Jose Aldo is unquestionably the best featherweight fighter in the world.
He made that perfectly clear at UFC 156 when he battered former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar over the course of their five-round main event, snagging a unanimous decision victory in the process.
With this victory, his sixth consecutive title defense, it is time to talk about Aldo in terms of the all-time greats.
A hit-list of guys like Urijah Faber, Kenny Florian, Chad Mendes, Cub Swanson and now Frankie Edgar is hard to ignore, so where does Aldo stack up against the legends of the sport?
Let us start with his record. At 22-1, with the sole loss coming via submission more than seven years ago, there is no doubt that Aldo is currently performing as well as anybody.
His 15-straight victories stack up nicely against Anderson Silva's 17, Jon Jones' eight and Georges St-Pierre's 10.
Fedor "The Last Emperor" Emelianenko's crazy 29-fight undefeated streak from 2001-09 is the only run Aldo cannot touch at the moment, and even that streak is highly scrutinized and devoured by hardcore MMA fanatics.
Emelianenko faced top opponents at that time, but more recent streaks, like Silva's, Aldo's and Jones', are generally regarded as more impressive due to the increasingly competitive nature of the sport.
To me, Aldo's streak deserves recognition with the best of them, and one cannot dock him for not matching The Last Emperor's historic run.
Looking at quality of competition, there is no doubt Aldo has faced the best of the best when called upon.
From Cub Swanson, Mike Brown and Urijah Faber in the WEC to Mark Hominick, Kenny Florian and Frankie Edgar in the UFC, Aldo has performed against—and defeated—the top guys in his division time and time again.
Add in the fact that fighters such as Edgar and Florian were former No. 1 and No. 2 lightweights, respectively, and Aldo's strength of competition becomes even better.
On this front, Aldo is equal to Silva, Jones, Emelianenko and GSP. He fought legitimate No. 1 contenders when asked, and he took care of business.
The last, lesser quantifiable metric to measure Aldo's status beside the all-time greats is his invincibility.
How close has he come to losing? How beatable is he moving forward? Just how dominant has he been?
On this front, we can eliminate Fedor Emelianenko from the conversation, as he deteriorated in the later stages of his career, posting a 3-3 record in his last six fights.
Georges St-Pierre is next to be overcome by Aldo. GSP, for all his dominance, is not a killer inside the Octagon, and his superiority is of a more subtle, technical variety. I do not know if GSP is scary like Silva, Jones and Aldo, and the welterweight champ has shown serious vulnerability when hit.
Jones and Silva, however, have Aldo bested on this front. Rarely do the middleweight or light heavyweight champions see a decision, and both are accomplished finishers inside the Octagon.
Sure, Silva had that phase where he wanted to be Michael Jackson instead of a fighter, but any sane analyst will conclude that he could have finished those fights against Thales Leites, Demian Maia and Patrick Cote sooner had he wanted to.
Aldo, on the other hand, has seen hard-fought decision victories. His latest, against Edgar, actually prompted some to say he lost, and the same cannot be said for any of Silva's or Jones' decisions.
So where does that leave us?
First off, let us agree that Jose Aldo is not at an Anderson Silva- or Fedor Emelianenko-level of legendary just yet.
Emelianenko has his streak, and Silva has his...umm...Silva-ness, and Aldo simply cannot touch that just yet.
Is Aldo No. 3 all time?
Nope. That honor goes to Mr. Jonny "Bones" Jones.
Four title defenses and a gauntlet of light heavyweight legends lay conquered in the wake of his destruction, and Bones' run in the 205-pound division is instantly legendary in my eyes.
His blend of size, athleticism and finishing instinct is absolutely ridiculous, and Aldo is ever-so-slightly less impressive than Jones in my eyes.
Ask yourself this: Would Jon Jones ever see four decisions in six bouts?
I think not.
Now, the most challenging question: Can Jose Aldo be ranked above Georges St-Pierre when ranking the all-time greats?
Yes. Yes he can.
...And I'm saying he is.
Aldo, like GSP, has his strength. GSP can win every fight through his superior grappling skills, and Aldo is impossible to conquer on the feet.
To complement these skill sets, GSP has exceptional standup to fall back on if he cannot take his opponent down or elects not to, while Aldo has spectacular takedown defense to ensure that he never has to fight off his back.
So who is more beatable?
To me, the answer is GSP.
Sure, Aldo dropped a couple of rounds to Edgar and one to Hominick, but GSP has been knocked out inside the Octagon and bested on the feet by Jake Shields at times.
Furthermore, GSP has shown an inability to finish much lesser opponents like Dan Hardy and Thiago Alves in his comfort zone, and that is alarming.
If Aldo stands with a terrible striker, he knocks them out (see: Gamburyan, Manny). If GSP grapples a terrible ground technician, he still grind out a decision.
That fact, coupled with Aldo's more impressive winning streak separates the featherweight champion from GSP for me, and for that, Aldo slides in at No. 4 all-time, passing the legendary Canadian along the way.
He still has some work to do to reach the top of the proverbial mountain, but there is no questioning Aldo's legitimacy as one of the all-time MMA greats.
Oh, and he's only 26 years old, so prepare for this conversation to crank up its intensity in the upcoming years.
To quote the great Joe Rogan, "Jose Aldo is for real, ladies and gentlemen."
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