alexandre Franca Nogueira; a seven-time Shooto lightweight champion, and someone that’s on every last top 10 featherweights of all-time list.

This was a considerably easy contest for Aldo, as he dominated the Shooto champion in all aspects of the game en route to a TKO victory in round two.

All in all, Aldo would go 5-0 within the promotion in just one years time (371 days to be exact). His first WEC fight was on June 1, 2008, and his fifth was on June 7, 2009. That fifth promotional victory came in just eight seconds over Cub Swanson (flying knee), and it was his fifth-straight knockout victory.

That’s right, he had finished every last one of his WEC opponents to date, via knockout, and in devastating fashion. Two of those knockouts came via knees, and the other three due to his vicious hands.

Following victory over Swanson in their title eliminator bout, Aldo would finally be granted a title shot, and he’d be facing Mike Brown for the undisputed crown, the man that’d just defeated Urijah Faber twice (and was 3-0 in world title fights).

Aldo had just turned 23 years old going into this bout, and considering the result, seeing him victorious in round two via TKO, Aldo was actually the youngest world champion in MMA history, not Jon Jones as many have been told.

You see, Jones was 23 years and 242 days old when he defeated Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua for the UFC light-heavyweight championship. He was nearly 24 years of age, while Aldo was 23 years and 70 days old at the time of him capturing the title.

And we all know the WEC featherweight belt is the UFC featherweight belt. It’s the same title.

Christian Lee has since exceeded that achievement, claiming the ONE lightweight championship at age 21.

Nonetheless, the way Aldo out-struck and out-grappled Brown was nothing short of astounding.

Brown was a very talented wrestler, and he was a heavy-handed bruiser on the feet. At this point, many people just don’t know, or remember how good Brown really was.

Aldo became the first man to defeat him in four years, snapping his 10-fight win streak, and he also became the first man to finish Brown via strikes. He did so on the mat, and in the same position Brown had finished Faber in to capture the title a year previous.

Now that Aldo was a 16-1 world champion, his first title defense would go down as the biggest WEC fight of all-time, Jose Aldo versus Urijah Faber. This bout took place at WEC 48, and after 53 events hosted by the promotion, it’ll forever remain the one and only pay-per-view event in WEC history.

‘The California Kid’ had won the KOTC bantamweight championship and defended it five times, and during his WEC title reign, he’d also defend that belt five times prior to losing it to Brown.

Believe it or not, Faber was actually the favorite going into this fight.

However, he’d get absolutely battered for five rounds, marking the first, and only time in Aldo’s WEC tenure he couldn’t finish an opponent. And, this is when we really began to see how special Aldo was, if of course, his former six promotional performances hadn’t.

The scoring totals read 50-45, 49-46, and 49-45, all in favor of Aldo.

It’s surprising two judges gave Faber a round, and it’s even more surprising Aldo was given just one 10-8 round, by one judge.

The leg kicks he absolutely battered Faber with from the second round on, the mounted crucifix he had on Faber in the fourth, reigning down some nasty elbows from top position, and of course, his boxing; this was a true masterclass performance from our new featherweight king.

We all knew at this point, we had a dominant champion that was here to stay.

Aldo then KO’d Manny Gamburyan (who was 3-0 since coming to the WEC and was coming off a KO win over Mike Brown himself) with one of the most beautifully timed and placed uppercuts you’ll ever see to make the second defense of his title, before he was soon promoted to UFC featherweight champion.

Coming to the UFC

Aldo’s UFC debut was one for the record books, as he defended his title against a 21-0 kickboxer that came in on a five-fight win streak with four finishes, Mark Hominick.

Hominick had already racked up a 3-0 record in the UFC; he left the WEC having won his last three-straight inside the promotion, he was coming off a first round knockout in his return to the UFC, and he’d defeated both Yves Edwards and Jorge Gurgel in the UFC up at 155 lbs back in 2006.

Hominick did all of that before Aldo even made his UFC debut.

This was Aldo’s toughest test to date, and if you by some chance missed it, we strongly suggest you go back and give this one a watch. This was a truly legendary showcase of mixed martial arts at its finest from both parties.

Aldo absolutely busted Hominick up in this fight, giving him a nasty hematoma, and ultimately walked away the victor via unanimous decision (48-45, 48-46, 49-46).

Aldo would next defend his title against former two-division, now three-division (185 lbs, 155 lbs x2) title challenger Kenny Florian.

