Former UFC champion Jose Aldo retires after 18-year MMA career

Jose Aldo celebrates after defeating Frankie Edgar during their featherweight championship mixed martial arts bout at UFC 200, Saturday, July 9, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Jose Aldo ends his MMA career with a 31-8 record and having faced nearly every elite featherweight and bantamweight of his era. (AP Photo/John Locher) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The athletes in mixed martial arts have evolved exponentially in the past 15 years, bringing the sport to near-peak performance. What they’ve really been doing in that time was catching up to Jose Aldo.

The former WEC and UFC featherweight champion, known as the “King of Rio” for his dominance in the sport for more than a decade, is retiring following a defeat to Merab Dvalishvili last month on the main card of UFC 278 in Salt Lake City. Combate first reported the news.

Aldo, 36, retires with a 31-8 overall mark in MMA and a 21-7 record in the WEC/UFC. Zuffa owned the WEC and the UFC when Aldo joined the WEC amid much hype in 2007, and featherweight wasn’t a weight class in the UFC.

He won his first 15 bouts in the promotion before being knocked out in 13 seconds by Conor McGregor at UFC 194 in 2015. McGregor’s trash talk for months before the bout so enraged Aldo that when the fight started, Aldo raced out at McGregor and McGregor clipped him with a counter hook to the chin.

That was one of the few lowlights in Aldo's career.

There was next-to-nothing Aldo couldn’t do as a fighter. His kicks were as fearsome and as effective as any fighter’s in MMA history. Particularly at his peak, his takedown defense was impregnable, and if a fight happened to get to the ground, well, he was a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who was a bronze medalist in his weight class in the 2001 World Jiu-Jitsu championships.

Aldo was a great Muay Thai fighter with terrific hands, fearsome elbows and a granite chin.

“If you look at how long that guy’s been an absolute warrior, man, how long he’s been on top of the game, it’s amazing,” UFC president Dana White said to Yahoo Sports. “He started in the WEC and then came over here and had an incredible career in the UFC. He helped build this sport. He helped build this organization, this brand. I love the kid, I respect him very much and I wish him all the best in anything he does in the future.”

He was the kind of guy who did his fighting in the ring. There was no trash talk and no gimmicks with Aldo. He was a stoic personality outside the cage who was a beast inside of it.

Many of the sport’s biggest stars became fans of his. UFC Hall of Famer Daniel Cormier, now a broadcaster on ESPN, would “geek out” around Aldo.

Aldo helped move the sport forward, Cormier said.

“Jose Aldo was a tremendous champion and was one of the guys who evolved the sport of MMA,” Cormier told Yahoo Sports. “He was one of those guys that was ahead of his time when he was the champion. Even up until his last fight, I was always in awe of his greatness. He was that elite striker who you couldn’t take down. He was next level.”

Aldo fought a who’s who of the greatest featherweights and bantamweights of all time. He met Max Holloway, Chad Mendes and Frankie Edgar twice each and also fought McGregor, Marlon Vera, Petr Yan, Urijah Faber, Cub Swanson, Renato Moicano, Ricardo Lamas, Pedro Munhoz, Chan Sung Jung, Mike Brown, Kenny Florian, Rob Font and Merab Dvalishvili, among many others.

He was always in shape and fought with a fierce intensity that frequently led to sensational fights.

He won Fight of the Night four times, Knockout of the Night three times and Performance of the Night two times.

His fight with Faber on April 24, 2010, at WEC 48 was one of the most important in that promotion’s history. He defended the featherweight title he’d won from Brown a fight earlier with a brilliant performance highlighted by a brutal kicking attack on Faber’s leg. It was the first pay-per-view in WEC history.

Like Cormier a UFC Hall of Famer, Faber had been the face of the WEC and Aldo’s win was a transition of sorts. That victory made Aldo the face of all the lighter weight classes in the sport.

“I have always considered Jose Aldo as one of the best fighters pound-for-pound on the planet,” Faber said. “His physical gifts, well-rounded game and championship mentality made him one of a kind. I was lucky enough to compete against him for a world championship, share my gym with him in America and be a guest in his gym in Brazil. A genuine champion, and a great person outside of the cage! I’m excited to see what’s next for him, congrats on a great career!”