Healthy Jose Aldo out to build a legacy
Oh, to be 24 and invincible. Because, really, how better to cope with a compacted spine, diminished strength and tingling extremities?
Mere months after featherweight king Jose Aldo postponed his first UFC bout since he was barely able to move his right arm, the talented Brazilian said he's as healthy as he's been in almost two years -- something worth pondering for Mark Hominick and anyone else gutsy enough to stand in there against the dynamic fighter.
"Before I felt I was at 100 percent," Aldo said. And now? "I feel even better. It did come at a good time."
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One might think it serendipitous to fight a top-3 pound-for-pound mixed martial artist in the wake of his first major physical setback, though Hominick, Aldo's challenger on April 30 in Toronto (in front of more than 55,000 fans at the Rogers Centre, no less), doesn't see it that way. The hefty underdog said it would be a mistake to think of Aldo as anything less than fit, fast and dangerous, which comes off as something a savvy veteran might say.
Still -- if you're going to fight the guy, aren't you better off doing so now, when maybe, just maybe, there's a sprinkling of doubt in Aldo's mind when there wasn't any before?
"I'm sure he wants to go out there and make a showcase fight, and I'm sure he's prepared," said the 28-year-old Canadian. "He's one of these guys that shows up. It doesn't matter if you're fighting in a backyard, back alley or in front of 50,000 people -- he shows up to fight."
The 145-pounders, paired as the co-main event for UFC 129, which is expected to produce the biggest attendance and gate for an MMA card in North American history, were respectful of one another. No one more so than Hominick (20-8), who has cobbled together a quality résumé since he began fighting in 2002.
As Hominick dissected Aldo (18-1) and the extent to which he dominated the likes of Mike Thomas Brown, Urijah Faber and Manny Gamburyan -- all punchers more than clinical strikers -- one thing stuck out.
"I think what I bring to the table that's different than any other opponent is definitely my hand speed," said Hominick, who favors crisp combinations and technically sound footwork. "His hands are wild and aggressive, which creates a lot of problems. But sometimes when you're wild, the way to beat that is be technical. I think that's where I am.
"Everyone goes in there so intimidated by what he's doing. I think I'm going to go in there and be the one guy that takes a step forward instead of backwards against him."
Unwilling to compare past and future opponents, Aldo wouldn't speculate on Hominick's prowess as a striker, though the champion credited the challenger with possessing what he described as "sharp boxing skills."
If Hominick fights with tradition, Aldo offers up something unique. And violent. Mixing a former soccer player's smooth movement, the precision accuracy of a master marksman and black belt-level grappling under one of the top camps in MMA, Brazil's Nova Uniao, the Amazonian is nothing less than a complete mixed martial artist. He is among the new breed, residing alongside today's penthouse crop that includes among others Georges St. Pierre (who defends his title the same night as Aldo), Jon Jones, Dominick Cruz and, of course, his compatriot Anderson Silva.
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Silva, the long-reigning UFC middleweight champion and, according to ESPN.com, the top fighter in the sport, is shy to claim that spot for himself. Aldo, however -- like St. Pierre, Jones and Cruz -- shares no hesitation expressing his interest in being the best.
"I want to mark my name and build my own legacy," he said. "How can you be a fighter and not want to be No. 1? All I can do is go out and fight and put on great performances. It's a huge motivation for me to be No. 1."
And though some have said it's too soon for the best fighter in MMA to come out of the featherweight division because of a perceived lack of depth, Aldo disagrees, defending his class as, at a minimum, equal to the others. With well-known lightweights like Kenny Florian and Tyson Griffin moving down to 145 pounds these days, featherweights should have no problem gaining the public respect they rightly deserve. Particularly Aldo -- presuming, of course, he handles business on April 30.
"A legacy will take time to set in place," Aldo said. "All I can do is go out there is give my best, fight at 100 percent and do what I trained to do. That's exactly what I plan to do. Putting on great fights, it's just a matter of time before I get exposure all over."
It takes the gumption of a young stud to dismiss debilitating injuries and look ahead to future glory. As Aldo takes billing in Toronto over 47-year-old great Randy Couture, who expects his fight against Lyoto Machida to be his last, he does so knowing that nothing is guaranteed. To earn a legacy like Couture's, Aldo must remain healthy. And fight. His inability to do so last November because of damaged C5 and C6 vertebrae raised concerns for the first time whether that would be possible over the long haul.
Yet, said Aldo, it never occurred to him.
"I knew I would overcome it."
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.
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