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Jose Aldo got his first glimpse of Rio de Janeiro when the young Brazilian Jiu Jitsu student was sent to the Brazilian fight capital to represent his hometown of Manaus at a Rio BJJ tournament after he’d won an Amazonas state grappling competition. Aldo was only in Rio for four days that first time but he saw enough in that time to know that he would do anything to return and make something of himself there.
Aldo flew home to Manaus with the intention of training at the legendary Andre Pederneiras’ Nova Uniao gym in Rio one day. Aldo began working with his construction worker father to save money to move to Rio.
“I started working two shifts a day with my dad,” Aldo remembers during a recent UFC interview.
“I would go to school at night to try and save the money to buy a ticket to Rio. I wanted to come to Rio to train at ‘Dede’ Pederneiras’ gym. That’s when I started working and saving money to come. And, I succeeded.”
Aldo had made it to Rio but, as he would learn, his struggles were only beginning. The plane ticket to travel the 1500, plus, miles had taken just about every cent young Jose had to his name.
“When I first got to Rio I had absolutely no money,” Aldo says.
“All I had was one bag full of clothes. I brought everything I owned. I said I would only go back to Manaus when I was successful.”
In those early days, Aldo slept at the gym at night, and was grateful for it.
“People were there to help me and support me with their words,” Aldo says.
“They would take me out to eat when I was hungry. That was the best part, and of course, all the learning.”
Once Aldo and his friend Loro were able to move out of the gym and find their own lodging, it was questionable if the move was an improvement or not. Aldo and his buddy lived off a pittance in the notoriously violent favelas of Rio.
Before he became the WEC and UFC featherweight champion, Jose Aldo was hungry. And, not just in a metaphorical sense.
“In the beginning it was hard to stay in Rio de Janeiro. I had nothing Together, we shared and both lived off less than $100 a month, all from a sponsor that Loro got at the time.” Aldo recalls.
“We would eat the meals really late to last all day training. At the time there was a lot more violence, too. The two cities are very different so it was hard for me to adapt. When I went to live in the favela I heard a lot of gun shots every day and night – something I’d never heard before. That was something that affected me a lot.
All the while, Aldo stayed focused on his training and never forgot why he was where he was. “I left my home and my town to chase a dream,” he says.
“It was what I expected it to be. I knew it was going to be hard, but that’s not a problem. Let’s keep on going…I was at the best gym for my weight class in the world. That was a great thing and to have all my good friends all along the way until today.”
This Saturday, Aldo defends his UFC 145 pound title once more against Ricardo Lamas at UFC 169. “Scarface” believes that the same qualities that got him through the favelas of Rio and carried him all the way to the top of the MMA world will help him conquer this latest challenge.
Aldo hasn’t lost a fight for over eight years and has been featherweight champion for more than four. In his mind, that dominance is rooted in the fighter’s humble beginnings.
“If today I am who I am and I fight the way I fight, It’s thanks to all the adversities I encountered in life,” Aldo says.
“The way I lived my life is what made me strong. That’s what makes me a rounded person, with a good mind-set, able to go in there and win.”