This was expected to be a sizeable test for Aldo. Florian was a 3rd-degree black belt in BJJ, he had nasty Muay Thai of his own, and he was 9-2 with seven finishes in his last 11 coming in, only losing to BJ Penn and Gray Maynard in that time.

Aldo comfortably cruised to a unanimous decision victory, stuffing 18 of Florian’s 19 takedown attempts, being awarded the universal 49-46 scorecard across the board. Florian to this day still has a dent in his leg, and to this day he continues to have issues with it, over ten years later, courtesy of Aldo’s leg kicks.

Aldo KO’d (knee) then undefeated (11-0) stud wrestler Chad Mendes in his next defense with just one second left in the opening round, another talent many believed could be an issue for the champion.

But, again, he wasn’t.

What came next was yet again a man many declared to be the one to give Aldo a run for his money, former multi-time UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. The former lightweight king, the man to defeat BJ Penn twice, and eventually three times, did give Aldo a tough task.

But, in the end he’d be on the wrong side of the scorecards, which read 49-46, 49-46, and 48-47, all in favor of Aldo.

Chan Sung Jung was next in line to challenge Aldo for his throne, who came in on a hot three-fight finish streak.

Due to Aldo breaking his foot on Jung’s leg early on in the contest, he would showcase his grappling much more in this encounter than we were used to seeing, taking the Korean talent down five times in six attempts en route to a TKO victory in round four.

Aldo’s next defense would come against another fellow WEC veteran in Ricardo Lamas.

Lamas went 4-2 in the WEC up at 155 lbs, and since making his UFC debut where he dropped down to 145 lbs, he’d gone 4-0 with three finishes.

This was as dominant of a performance as Aldo had to this point, as he handily won the first four rounds of the contest with his beautiful striking.

The ‘King of Rio’ did spend most of round five on his back due to fatigue, much like he did in the Hominick fight, but he’d add an eighth total title defense to his resume with this victory.

Aldo then fought Chad Mendes for a second time, a very highly anticipated fight that was awarded Fight of the Year by four different media outlets.

Mendes had gone 5-0 with four knockouts since their first encounter, making for an incredibly enticing rematch.

This was truly a technical war, but, in the end, Aldo was given the universal 49-46 scorecard across the board.

This 18th-straight victory brought Aldo’s record to 25-1, but it would all come to an end in his next fight.

The End of an Era

Aldo was then slated to face Conor McGregor, who’d since won the interim title in his near 14-month absence.

This wasn’t the first time these two were matched up together, as Aldo was initially scheduled to fight the Irish superstar at UFC 189. However, a rib injury kept him from competing that night, and the UFC decided to put McGregor up against Chad Mendes himself for the interim title.

After becoming interim champion, McGregor took the undisputed crown from Aldo later that year at UFC 194, doing so via KO in just 13 seconds.

This was the most anticipated fight in UFC history, by far. They literally went on a near-year long world tour in promotion for the bout, and it ended with the first punch McGregor landed.

Aldo came out reckless and paid dearly for it, his ten-year undefeated run had come to an end.

This is perhaps the greatest mental breakdown in MMA history, McGregor got into Aldo’s head quite badly leading up. Aldo just wanted to hurt him, and unfortunate for him, his team, and fans, it wasn’t the right approach to take.

Jose Aldo, King of RioThough he’d recapture gold in his next outing, a rematch with Frankie Edgar that he won quite handily this time around, that would be the last time ever we’d see Aldo leave an arena with a belt.

This fight was for the interim title, as McGregor took a hiatus from the featherweight division and never ended up returning.

Considering McGregor never returned to 145 lbs, Aldo was later promoted to undisputed UFC featherweight champion once again.

But, the first defense of his second reign would come against Max Holloway.

Aldo looked great in this bout early on, out-striking the Hawaiian throughout the first two rounds with a diversity of heavy strikes that would’ve finished merely anyone else, but he would end up getting finished via TKO in round three when he began to slow down.

Holloway’s pace was just too much for him, and their rematch would give us that same result, the new champion in Holloway victorious via TKO in the third round.

At this point, Aldo had gone 1-3 in his last four contests, being finished with strikes in all three defeats.

We all thought he was done, but he still had a lot of fight left in him.

Aldo would rebound with back-to-back knockout victories over Jeremy Stephens and Renato Moicano in the next 14 months. That shovel hook he landed to the body of Stephens was just brutal. It marked his first true knockout victory in over six years.

