Post-Fight Thoughts: Jose Aldo -vs- Petr Yan
Jose Aldo's relationship with the UFC has always been an interesting one. Ever since the WEC was folded into the UFC roster, and Aldo's WEC featherweight title literally became the UFC equivalent, the Brazilian has dealt with the promotion as both friend and foe. A myriad of injuries, scrapped bouts, contract disputes, and the denial of a rematch with Conor McGregor, all created friction between the world's premiere fight organisation and arguably one of the best to ever don the 5-ounce gloves.
After reclaiming his featherweight title in 2016, only to drop it to Max Holloway a year later, the former divisional kingpin lost bouts to current champion Alexander Volkanovski and a rematch with Holloway. Then, Aldo made a concerning late-career move that rarely ends well: opting to move down a weight class, and make a run at the bantamweight title. Dropping a weight class rarely bodes well, especially later in a fighter's career when weight cuts tend to get harder.
Weight issues aside, for his bantamweight debut, Aldo managed to both hit the scale at the bantamweight limit and not immediately die either. The bad news is that he definitely lost the fight, which was a competitive — but hardly difficult to score — scrap with Marlon Moraes. In spite of all this, Henry Cejudo demanded Aldo as an opponent before COVID-19 and the initial lockdown halted everything and forced the re-scheduling of UFC 249.
Cejudo would go on to face Dominick Cruz instead, only to easily defeat him and subsequently announce his retirement. Dana White then did the most logical thing, he booked Jose Aldo to face Petr Yan — as though Marlon Moraes just doesn't exist — for the now-vacant bantamweight title. While a solid match-up on paper, I didn't think Jose Aldo did anything to earn the fight and I wasn't very enthused going into it.
Petr Yan has been cutting a swath of destruction through the UFC ranks since he debuted, just over 2 years ago at UFC Fight Night 132 (Fight Notes). Sure, Jose Aldo was the most significant test of his career, but I immediately had Yan as my pick. Even the best interpretation of Aldo's performance against Moraes — a fight which, again, he did not win — indicated to me that he would fare no better against Petr Yan.
What we ended up getting was an even better version of the fight I was expecting, as Jose Aldo turned in an incredible performance considering all of the factors working against him: age differential, lighter weight class, career mileage, etc. Still, it was wholly insufficient to stop Petr Yan from breaking him down and eventually finishing the former champion in a horrifying and — thanks to referee Leon Roberts' lack of discretion — gratuitous ground-and-pound assault.
We can probably add Aldo With Leg Kicks to the pantheon of mythical fighters, along with Dark Place GSP, Motivated BJ Penn, ViTRTor Belfort, and Sea-Level Cain. In this fight, we saw some flashes of vintage Jose Aldo; his speed mostly remains, his boxing is still crisp, and we even saw a few of those vaunted kicks. The fact that Aldo is only 32 years old cuts 2 ways: he is physically young, but has been fighting at the highest level of MMA for over a decade — he's had more 5-round fights than many fighters will have UFC appearances. Those fights, and the training they all required, each have exacted a physical toll.
What we got were 3 rounds of competitive action, but Aldo simply did not have enough gas in the tank to keep up with Petr Yan for 5 rounds. A lot of this is because Yan implemented a strategy that punished Aldo's body both on the feet and on the ground. At the end of the first, it looked like we were moments away from a stoppage after a punch to Aldo's body had him wincing and turtling in agony. Aldo recovered but, watching live, I thought we were going to see a bodyshot TKO in the second round.
Aldo's boxing was crisp, he countered Yan well, but couldn't hurt him enough to get his respect. Yan began to walk Aldo down and by the final round, Aldo was in full-on retreat but to no avail. Aldo's chin is still impressive, and it took 4 rounds of eating hard shots for it to even begin to wane. Aldo never went out, which may or may not be the worse outcome since Leon Roberts didn't call the fight off until my Twitter feed was a solid stream of "STOP THE FIGHT!"
Yan didn't fight the perfect fight, but he adjusted and adapted on the fly, and even had Aldo shooting desperation takedowns after some hard counters. Yan was able to beat Aldo in every stage of the fight. Still, it was incredible to watch the two men stand right in front of each other and put on such a high-level striking contest. I often describe MMA fights as kickboxing matches in a cage, but this was closer to muay-thai. It was an incredibly technical brawl which I am ill-suited to explain the stylistic nuances of and, aside from the horror show of an ending, a perfect passing of the torch. If Jose Aldo had to lose this fight, he lost it in the most warrior-like manner possible.
His status as one of the very best of all time is secure in my estimation, but Jose Aldo is absolutely done fighting for UFC titles. I'm not going to speculate on his immediate future beyond that, but barring an improbable second-wind in his career, now would be the time for Aldo to either retire on take choice fights at his leisure. The fact that a fighter with Jose Aldo's mileage was competitive with a talented, young killer like Petr Yan is a testament to his elite status.
Petr Yan should fight Aljamain Sterling and Marlon Moraes next. Since the UFC and Dana White seem to have issues with Sterling — and also seem to be quite happy to work with a sketchy manager like Ali Abdel Aziz — we'll probably see Yan fight the latter next. At this moment, I would favour Yan to retain his title although I have given that match-up precisely zero analysis. Yan's performance was tactical, deadly and, most importantly, complete. Yan secures the bantamweight title off a career-best performance, looking like a potential long-reigning champion with no obvious flaws to exploit.
Published: July 13th, 2020.