When the main event at UFC 156 was over, featherweight champion Jose Aldo was paraded around the Octagon on his cornermen's shoulders, as has become his custom. The reaction from the Mandalay Bay Events Center was tepid, if not downright hostile, and the official announcement of Junior's unanimous decision over challenger Frankie Edgar was met with more of the same.
That's become a custom, too.
Which is odd.
You'd think the most dangerous mixed martial artist currently plying his trade would be appreciated, if not revered.
For whatever reason, the 26-year-old Brazilian's tenure in the sport's premier organization has been received coolly by the average fan. It's true that Aldo has only finished one of his opponents since migrating over from the WEC, but that one finish was epic. It came at UFC 142, and Chad Mendes was the unfortunate victim, catching a vicious knee and flurry of punches before being saved by the ref with one second left in the first round.
That would be the previously undefeated Chad Mendes, who boasts wins over Cub Swanson, Michihiro Omigawa and Erik Koch. That might not be the most impressive 145-pound resume, but it's nothing to sneeze at.
Ultimately, that's really what sets Aldo apart from the rest of the gilded group: his competition.
UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva is unquestionably the greatest belt-holder in Dana White's considerable stables. Meanwhile, light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is widely expected to be the Spider's heir-apparent, but neither warrior is firing on all cylinders like the featherweight kingpin currently is.
Anderson will be 38 the next time he steps foot in the cage. He's still an unpleasant ordeal for any adversary, but he is on the back nine of his career. Furthermore, there are legitimate rumblings that his reign of terror has been artificially padded by lackluster competition. I don't completely buy the argument, but take a look at his hit list, and you have to admit it has some merit.
Dan Henderson is probably the most well-rounded prey caught in the Spider's web, and he was 37 years old at the time.
Stephan Bonnar? Chael Sonnen? Yushin Okami? Vitor Belfort? Demian Maia? Forrest Griffin? Rich Franklin? Those are all fantastic talents, but each has at least one glaring flaw, and that's game over when you're facing arguably the greatest gladiator in the history of the sport.
As for Jones, we are admittedly splitting even finer hairs.
That said, I can't shake the feeling that we haven't seen everything we need to see from him quite yet.
For instance, we've only really seen him win using one primary weapon: that gargantuan reach. Granted, when you walk around with an 84.5-inch reach and possess mutant athleticism like Bones, that one weapon might be the only one you ever need.
Regardless, we've never seen what happens to Jones when (if) his go-to well runs dry.
Does he have the capacity to adapt if his striking is neutralized? What sort of resolve does he have if things start going against him in a bout? Many observers point to the champ's tilt with Lyoto Machida as evidence of Jon's toughness and determination, but he ate, what, two or three solid punches in that matchup?
It's a testament to Jones' utter dominance that a few pops in the mouth qualify as "pushing him," but it does leave the possibility that the 25-year-old is an extreme front-runner a la Brock Lesnar. The big fella was a force of nature when he was riding the wave, but turned into Buster Bluth if it crashed on top of him.
Take a look at the pelts on Bones' wall and you can see a similar phenomenon at work as we saw with Silva. Jon hasn't beaten any pushovers, but he hasn't beaten any supremely versatile antagonists, either. He's basically faced a steady diet of strikers-only since entering the division's deepest waters: Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort.
All of the above can roll effectively—or so we're told—but they sure don't make a habit of it.
Rashad Evans, on the other hand, is a devastating wrestler so he is the one exception, but he seems to have abandoned the discipline of late and such was the case when he met his former sparring partner.
Of course, Jones is toting around his own decorated wrestling chops because he's Jon Jones and all those other superlative assets weren't enough, apparently.
The point remains, though, until someone makes a point of dragging Jon Jones under (like, say, a Chael Sonnen-type) and either succeeds or fails, a whiff of a question remains about the 205-pounder's game.
The other five title-holders are non-starters for a variety of reasons—hasn't ruled as long (Cain Velasquez, Benson Henderson, Dominick Cruz, Demetrious Johnson), isn't much of a finisher (Georges St-Pierre) or both.
Which brings us back to Jose Aldo.
We already know the Brazilian beast is a finisher—he splattered Mendes, authored the infamous double-flying knee that floored Swanson in a mere eight seconds and has tallied 15 of his 22 overall victories by stoppage. We also know he features a versatile game, able to out-snipe other accomplished strikers and stuff even the most intent takedown artist or finish on the ground if it goes there.
But it's the level of competition that sets Junior apart.
Swanson was a top challenger for the WEC featherweight championship when he was rudely dispatched by Jose. Mike Brown was the WEC champ at 145 when he got obliterated in less than seven minutes. Urijah Faber was supposed to be the class of the division when Aldo almost literally chopped his legs out from underneath him.
Manny Gamburyan was a hard-headed, muscular dynamo whose strength was supposed to be a problem. Nope, he, too, got overwhelmed by the current UFC champ. Having exhausted the WEC supply of cannon fodder, Jose moved on over to the UFC.
His first scrap did not go according to script as Mark Hominick gave an ailing Aldo a stiff test in front of a partisan Canadian crowd in the Machine's backyard. Despite all that and the pressure of his UFC debut, Junior battered Hominick for four rounds before surviving a rugged fifth by the skin of his teeth.
His two most impressive victories, however, have come over Kenny Florian and Edgar.
KenFlo is a crazy athlete who played Division I soccer at Boston College. He's a tireless worker who possesses a dangerous all-round game predicated on fight-ending elbows and a submission game that's delivered nine stoppages in 14 career victories. He's also a man who's competed successfully in the middleweight, welterweight, lightweight and featherweight divisions. In other words, he's a big boy with the tools and gas tank to give Aldo fits.
Hmmm, not so much.
All three judges at UFC 136 gave Jose four of the five rounds and the unanimous decision.
Yet his most recent win is the jewel in the crown.
Edgar enjoyed a nice run as the UFC lightweight champion even though 145 is a much better fit for the undersized Answer. Additionally, he can flash elite boxing or wrestling and the next time he slows down in the Octagon will be the first. So you had a well-rounded fighter, one strong enough to summit a larger division and with reserves to exploit Aldo's only perceived frailty (endurance).
Again, not so much.
Junior butchered the Answer and easily avoided or snuffed his normally relentless takedown attempts for three rounds. Two of the cageside judges gave Aldo either the fourth or the fifth, as well. That seemed overly charitable, but dominating three rounds against a slab of granite like Frankie is eye-opening even if you already believed in Jose's legend.
Or it was reason to boo, depending on whom you ask.
Just another night at the office for the UFC's most dangerous and least appreciated champion.
Anderson Silva owns the past and Jon Jones might have a good claim on the future, but Jose Aldo is the man right now and until further notice.
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