Stephens was on a three-fight winning streak coming in, having defeated the likes of former multi-time Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez (UD), Doo Ho Choi (TKO), and Josh Emmett (KO), and he was a vicious striker himself, not to mention a massive, massive featherweight. He was really hitting his stride at this time until Aldo ruined it for him.

Then we had Moicano, who’s a Muay Thai black belt that was 13-1-1 as a professional and 5-1 in the UFC.

What’s more, Aldo was awarded Performance of the Night honors in both victories; surprisingly, the only two POTN bonuses he’d receive throughout his 20-fight UFC career.

Alexander Volkanovski would be next to face the former champion, who out-pointed Aldo for three rounds in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro, to a lot of our surprise.

But, we’ve since learned, there’s no shame in losing to Volkanovski. He’s the current UFC featherweight champion, he’s defended the title four times since winning it thus far, and he too is 25-1 right now.

Not to mention, Aldo fell 0-2 to Max Holloway, while Volkanovski is 3-0 against Holloway.

The King of Rio Moves to Bantamweight

Aldo then dropped down to 135 lbs for his next contest, and this worried a lot of us fans.

Throughout his featherweight reign, Aldo had always had a difficult time making weight, though he never missed the mark. He wanted to go up to 155 lbs to fight for the lightweight belt when he was still champion, but the UFC decided against allowing him that opportunity.

Nevertheless, if anything, we figured he’d make the move up to lightweight, should he ever change divisions.

However, through six bantamweight fights, Aldo kept his professionalism and continued to make weight up until his final bout at UFC 278.

His bantamweight run began with him facing former multi-time WSOF bantamweight champion Marlon Moraes in his divisional debut.

Everyone was incredibly excited for this fight; these are two of the best of all-time, both are from Brazil, they’re both former world champions, and they’re two of the most dangerous strikers in our beloved sports history that also boasted BJJ black belts.

The affair was however relatively uneventful.

After the three rounds were completed, two of the judges saw Moraes to be the better man, awarding him the split decision victory.

It was a heavily disputed result, most believed Aldo to had won that fight, including the UFC brass, thus the reason he was placed in a title fight for the vacant UFC bantamweight championship following.

Petr Yan was the man opposing him in this contest, and it turned into quite an entertaining scrap.

But, unfortunate for Aldo, he’d be finished via TKO in the fifth and final round.

Again, he succumbed to fatigue.

If this were a three-round encounter, Aldo would’ve almost certainly been awarded the unanimous decision victory, but it wasn’t. It was a world title fight.

After winning his first ten-straight championship affairs, he’d gone 1-4 in his last five bouts that were contested for a belt.

Nonetheless, Aldo put together an impressive streak following this third-straight setback that brought his record from 28-4 to 28-7, as he defeated the likes of Marlon Vera, Pedro Munhoz, and Rob Font over his next three outings, all via unanimous decision.

Vera is 10-2 in his last 12 bouts with eight finishes, and most believe he should be 11-1 in his last 12. Aldo is the only man to definitively defeat Vera in that time, as merely everyone saw him beating Song Yadong (that second loss).

Vera is also the only man to date to hold a win over Sean O’Malley, if that means anything to you.

And, what’s more, Vera has gone 4-0 since losing to Aldo, KO’ing a pair of former world champions in Frankie Edgar and Dominick Cruz in two of his last three bouts. But, Aldo was a former champion he couldn’t best over the course of three rounds.

Munhoz is also a good talent to boast a win over, someone who’d recently KO’d former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt in the first round. Munhoz is also the only man to ever finish top contender Rob Font, doing so via submission (guillotine choke) back in 2017.

Then we have Rob Font, who Aldo defeated over the course of five rounds. This is one of the only times we’d ever see Aldo fight five rounds without getting tired, he looked absolutely incredible in this fight, and he nearly secured the finish multiple times throughout.

If he was fighting for the bantamweight belt on this particular night, he may have become a two-division champion.

Font was riding a four-fight win streak coming in, having defeated the likes of Sergio Pettis (current Bellator bantamweight champion, 5-0 since losing to Font), Ricky Simon (former LFA bantamweight champion, 5-0 since losing to Font), Marlon Moraes (former WSOF bantamweight champion), and Cody Garbrandt (former UFC bantamweight champion that defeated 135 lb goat Dominick Cruz to claim the belt).

