Aldo proceeds down path to greatness

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Jose Aldo’s string of consecutive knockouts ended at six on Saturday night. And yet, the World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight champion answered nearly every question about potential weaknesses by making challenger Urijah Faber look out of his league in a five-round domination Saturday night at Arco Arena.

Aldo’s striking game has long been established as one of the best of any fighter in any weight class. When he won the featherweight title from Mike Brown on Nov. 18, he erased doubts about his takedown defense as Brown, a powerful wrestler, couldn’t do anything.

That left these questions about Aldo going into Saturday’s fight: What would happen if he was on the ground with a top-level grappler? What would happen if, due to his young age (23), he were to encounter big-fight pressure? And what would happen if he had to go 25 minutes?

He answered all of those against Faber without any problems, and right now the question is whether anyone can even give Aldo (17-1) a good challenge to stop what appears to be his destiny – becoming one of the greatest fighters the sport has ever seen.

While that tag may seem premature, Aldo’s performance was such that it would be hard to envision anyone at 145 pounds giving him trouble. In fact, Zuffa president Dana White talked Saturday night about Aldo potentially wanting to become the first triple champion in the sport’s history.

White talked about Aldo possibly dropping to bantamweight to challenge Dominick Cruz and then moving up to lightweight to challenge the champion in that division, whether it be the UFC or WEC title holder. White even brought up the name B.J. Penn as an intriguing match down the line for Aldo, and noted that there are no legal barriers to keep a WEC fighter from facing someone like Penn in the UFC.

The first WEC pay-per-view was a resounding success as a live event, even if you needed a microscope in Arco Arena to find even the slightest trace of the letters W-E-C. The only visible evidence was the lettering on the two championship belts that were successfully defended Saturday, and maybe some mentions in the event program.

The show was simply promoted as “Aldo vs. Faber” with no organization listed. White said it was a marketing decision to maximize pay-per-view buys, and by not using the WEC brand name, which is associated with the Versus network, he was able to get far more promotion for the show, including the “Countdown” preview show airing on SpikeTV and MTV2 and a one-hour live special of preliminary matches airing on SpikeTV.

The UFC broadcast team of Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan handled the event, and UFC ring announcer Bruce Buffer was also brought in. Aldo was introduced as world featherweight champion as opposed to WEC featherweight champion.

Aldo played the part, scoring a one-sided decision on scores of 49-45, 49-45 and 50-45. Quite frankly, the judges’ scores, if anything, were too lenient on Faber (23-4), who took a bad beating in Round 3 and an even worse beating in Round 4. In that round, Faber was crucifixed on the ground with Aldo hurting him with punches and elbows to the head.

Faber tried without any success to buck Aldo off him and, if the match had been stopped, it would have been without any controversy. But the referee let it go and there was a gigantic reaction when the round ended by the highly partisan Faber crowd.

Even under adverse circumstances, neither Faber nor the Arco Arena crowd had any quit in them. Right up until the final seconds of the fight, they were intensely behind Faber, the native of Sacramento. The city’s mayor, former NBA star Kevin Johnson, was in attendance and had declared “Urijah Faber Day” in the city earlier in the week. Faber himself survived, taking a level of punishment that would have mentally broken most fighters. At the end, he was attempting takedowns and trying to block out the pain in his damaged left leg.

“In every fight, I’m always going for a finish,” said Aldo through interpreter Ed Soares. “It just didn’t happen this time.”

Aldo’s main weapon was a kick to Faber’s lead left leg, and he had Faber in serious trouble by the second round. The kicks slowed down Faber’s wrestling, and most of his takedown attempts went nowhere. The champion also beat up Faber’s body with kicks. When the fight did to go the ground, Aldo was on top delivering punishment and Faber never found the opening for a submission. At fight’s end, Faber had to be carried to his stool. He praised Aldo afterward before he was taken to the hospital to get his leg checked out.

“I trained a lot on defense of leg kicks but he’s very effective with them,” Faber said. “He really took away my legs and it was impossible to get something going.”

Getting Aldo to the ground seemed to be Faber’s best shot at winning, and he tried to do so in the later rounds. However, Aldo dominated there as well.

“I think it [not going for takedowns] had a lot to do with the leg,” Faber said. “I was losing mobility. He’s very good and very fast. I tried my best.”

A crowd of 14,144 fans paid a gate of $1 million, both records for WEC on its biggest night. As with every major event in the company’s history, Faber, either as the defending champion or title challenger, was the draw. But despite the event being a major success, the promotion took one step back due to the lopsided defeat of Faber, who is no longer in the mix as either champion or challenger in that weight class.

It’s possible that Faber, having lost three of his last five fights, could drop to bantamweight. He has noted many times that he could make 135 pounds with little problem. He wrestled at a lower weight at UC Davis and he’s naturally small for the 145-pound class. Faber fought the past several years at featherweight because, at first, there was no bantamweight class. Once there was, he was already featherweight champion and beating everyone in his path.

For Aldo, his most likely next opponent will be Manvel Gamburyan (13-5), who knocked out former champion Mike Brown with a right to the jaw in 2:22 on Saturday. Gamburyan, the former star of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show, would go in as a heavy underdog, but so would anyone else who steps into the cage with Aldo right now.

Dave Meltzer covers mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Send Dave a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Apr 25, 2010