There was a moment, roughly halfway through Jose Aldo's thoroughly brilliant and yet somehow uninspiring victory over Ricardo Lamas at UFC 169, when the longtime featherweight kingpin's murky future suddenly became quite clear.
It has been years since Aldo was properly challenged. Against Lamas, as it has been against so many others, Aldo was effortless. He was facing one of the best fighters his division had to offer, and he barely needed to break a sweat.
He kept perfect distance. He feinted. He checked leg kicks, and then unleashed thudding, groan-inducing leg kicks of his own. He left Lamas flailing with roundhouse kicks that never had any chance of landing.
Aldo is perfection in the cage. There is no more technical and precise fighter, no fighter more capable of making very good challengers appear as rank amateurs. He is always just out of reach, and his reactionary timing is sublime. Go back to Saturday night and watch him dodge repeated jab and leg-kick attempts from Lamas. It is a subtle and natural thing of beauty.
It was a performance that left us wondering once again: Who is there to challenge this man? And, for the first time, the answer is: No featherweight in the world will beat this man.
Cub Swanson, viewed by many as the logical next contender, is ranked fourth in the division. And he has been on quite the tear since losing his UFC debut to Lamas back in 2011; five consecutive wins with four finishes is nothing to sneeze at.
But Aldo beat Swanson in eight seconds with a double flying knee back in 2009. A double flying knee! As with so many other things Aldo pulls off in the cage, I wasn't aware such a thing was possible until he actually did it.
Chad Mendes? Aldo beat him, too, with a violent turning knee at UFC 142. Apologists will point to Aldo holding the fence to prevent a Mendes takedown as the turning point in that fight. But here's the thing: Aldo has defended 92 percent of all takedowns during his career with the WEC and UFC.
Mendes is a very good and strong wrestler, but there is simply no way we can correctly assume he would have taken Aldo down and held him there long enough to wrest control of the championship away.
These days, of course, Mendes has evolved. Under the tutelage of Duane Ludwig, Mendes has added a swift and efficient power-striking game to his arsenal. He had four consecutive knockouts heading into his December bout with the durable Nik Lentz; Mendes did not finish Lentz, but he did score a rather easy unanimous-decision win, which perhaps spoke even louder than a knockout.
Swanson and Mendes are deserving, in their own ways. But the time for Aldo to tread through rematches is over. He is moving to lightweight, where he will challenge Anthony Pettis for the belt. Mendes and Swanson should fight for the vacant featherweight belt, while Aldo quietly attempts to add a second divisional crown to a legacy that is quickly becoming one of the greatest in the history of mixed martial arts.
Aldo is often bypassed in pound-for-pound discussions. His own boss barely recognizes his existence when it comes to such things, swinging from Anderson Silva to Jon Jones to Chris Weidman to Renan Barao without ever giving consideration to his own featherweight champion that has not lost a fight in nine years. Nine years! This is not something to take lightly, and yet White has no problem with vaulting Weidman and Barao (Nos. 5 and 6 in the last set of UFC rankings) past Aldo (No. 2) and Jones.
Promoter-speak aside, what Aldo is accomplishing—and what I believe he will accomplish at lightweight—is nothing short of historic. If he beats Pettis, and I think he will, Aldo will graduate from discussions of the current pound-for-pound champion. It will be a question with a definitive answer.
At that point, Aldo will assume his place alongside Fedor Emelianenko and Anderson Silva. He will be up for consideration as the greatest fighter in the history of the sport. And that, along with the many new challenges a new division will bring, makes a move to lightweight a no-brainer.