After this fight, our hopes for Aldo were as high as they’d been since his two-fight finish streak up at 145 lbs following those back-to-back defeats to Max Holloway.

Riding a three-fight win streak, Aldo was then matched up with Merab Dvalishvili at UFC 278, who came into the bout on a seven-fight win streak himself. This fight was somewhat reminiscent to his bout with Volkanovski, as he just couldn’t get going, Dvalishvili never gave him a chance to.

Jose Aldo, King of RioAldo did become the first man in Dvalishvili’s ten promotional bouts that he couldn’t take down though, and throughout 16 attempts.

That’s incredibly impressive, because Dvalishvili has the most takedowns in UFC bantamweight history, by a very wide margin, and he became the first bantamweight talent ever to win eight-straight fights in the UFC with this win over Aldo.

Sadly, for us, we all knew this day would come, where the ‘King of Rio’ would walk away from the sport, as he did at age 36 following this defeat at UFC 278. Aldo did recently state that he’d make the transition to boxing, but rules out a return to MMA.

Jose Aldo Fights We Never Got

There were also a couple fights we unfortunately never got to see, such as Aldo versus former TKO, Shooto, and Sengoku featherweight champion Hatsu Hioki, who a lot of people wanted to see face Aldo in his UFC debut.

Hioki came over with a record of 24-4-2; he’d never been finished, his three most recent defeats came via split decision, and after going 2-0 in the UFC, improving to 26-4-2, he still wasn’t given his shot.

The UFC never even bothered to put this fight together, which is sad for Aldo’s legacy, as well as Hioki’s, and it’s also sad for us fans to have never seen this fight take place. It surely would’ve been incredible to see Aldo add another multi-time, multi-organization world champion to his resume.

There were also scheduled match ups between himself and Josh Grispi (14-1, 4-0 in WEC with four first round finishes), Erik Koch (13-1, 5-1 in WEC/UFC and only lost to Chad Mendes), and former WEC & UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis (who coming off submission victory over current UFC lightweight champion Charles Oliveira), none of which came to fruition.

The Conor McGregor rematch is another fight we all needed to see, and honestly, it was a fight Aldo couldn’t have been more deserving of. He was the face of the featherweight division for years and years. McGregor even said himself recently that he wishes he’d given Aldo his rematch.

A rematch with Cub Swanson was also on the table for a time there, as Swanson went on a six-fight win streak with four knockouts at his peak, but that also never came to fruition.

There were rumors of Aldo fighting fellow WEC & UFC champion Dominick Cruz back at UFC 207 as well, however, the UFC decided to match Cruz up with surging contender Cody Garbrandt instead, and we never got to see the featherweight goat face the bantamweight goat considering.

This would have been a truly special affair to witness.

Cruz was 22-1 (12-1 WEC/UFC), having avenged his only defeat to Urijah Faber twice, and Aldo was 26-2 (16-1 WEC/UFC), only having lost to Conor McGregor, who’d since moved up and won the UFC lightweight championship.

As you see, each of them had lost just once under the ZUFFA banner, and ironically enough, both of them began their runs in the WEC at 10-1. It really is too bad the UFC brass decided against this one.

We thought there was a possibility of it happening later on, as Aldo fought his last six bouts at bantamweight, but it will forever remain a fight we never got to see.

And lastly, Aldo was scheduled to face then two-division UFC champion (flyweight & bantamweight) Henry Cejudo at UFC 250, but he was unfortunately forced out of the bout with VISA issues, and he ended up fighting Petr Yan two months following after Cejudo vacated his titles.

Career Summary

It’s unfortunate he stopped throwing those nasty, violent leg kicks of his in every fight. There was a point where he became more of a boxer inside the octagon, and though he was still effective and successful fighting this way, those leg kicks of his aided him in winning so many affairs.

They were so hard, so quick, and so accurate that his opponents never even had a chance to check them.

There were some fights where he brought them back but didn’t throw them as often as he could have. He had the most vicious leg kicks in the game for the longest time. Justin Gaethje, Edson Barboza, Pedro Rizzo, Pat Barry, and Melvin Manhoef are the only names that can compare in that regard, four of which are world kickboxing champions.

When Aldo burst onto the scene in 2008, there wasn’t a more dangerous striker in the entire sport. His grappling was always at a world class level, though he didn’t resort to it often, and he knew how to do one thing better than anyone else, win.

