Jose Aldo might be offering up the first real challenge to the UFC's recent streak of offering up less-than-legitimate title shots.
Just a few months ago, Georges St-Pierre vs. Anderson Silva seemed like a complete inevitability. Obviously, it is yet to happen.
The reason? St-Pierre has business to handle in his own division. With Nick Diaz still needing a slap in the mouth and Johny Hendricks still downright fearsome, St-Pierre already has plenty on his plate.
Sure, UFC President Dana White would've loved to put on a show between two of the three greatest pound-for-pound fighters in the world. It is a fight fans have speculated on for years and, perhaps, would rival even UFC 100 in terms of buys.
Ultimately, though, St-Pierre opted to reassert himself as the top dog of his division before moving elsewhere. White accepted his decision. He may not have liked it, but he made no serious fuss over it.
That courtesy, however, is not being extended to featherweight champion Jose Aldo.
Should Aldo fight Pettis?
After besting former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, Aldo was called out by former WEC lightweight champion and current top lightweight contender Anthony “Showtime” Pettis. Pettis was willing to abandon his lightweight title shot for a crack at Aldo.
The news was equal parts surprising and exciting, but at its core, there wasn't a fan, journalist or UFC employee that didn't know it was a pure cash-grab.
Sure, Aldo was just coming off a win against another former lightweight champion. That said, Frankie Edgar's immediate featherweight title shot was the best of a very, very bad situation. “The Answer” became the top contender because of an injury to Erik Koch. Koch, by the way, earned that shot fresh off his victory over Jonathan Brookins (who was fresh off winning The Ultimate Fighter).
Over the last six months, the featherweight division has undergone an utter Renaissance. Chan Sung Jung, Cub Swanson and Ricardo Lamas all have resumes deserving of a title shot. Chad Mendes, Clay Guida and Dennis Siver are hot on their heels.
What that translates to is that the UFC simply does not need to import lightweights for title fights anymore.
Aldo's handlers called this out quickly, saying that an Aldo vs. Pettis fight should be a 150-lb. catchweight fight. After staying quiet on the matchup, he is agreeing with that notion. Dana White is very, very unhappy about this. From Twitter:
Dana said Aldo will fight Pettis or he's not going to like the way this turns out. He's absolutely refusing right now.— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) February 24, 2013
Regardless of White's wishes, Aldo is completely in the right in refusing a fight with Pettis.
It is no secret that Aldo has been counting the days until a move to lightweight. A notoriously difficult weight cut has always meant his time as a featherweight was limited, and it's a constant talking point any time Aldo finds a microphone in front of him.
That in mind, Aldo has to think about his long-term legacy as the featherweight king in the same way Georges St-Pierre is concerned with maintaining his status as the greatest welterweight in MMA. With the featherweight division finally hitting its stride, Aldo is in that same boat.
Yet, for a variety of reasons, Dana White is mercilessly ripping Aldo while deferring to GSP's wishes.
Obviously, this is because a bout between Aldo and Pettis would yield the most buys out of any of any other option. This almost certainly true, but even with the complete disservice the UFC has done to Ricardo Lamas, they have a solid draw in Chan Sung Jung, who has headlined an event already, tied the record for quickest UFC knockout at UFC 140 and has well-known slugfests with Leonard Garcia.
While, again, this match remains tantalizing, it is not without risk. Without Pettis, there is a void in the lightweight top contender spot. If Benson Henderson defeats Gilbert Melendez at UFC on Fox 7, he will have beaten essentially every top lightweight in the UFC (with the exception of Gray Maynard, who has a tough fight with TJ Grant on his plate).
While guys like Rafael dos Anjos, Jamie Varner and Khabib Nurmagomedov are rising quickly, none of them have the name value or exposure of Pettis. Pat Healy would make a solid fight, but he is completely unknown to people that didn't follow Strikeforce closely.
This doesn't even speak on the pitfalls of the fight itself, which will feature somebody who famously struggles during cuts (though he consistently succeeds) fighting against somebody making their debut at a smaller weight class. Imagine a fight like Chris Weidman vs. Demian Maia stretched over five rounds.
All that, and Dana White still demands a duel between Pettis and Aldo.
How resistant Aldo truly is to this remains to be seen. This might simply be a play to get a little extra from Zuffa, or this might be a legitimate protest.
If, however, Aldo is making sure his belt remains leather and gold, rather than paper, it's a stand we should all applaud.