No doubt about it – Jose Aldo was deservedly the story of UFC 169’s featherweight title bout Saturday night in New Jersey. The 145 pound kingpin kept his place on the top of the mountain with a unanimous decision win over number one contender Ricardo Lamas.
The win is Aldo’s 17th straight, going back to 2006 and now everyone is clamoring for him to move up to lightweight in search of new challenges and more gold hardware. Jose Aldo is the most dominant reigning champion in MMA and he very well might also be the best fighter, pound for pound, in the sport.
With a guy as good as that, it’s easy to overlook the moral victory Lamas earned in proving he was not simply another “opponent” for Aldo to run through with ease. Like many before him, Lamas found himself eating leg kick after whipping leg kick early on.
Unlike most, however, Lamas never physically wilted under the pressure of those blows. Like many before who had hoped to win by wrestling Aldo to the ground and hurting him there, Lamas learned the hard way that Aldo’s wrestling and all-around grappling skills are on another level.
Unlike those that preceded him, however, Lamas managed to turn bad positions into great ones for himself. What’s more, when Lamas did scramble out of the mount Aldo had him in in the fifth round, the wrestler then managed to control, hit and hurt the champ.
Aldo won rounds one through four (heck, he won the first three minutes of the fifth as well) but when the final horn sounded, it was a hard-punching and elbowing Lamas that the referee had to pull off of Aldo.
If Lamas was saved a bit by the bell at the close of the first round, Aldo was saved by it at the end of the fifth. I’ll spare you (for now, at least) a rant about how much I hate the use of rounds in MMA precisely because they often make it difficult to really understand who would come out on top after an uninterrupted fight.
The point today is that, even in defeat, Ricardo Lamas showed that he possesses the heart, conditioning and psychology of a champion. Throughout the fight, Lamas worked for the right things. He had deep take down attempts, technical defensive guard work, nice submission defense and tricky strikes thrown.
Thing was, every time Lamas threw a quick high kick after a misdirecting punch or head bob, the champion’s arms were in precisely the right place to block it. Every time Lamas got in deep on a take down, Aldo used near levitation-level balance in order to stay on his feet.
Every time Lamas worked for precisely the right butterfly guard position for the situation, Aldo’s hips and timing proved to be a nanosecond better and more responsive and he took the mount. At the post fight press conference, Lamas said that stubbornness on his part also hurt him a bit against Aldo.
“I’m a little disappointed,” Lamas said.
“I wanted to let him know that I wasn’t scared of him, that I wasn’t scared to stand with him and I got a little too caught up with that. I should have been playing my game a little more and looked for the takedowns in the later rounds but it was just stubbornness that got in the way. Next time, I’ve got to stick to my game a little better.”
Better tactics could very well help Lamas the next time he gets a title shot. However, the bigger take-away is that he indeed looked like a fighter who will be able to once more position himself to win a world championship.
Lamas simply wasn’t skilled enough to beat Jose Aldo Saturday night at UFC 169. However, by proving physically resilient, by not letting frustration set in and by demonstrating resourcefulness and an ability to survive trouble and then turn it into his advantage, all while getting stronger as the fight wore on, Ricardo Lamas gave every indication that he might one day soon indeed be good enough to be the world champion.
If Jose Aldo moves up to lightweight to challenge for Anthony Pettis’ belt as he, Pettis and everyone else wants, Lamas’ second opportunity might come sooner than he expects. If not, the smart money says that Lamas will still do whatever it takes to climb his way back to title contention.