Aldo stakes claim with memorable KO

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

Jose Aldo Jr. hasn't had a long reign at the top like UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. He hasn't had the one spectacular year, with wins over star after star, like light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. And he hasn't been nearly perfect like welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre.

But when you're considering the best mixed martial arts fighters in the world, Aldo's name deserves mention right alongside with the UFC's Big Three.

After Aldo destroyed previously unbeaten Chad Mendes on Saturday in the main event of UFC 142 at HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to retain his featherweight championship, it's time for the MMA version of the Fab Four: Silva, Jones, St. Pierre and Aldo.

It's a spectacularly talented group with diverse skills and the ability to make fast, fight-ending moves.

Aldo showed why he belongs in the club by almost instantly turning a sequence in which Mendes had the advantage into a fight-ending finish.

Mendes had Aldo tied up against the cage and was kneeing him in the thigh, a critical move if he wanted to slow Aldo's kicks. After taking a few knees to the hamstring, Aldo pirouetted, cracked Mendes in the face with a knee and then landed a massive right hand to the face as Mendes was flat on his back.

Referee Mario Yamasaki halted it with a second left in the first round, sending Aldo sprinting into the deliriously happy Brazilian crowd. Security guards had to battle to pull Aldo out of the mess, then had to fight with him to keep him from trying it on the other side of the cage.

Brave men, they must be, because anyone who messes with Aldo has to know he's in for a lot of punishment.

"He's a tough dude," Mendes (11-1) said in tribute. "I felt the best I have for any fight, any camp that I've gone through. I was very prepared and he still got me. [I wanted to] keep the pressure on him, obviously close the distance to where I could get my hands on him and wear him out. Jose is tough. He's got great takedown defense.

"Watching a lot of his fights, I knew it was going to be tough to take him down. He's very athletic, he's very fast and he has great footwork. It's obviously something we worked on, but he was the better man."

Aldo, who is No. 5 in the Yahoo! Sports MMA rankings behind Silva, Jones, St. Pierre and lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, was coming off a win over Kenny Florian at UFC 136 in which he, perhaps for the first time, looked vulnerable.

He was primed to defend his belt in his home country, though, and he did everything well at warp speed. He hit Mendes with thudding kicks that were so powerful, they almost knocked Mendes' legs out from underneath him.

He easily shrugged off a number of takedown attempts from Mendes, the NCAA runner-up at 141 pounds in 2008 when he was an All-American wrestler at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. And when Mendes did, however briefly, slow him down and push him against the cage, Aldo figured a brilliant way to get out of it.

With Silva and St. Pierre sidelined by injury and with Jones sitting a few feet away at cageside, the 25-year-old one-time homeless teenager staked his claim for a spot among the sport's royalty.

He ran his record to 21-1 with his 14th win in a row. He won his title in the World Extreme Cagefighting and has kept it as the WEC was folded into the UFC. He's now 6-0 in championship fights and has made five successful title defenses. That ties him with UFC legends Tito Ortiz and Matt Hughes for the third-most in Zuffa history, behind only Silva (9) and St. Pierre (6).

On the undercard:

Vitor Belfort sustained an early onslaught from Anthony Johnson and scored a first-round submission via rear-naked choke in a middleweight bout, his first match in his homeland since 1998. Belfort was thinking of a finish the entire way.

"I didn't stop the entire fight," Belfort said. "He kept trying to take me down and I kept fighting it. 'Make him quit.' That was my goal and I did just that. I had the whole country [of Brazil] behind me and I could feel it in there tonight."

Rousimar Palhares showed why he's the most feared leg lock specialist in the UFC, catching Mike Massenzio with a heel hook and forcing a tap just 1:03 of the first round.

The controversy of the night came in a welterweight bout between Brazilians Erick Silva and Carlo Prater. Silva roared out of his corner and hit Prater with a knee that decked him. As Silva was firing punches and going for the finish, he hit Prater on the back of the head.

Yamasaki stopped the bout and disqualified Silva, giving Prater the win at just 29 seconds of the first.

And in the pay-per-view opener, Edson Barboza caught Terry Etim with a spinning heel kick, landing right on the chin. Etim did a dead fall backward as Barboza took the victory at 2:02 of the third round. It is believed to be the first time in UFC history a fighter finished a bout with the spinning heel kick.

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