Jose Aldo’s legacy is rich in championships. He reigned with the UFC featherweight belt through a record seven title defenses, and before that he was the WEC champion. But for the man known as the King of Rio, making moments come alive for fans and comrades-in-arms was a remarkable feat.
When it was announced on Sunday that 36-year-old Aldo was retiring from MMA with 36 wins, congratulations and respectful accolades came from many of the sport’s greats.
ESPN’s Marc Raimondi, Brett Okamoto and Jeff Wagenheim are among the longtime MMA devotees who have watched Aldo since he was a young dynamo rising to the top of the sport. From dominating the WEC to ESPN’s 2014 MMA Fight of the Year, here are some of her lasting memories of his career.
Aldo joins Swanson in Sacramento
In 2009 I was kind of an MMA fan. I’ve been to exactly one UFC live event and occasionally watched fight cards on DVDs I borrowed from my local video store. Going into a fight several months after the event worked well for me because no newspapers I read covered MMA and I didn’t follow online forums so I didn’t have to worry about spoilers. Why not watch live? None of my sports-loving friends were interested in MMA, and I had no intention of paying the pay-per-view money on my own.
But when fights were on free tv, I was all in. On a June night in 2009, I tuned in to Versus for WEC 41 at the old Arco Arena in Sacramento, California. I remember enjoying the main event between featherweight champion Mike Brown and hometown boy Urijah Faber. I remember being impressed by a couple of lightweights on the undercard, Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis. But the performance that made me smack the neighbors with a late-night “Wow!” shouted at my TV screen was delivered by a 22-year-old Brazilian named Jose Aldo.
My grandmother always told me that we only get one chance to make a first impression. What a dynamic and lasting impression Aldo made that night when I saw him fight for the first time.
It only took him nine seconds.
That was all the time it took him to run through the cage and trigger a flying knee that KO’d Cub Swanson. The fight was practically over before it even started. But it took long enough for Aldo to turn me into a fan.
Five months later I watched on TV as Aldo defeated Brown to become WEC champion. Less than a year later, the WEC would merge with the UFC and Aldo would be named champion of the UFC’s new 145-pound division. He became the greatest featherweight in the history of the sport, reigning for four years and setting a UFC-record seven title defenses.
And yet nothing Aldo did during the rest of his glorious career — and there were a whole lot of wonderful moments — made me weep with the amazement and delirium that the buzz saw from the Amazon evoked in me that summer night of 2009. -Wagenheim
The featherweight GOATs pay tribute to the OG GOAT
ESPN is yet to unveil its MMA Mount Rushmore featuring the best featherweights in the sport’s history, but it’s safe to say three of the faces on the structure would be Aldo, Max Holloway and Alexander Volkanovski. On Sunday, the younger 145-pound legends showered nothing but love on the older classmate.
The King of RIO! What a career brother! Go enjoy your retirement brother. Eat some açaí with cashew and powdered milk for me 🤙🏻 @josealdojunior
— Max Holloway (@BlessedMMA) September 18, 2022
Wish the feathery goat only the best @josealdojunior 🙏
— Alex Volkanovski (@alexvolkanovski) September 18, 2022
Meet the King of Rio for the first time
My favorite memory of Aldo has to be the first time I met him and that was also the first time I saw him fight. 18 Nov 2009 WEC 44.
Those were many firsts for Aldo. It was his first time headlining a map, his first title fight, and the first time he’d even appeared on a fight poster. It was also his first fight in Las Vegas. I remember him talking about how surreal it was to see yourself on a Las Vegas billboard.
The WEC held a media training session at The Palms this week and Aldo spoke to a small group about his family and he cried as he spoke about them. Of course we learned a lot more about him throughout his legendary career, but I will never forget him during this fight week. He was a 23-year-old boy who came from a tough upbringing in Brazil and couldn’t believe where life had taken him. And then he came out and just dominated Mike Brown, a great fighter, and started his long featherweight championship reign. – Okamoto
Jose Aldos KO’d by Chad Mendes in Rio
Already a top-flight fighter when he joined the UFC, Aldo heralded his arrival in earnest with his knockout of Chad Mendes.
Aldo held the WEC title for nearly two years prior to his UFC debut, when the WEC was the only game in town for light-weight fighters. In 2011, the UFC added the WEC — and its lightweight, featherweight, and bantamweight divisions — to its promotion. Aldo became the first UFC featherweight champion due to the fact that he was and has been the best 145-pound fighter in the world for years.
Aldo made his debut in a high-profile setting when he made his first-ever defense of the UFC Featherweight Title at UFC 129 at Rogers Center in Toronto in front of a then-UFC record 55,724 fans. Georges St-Pierre made headlines in his home country that night by beating Jake Shields. However, Aldo faced some adversity that night against Mark Hominick, who gassed late. Six months later, he beat fan favorite Kenny Florian, a card titled Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard 3.
In his third UFC fight, Aldo was eventually handed headlining responsibilities in Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian native’s adopted hometown of Manaus. Aldo faced Mendes on January 14, 2012 at UFC 142. Mendes was an explosive, dominant wrestler with immense power in his hands, an opponent that critics at the time said would represent Aldo’s toughest test yet. Could he really make it to the UFC, the highest level?
The answer, of course, was a resounding yes. With a second left on the first lap, Aldo spun from a clinch position and in one move threw a knee down center that Mendes caught flush. The match’s challenger was out on impact – and then Aldo was gone. He sprinted out of the Octagon and ran straight into the HSBC Arena crowd of more than 10,000 fans. Those spectators welcomed him with open arms and partied with joy alongside him in a nearby mosh pit.
One of Aldo’s many nicknames is “The King of Rio”. His crown was installed that night. – Raimondi
https://www.espn.com/mma/story/_/id/34620565/jose-aldo-top-moments-iconic-mma-career-king-rio Jose Aldo’s top moments from an iconic career