Vacating Title to Fight Injured Anthony Pettis Would Be Risky Move for Jose Aldo

Chad DundasMMA Lead WriterFebruary 3, 2014

Feb 1, 2014; Newark, NJ, USA; Jose Aldo (red gloves) fights Ricardo Lamas (blue gloves) during UFC 169 at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It took UFC President Dana White all of about four minutes on Saturday to negotiate terms for a superfight between featherweight champion Jose Aldo and lightweight champ Anthony Pettis.

With the Octagon still warm from his shellacking of Ricardo Lamas at UFC 169, Aldo told the first reporter to question him at the post-fight press conference that he wanted a bout with Pettis.

Aldo checked with White, White checked with Aldo—the process only slowed because the two men were working through Aldo’s interpreter—and it was done. There was no need to ask Pettis, who had confirmed his interest earlier in the evening on social media.

“Sounds like we’ve got a fight,” White said during the official press conference feed on UFC's YouTube account. “There you go. That was easy.”

It sure was.

Maybe a little bit too easy.

Granted, Aldo vs. Pettis is a tantalizing prize for fans, fighters and UFC brass alike.

After watching Aldo breeze past Lamas in overwhelming but uninspired fashion last weekend, conventional wisdom now says lightweight is the place for him. There will be bigger challenges and bigger paydays at 155 pounds and moving up to face Pettis seems far more interestingand profitablethan rematches against Chad Mendes or Cub Swanson.

Despite all the smiles and the easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy fashion in which this superfight appeared to fall into our laps, however, it’s far from a done deal.

In vacating his title to move up, Aldo would be risking an awful lot, all for a fight that may not even come off as scheduled.

There is still the small matter of Pettis’ health to clear up, after all.

The 27-year-old lightweight kingpin has been out of action since mid-November rehabbing a knee injury and the UFC is said to be targeting early July for his next fight. Pettis declared to that he’ll be ready, but the fight company’s own doctor has raised significant doubts.

“I would pray for him,” orthopedic surgeon Robert Klapper said on UFC Tonight (h/t a couple of weeks ago. “Coming back in July? That’s really optimistic.”

It’s possible the UFC knows something the public doesn’t about Pettis’ recovery, but it still feels like a roll of the dice for Aldo. It’d be a shame for him to give up his title, make the move to lightweight and then discover he’d have to wait longer than expected for the champion to get right.

Or, worse yet, accept another opponent.

Aldo would be the first champion of the Zuffa era to willingly vacate his belt in order to chase another title within the organization. Let’s not underestimate the perils inherent in a move like that.

Former heavyweight champion Bas Rutten tried to do something similar back in 1999. Rutten wanted to move down to fight Frank Shamrock in what was then called the “middleweight” division. Unfortunately, that superfight never happened after Rutten suffered multiple injuries while still in training.

As a result, he was forced to vacate the UFC title and retire from the sport. He never fought in the Octagon again, though he returned for a one-off bout in the short-lived WFA organization in 2006.

Jordan Strauss/Associated Press

Aldo is not in the same position as El Guapowho was already in his mid-30s in ’99but Rutten serves as a cautionary tale nonetheless.

The five months between now and July are an eternity in the fast-paced and unpredictable world of MMA. While we wait, any number of things could come along and scuttle the superfight, potentially leaving Aldo holding an empty bag.

There would be no take-backs either. The peanut gallery is already at work advocating a bout between Mendes and Swanson to fill his shoes at featherweight.

What would Aldo do if Pettis’ return is delayed? What if erstwhile No. 1 contender T.J. Grant is suddenly cleared by doctors to return from his concussion? What if Aldo himself—no stranger to the injured reserve—suffers an injury and has to pull out of the fight?

All of this is to say nothing of the possibility that Aldo moves up, loses to Pettis and must immediately go back down to reclaim what rightfully belongs to him.

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

If any of the above happens, we might end up wondering what all this superfight hysteria was about in the first place.

So far, Aldo has managed to fight his way past every obstacle he’s encountered during his 25-fight career. Here’s hoping his move to 155 pounds is no different.

We’d hate to see injury or unforeseen delays leave him as a champion without a country or title.