LAS VEGAS – Jose Aldo was in the middle of a department store in Detroit in late 2010, trying to pick out a new suit. He was by that point one of the top mixed martial arts fighters in the world, but he had yet to own a suit.
Aldo, who defends his featherweight title against ex-lightweight champion Frankie Edgar on Saturday in the main event of UFC 156 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, came from extraordinarily humble beginnings and could never afford such luxuries.
He grew up in the Amazon region of Brazil, where everyday items such as televisions were foreign to him.
Reed Harris, the UFC's vice president of community relations who, as general manager of the now-defunct World Extreme Cagefighting brought Aldo to North America, said Aldo was bewildered by his media obligations when he first arrived in 2007.
"We think nothing of a TV," he said. "But we had some challenges with Jose, because he didn't know about interviews or TV. Where he came from, it was so poor, so well below the poverty line, that he didn't really have much of a clue about it."
A few days before his teammate, Lyoto Machida, was supposed to meet Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 123, Aldo's former manager, Ed Soares, took him to a department store to finally buy a suit.
A member of Soares' staff filmed the encounter, which consists of Aldo cutting up as he tries on different pieces of clothing.
He was wearing his fight shorts as he entered the store. He tried on a shirt, tie and suit coat, but still had his shorts on. When he was handed the pants, standing in the middle of the men's department, Aldo simply dropped his shorts and pulled on the pants.
Fortunately, his shirt hung down to mid-thigh, because, as Soares said, "He wasn't wearing underwear."
His life is changing for the better and he's now making significant money. When a reporter at Thursday's news conference at Mandalay Bay referred to him as rich and famous, Aldo leaned back in his chair and cackled.
His biggest challenge isn't in dealing with the world's greatest fighters. He's often overshadowed by MMA's Big Three – UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre – but Aldo may in time turn out to be the best of all of them.
"I don't want to say that about him, because it's way too early to be talking like that," UFC president Dana White said. "Let's just say that this kid is incredibly, incredibly talented and can do things in there that few guys even dream of doing."
Aldo insists he hasn't forgotten his roots and is still highly motivated. When fighters become stars and make big money, the trappings of that life often make it difficult to sustain.
It's not as easy to get up hours before dawn to run. It's hard to do the extra little bit of work in training that led to greatness in the first place.
Rashad Evans, who meets Antonio Rogerio Nogueira on Saturday's undercard, can relate to Aldo. He grew up poor and struggled to make a living, but then became UFC light heavyweight champion.
"The challenge he faces now is that he's got to stay hungry and he has to keep in his mind that he's still that poor kid," Evans said. "Once the appetite gets filled, then the drive and the motivation kind of changes. Then you're like, 'I don't want to run and I don't need to run anyway because I'm this.' You start to get a little more complacent. As long as he keeps envisioning himself as that poor kid and can push through the hard days when he doesn't want to train, [he'll be fine]."
Aldo hasn't fought since Jan. 14, 2012, when he routed previously unbeaten Chad Mendes in his native Brazil. Aldo was injured in a motorcycle accident in the summer and hurt his right foot.
White and Harris said driving a motorcycle in Brazil is extraordinarily risky. Cars, Harris said, don't give the motorcycles wide berths and will clip their mirrors off routinely as they pass.
"I get wanting to go out and ride [a motorcycle]," White said. "I really do. But not in that place. That's some of the craziest [expletive] I've ever seen. I told him, 'Hey, look. You're making enough money now. Go out and buy yourself a car. You have to take care of yourself.' "
Aldo grinned impishly and said, "I agree with Dana." But he then shrugged his shoulders and said, "My bike is all I had. I had to get to practice."
There were many times before he signed with the WEC that he'd show up for practice having not eaten for two or three days. Fellow fighter Waggney Fabiano would ask him if he'd eaten and when the answer invariably was no, would go around the gym to collect money so that Aldo could eat.
Those hard early days made an imprint on Aldo. He's now bought a house and a car, and his next goal is to buy a home for his mother.
But Aldo hasn't been spending his money recklessly, Harris said. He knows what it is like to have nothing and is already thinking of his life beyond fighting.
"He's pretty frugal with his money still, which is good," Harris said. "This is a long-term proposition. He's got to think about his family not just today, but 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 30 years from now. It shows that he's a smart kid that he realizes that and is doing something about it."
A win over Edgar, a former UFC lightweight champion and the eighth-ranked fighter in the Yahoo! Sports MMA ratings, would be the most significant of Aldo's career.
It would enable him to potentially move to lightweight himself and pursue another belt.
Gray Maynard, a UFC lightweight contender who went to Brazil to train with him, marvels at his ability. He can pull all the moves that have made Anthony "Showtime" Pettis so famous, such as kicks off the cage and flying knees, Maynard said.
Maynard called Aldo "a super, incredible athlete," and said, "I had a lot of respect for him when I got there and it was even greater when I left."
Edgar, who is competing in his seventh consecutive UFC title match, simply calls Aldo "awesome."
Despite the accolades, though, Aldo swears he's still the same hungry guy he was years ago, when he had so little money that he couldn't afford to eat every day.
"Being rich or poor, it doesn't matter," Aldo said. "I still live my life. I'm still the same person. I still walk the streets like everybody else. I just want to be happy and now that I'm a champion, nothing has changed, really.
"I'm still hungry. That's the reason I wake up very early every day to go to the gym. I train a lot because I have a lot to accomplish in my life."
Surviving the brutal, oppressive poverty of his youth, however, will likely always be his greatest achievement.
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