Jose Aldo is a kid in a candy store.
He’s shy and polite.
His youthful exuberance manifests itself into an ear-to-ear grin, which has become a common visual to fans and media in and around events.
Unlike traditional candy stores, his is eight-sided with blue interior and encircled by thousands of charged onlookers.
Furthermore, his left-over “lunch money” isn’t just given to him. He earns his by winning physical chess matches against other world class athletes.
In person, he’s unassuming at a mere 5’7”, 145 pounds.
Pass him on the street and you wouldn’t know he’s arguably the third-best mixed martial artist (behind UFC champions Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva) on a planet that contains roughly seven billion people.
He’s the perfect concoction of natural, god-given talent, world class training, and exquisite execution.
Nevertheless, the WEC Featherweight Champion continues to fly under the radar just out of the periphery of fair-weathered MMA fans used to focusing their cross hairs squarely on the UItimate Fighting Championship’s product.
At last count this “superstar” had just over 1,000 friends on Facebook.
He’s one of the most invisible upper echelon athletes in any major sport.
Despite the fact that he may have already reached the MMA summit and put down a lawn chair, it hasn’t always been butterflies and utopia for the 24-year-old Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil native.
It’s been a long journey, to say the least.
He’s dedicated himself to his craft since he was a teenager and surrounded himself with a quality support system consisting of family, friends, training partners, representatives, and coaches.
There’s no doubt his dominant professional influence has been Carlson Gracie pupil Andre Pederneiras.
Pedeneiras is one of the co-founders of the Nova Uniao gym in Rio de Janeiro. He is also a former UFC veteran, Judo black belt, and fifth degree jiu-jitsu black belt.
At the ripe age of 16, Aldo moved to Rio and began frequenting Nova Uniao with the goal of one day becoming a jiu-jitsu world champion.
He was immediately taken under the wing of Pederneiras and sculpted into a multi-skilled mixed martial artist.
"Don´t have any place in the world with more great fighters like in my camp,” beamed Aldo.
In 2004, just one year later, he decided to compete in his first professional fight. He subsequently knocked out fellow Brazilian Mario Bigola in an economical 18 seconds.
That same year he would also achieve his initial goal since the inception of his martial arts pursuits—he captured the CBJJO Copa Do Mundo world jiu-jitsu title.
Aldo ran through the field as a brown belt and even defeated Rubens Charles Maciel in the semifinals. “Cobrinha” is widely considered to be one of the best jiu-jitsu competitors over the past decade.
It was only a slight detour from his MMA career.
He would get back to the task at hand and win his next six fights, all with first round finishes.
Then, he hit a road block in the form of Luciano Azevedo in his hometown of Manaus at the Jungle Fight 5 event.
Aldo was taken down in the second round of the bout by an Azevedo double leg against the ropes. Azevedo then transitioned from half guard to side control and moved into full mount.
Eventually, Aldo was forced to give up his back and he succumbed, submitting to a rear naked choke.
To this day, the loss remains his only career blemish.
“It is okay for me today. The loss happened in the correct moment in my life. Now this is the past.”
Currently, he’s on a 10-fight win streak, including seven straight in the WEC since he joined the promotion in 2008.
Most recently, he defeated poster boy Urijah Faber via five-round dominant unanimous decision in April 2010 at the WEC 48 event.
Aldo essentially dominated for an entire 25 minutes in route to a one-sided destruction of “The California Kid.”
Instead of receiving undivided praise after the fight, however, Aldo began to endure criticism for the first time ever.
Many were quick to point out that he may have taken his foot off the accelerator in the second half of the fight and cruised to a decision, instead of trying to go for a finish against his battered opponent.
“Sometimes it is difficult to finish the fight, but I always try. In this fight I tried very hard finish, but Faber is a warrior. I don’t know how many guys would still be fighting after so many kicks. He is a great fighter.”
When asked whether he was happy with his overall performance against Faber, he replied with a resounding and Diego Sanchez-like, “Yes!”
Fast forward to current day.
Thursday, September 30 marks the spot for Aldo’s next challenge.
Manny Gamburyan awaits his chance at the featherweight crown as the pair are set to do battle this evening at the WEC 51 event in Broomfield, Colorado, which will be broadcast live on the Versus channel.
According to Aldo, “He has great judo and heavy hands. The weaknesses I can’t tell you right now. You can see after the fight.”
Gamburyan, a skilled judoka, will likely look to cut down the distance to get inside and use his skills in the clinch to try to put Aldo on his back, much like Azevedo did back in the day.
We have still yet to see Aldo on his back at any point in his entire WEC career.
This is perceived to be a potential weakness or avenue to victory for his opponents, regardless of the fact that Azevedo exposed him over five years ago when he was nowhere near a finished product as a fighter.
"I’m training everything. I’m prepared for any situation,” said Aldo.
Manager Ed Soares wanted to hammer home the point.
“He (Aldo) trains a lot from his back. He is a black belt in jiu-jitsu from one of the best jiu-jitsu schools in Brazil. He always puts himself in those types of situations a lot during training, so he feels comfortable regardless of where the fight takes place.”
The inner circle is confident.
The champion is confident.
And somewhere in The Centennial State, Jose Aldo is ready and smiling.
Derek Bolender is a freelance MMA writer who has contributed to outlets such as CBSSports.com, FIGHT! Magazine, and MMAmania.com, in addition to BleacherReport.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DerekBolender.
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