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Jose Aldo: The king with the plastic crown

Jose Aldo, of Rio de Janeiro, celebrates his unanimous decision victory over Frankie Edgar just after their UFC 156 featherweight mixed martial arts title match, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 at The Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Eric Jamison)
(AP Photo/Eric Jamison)

It took Jose Aldo 11 years to build his MMA resume, and it only took 13 seconds for a wise-cracking Irishman with a lethal left hand to destroy it.

A pillar of ashes is all that remains of Aldo’s featherweight throne, and his only shot at redemption lies in the hands of the man who took everything.

Conor McGregor wasn’t just a storm blowing through as many, including Aldo, had predicted. He was the UFC’s new reality walking around in tailor-made suits and expensive sunglasses. His smugness outside of the cage and ability to back it up inside created a phenomenon unlike anything the MMA world had ever seen.

But Aldo walked to the beat of a different drum.

He prioritized an approach that aligned more with the art of fighting rather than the entertainment side. He did his talking with his fists, not his lips. It’s the respectable path in fighting that the overwhelming majority in the UFC takes without second guessing. It is also the reason why cash cows like McGregor are so few and far in between.

People looked past Aldo simply because he wasn’t entertaining enough. Although he was winning in lopsided fashion, he barely moved the needle in the pay-per-view market during his reign as UFC champion. Before the loss to McGregor, his most successful UFC title fight—a super fight with former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar—did around 300,000 pay-per-view buys. That fight was the apex of Aldo’s success as a headliner.

But it pales in comparison to the $1.5 million event McGregor recently did with Nate Diaz at UFC 202.

Years of being a respectful champion ended with Aldo kicked to the curb and left in the rearview. No one cared about the seven consecutive UFC title defenses, the multiple fight of the night performances or the lopsided wins over the featherweight elite. McGregor commandeered the throne and Aldo began talking more than he ever had in his entire MMA career.

However, it was too late. The UFC was all-in on the McGregor gravy train, and business was better than it had ever been. McGregor wasn’t enthralled by the idea of giving Aldo an immediate rematch even though he rightfully deserved one. Anderson Silva received an immediate rematch when he got knocked out by Chris Weidman, Ronda Rousey was well on her way toward receiving an immediate rematch and Georges St-Pierre was only given one fight before being offered a rematch with Matt Serra for the welterweight title.

But no such opportunities were given to Aldo, who went on to bounce back with a win over Edgar. Instead of defending the featherweight title, McGregor was given an opportunity to chase history. He wants to be the first fighter ever in the UFC to hold multiple belts in two separate divisions at the same time. So the featherweight division has been put on hold while he finishes his business at lightweight.

Outrage has poured from MMA fans all over the world. These are the same fans that didn’t buy Aldo’s headlining pay-per-views but paid in full to see McGregor’s fights. Aldo was the king of convenience as champion. People loved to point and marvel at his greatness from afar without truly ever partaking in it. But the same people continue to drink their fill of McGregor, whether they love him or hate him. He satisfies the yearning of a spectacle that Aldo and so many other fighters fail to provide.

It hasn’t even been a year since McGregor won the title, and it already feels like eons ago. His reign as champion has changed the featherweight division forever, and he hasn’t even defended the title yet. Fans have never been more interested in the lighter weight classes in MMA more than they are now.

So that put the UFC between a rock and a hard place. They could either give fans the fights they want to see or do right by Aldo. The promotion sided with McGregor.

They have allowed him to continue to hold the featherweight title hostage long enough for a shot at history in the headliner of UFC 205. McGregor initially claimed he would keep both belts if he defeats Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight title, but after meeting with the UFC, he is warming up to the idea of parting ways with one belt after the fight.

That seems to be enough to keep Aldo onboard at least. He was contemplating retiring from fighting, but he seems to have had a sudden change of heart, recently tweeting that he was “rethinking” his “retirement from MMA.”

It’s depressing that a legendary fighter like Aldo was made to even consider leaving under those circumstances in the first place. He was undefeated for more than a decade, and he had the fourth-most consecutive titles defenses in UFC history. Those aren’t only Hall of Fame accomplishments. Those are all-time great accomplishments.

A real rags-to-riches story starts with this skinny kid born and raised in Manaus, Brazil with aspirations of playing soccer and competing in MMA. There were days that he went without eating because his family couldn’t afford to buy food. His teammates would often round up a pot of money just to buy him a meal and get him through a training session.

That same skinny kid eventually grew into a man, climbed the featherweight ranks and defeated Mike Brown to win the WEC title. When the WEC merged with the UFC, he then became the first ever UFC featherweight champion. And so he remained for over four years until McGregor’s takeover.

Aldo was underappreciated as a champion, and fingers can be pointed from every angle looking to place blame. Maybe it was his fault for not being marketable enough. Perhaps the onus falls on the UFC for not opening up the same opportunities they have given to other fighters. Or maybe the fans simply took him for granted.

The answer is somewhere in the middle.

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