There was some criticism around Aldo while he was still champion, such as him withdrawing from defenses with injuries on a relatively regular basis, along with the fact that he began fighting safe, much like Georges St-Pierre did once he won the belt.

After his fight with Hominick, it appears Aldo didn’t want to ever get that tired in a fight again, and he startedJose Aldo, King of Rio winning rounds, rather than going for the finish. This could have also been because he didn’t want to lose his prestigious crown. And, can we blame him?

But, he was still a very dangerous, dominant champion for years and years to come; he was the last ever WEC featherweight champion, the first ever UFC featherweight champion, and the only UFC featherweight champion for over five years.

And, even though his output decreased over the years, especially once he lost his title, he was still effective enough to defeat some of the very best in the sport.

It’s a shame we never got to see the ‘King of Rio’ fight for the lightweight belt, because Jose Aldo will forever be known as one of the greatest mixed martial arts talents to ever walk the face of the planet. He had a serious shot at becoming the first ever simultaneous two-division UFC champion.

From his vicious knees, to his thunderous leg kicks, to his equally as lethal hands; mix that with his athleticism and takedown defense, it’s no wonder Aldo was unbeatable for so long. And, Aldo stuck around long enough to pass the torch, more than once, which is incredibly admirable.

WEC Striking TotalsJose Aldo, King of Rio

(WEC 34) vs Alexandre Franca Nogueira: 35-5 significant, 49-5 total

(WEC 36) vs Jonathan Brookins: 43-20 significant, 51-22 total

(WEC 38) vs Ronaldo Perez: 27-13 significant, 27-13 total

(WEC 39) vs Chris Mickle: 16-5 significant, 16-5 total

(WEC 41) vs Cub Swanson: 2-0 significant, 2-0 total

(WEC 44) vs Mike Brown: 38-18 significant, 44-23 total

(WEC 48) vs Urijah Faber: 77-20 significant, 138-27 total

(WEC 51) vs Manny Gamburyan: 25-8 significant, 28-8 total

Jose Aldo Career Accomplishments

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

  • Bronze medal at World Jiu-Jitsu Championships (blue belt division)
  • Gold medal at Brazilian National Jiu-Jitsu Championships (purple belt division)Jose Aldo, King of Rio
  • Gold medal at CBJJO World Cup (brown belt division)
  • 1st-degree BJJ black belt under Andre Pederneiras (7th-degree black & red belt)
  • Luta Livre (Brazilian submission wrestling) black belt under UFC 7 tournament winner Marco Ruas (9th-degree red belt)

Mixed Martial Arts

  • WEC featherweight champion (two defenses, last ever)
  • Youngest WEC champion in history (23 years, 70 days)
  • Youngest ever world MMA champion (surpassed by Christian Lee in ONE Championship ten years later)
  • Most consecutive wins in WEC history (8)
  • Six-straight knockouts to start WEC tenure, seven total in eight wins
  • Highest knockout ratio in WEC history
  • Three-time Knockout of the Night winner (WEC)
  • Out-struck WEC opponents 263-89 in significant strikes
  • Out-struck WEC opponents 355-103 in total strikes
  • Only fighter in WEC history to out-strike every single promotional opponent (landed at least twice as many strikes as his opponent throughout every bout, four of which he more than tripled the strike differential)
  • First ever (inaugural) UFC featherweight champion
  • Two-time UFC featherweight champion (seven defenses during first reign, zero during second)
  • Interim UFC featherweight champion
  • Most consecutive, and most successful UFC featherweight title defenses (7)
  • Four-time Fight of the Night winner (UFC)
  • 10-0 through first ten world title fights (three in WEC, seven in UFC, nine total title defenses)
  • WEC record: 8-0
  • UFC record: 13-7 (7-0 through first seven, 6-7 through last 13)
  • 18
  • MMA record: 31-8 (17 knockout, 1 submission, 13 decision)

Thank you Jose Aldo for your long, illustrious, legendary career. It was truly extraordinary to witness.

You will forever be my favorite fighter of all-time, and you’ll forever be the greatest fighter to ever come out of the WEC.

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author avatar
Brady Ordway
I became a fan of combat sports when I was 12 years old. I was scrolling through the channels and landed upon Versus, where WEC was televised. Urijah Faber fought Jens Pulver for the second time that night. That's the first fight I ever saw, and I was immediately hooked. So eventually, I began covering the sport in the fourth quarter of 2018, and have since started writing about animals as well. If you'd like to see those pieces, be sure to check out!