Few would question the greatness of Jose Aldo. It is a matter of debate where he stands on the all-time list.
This past weekend, the UFC’s longest-reigning featherweight champion and top-10 bantamweight contender announced his retirement from MMA competition, ending an 18-year career that included 11 championship bout victories, an absurd 25 wins in his first 26 pro outings, and wins over countless marquee names including Urijah Faber, Frankie Edgar, and Chad Mendes.
Has Aldo been forgotten in all the great conversations? Or has his retirement caused a wave of nostalgia to influence a reappraisal of his accomplishments? The MMA Fighting crew of Shaun Al-Shatti, Alexander K. Lee, Damon Martin, and Jed Meshew are here to take a deep look at Aldo’s history to determine where he belongs in the pantheon of MMA’s best and most accomplished fighters.
Be sure to catch the most recent episode of DAMN They Were Good , is a massive podcast that celebrates Aldo’s unique career.
Al-Shatti: Is Jose Aldo the greatest fighter of all-time? No, probably not. He is part of an elite group: Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva. These are five of the greatest male fighters ever to fight, no matter what order.
People will disagree and I’m sure we all have our own nostalgic favorites, but strictly in terms of accolades, skill set relative to their peers, and length of sustained success, that’s the five. The order I gave above is my personal all-time ranking, with the King of Rio seated at No. 4, but you can make an argument for any of those five gentlemen as the GOAT and I won’t call you crazy.
So sure, there’s certainly a case to be made for Aldo. The most decorated featherweight of all time; nearly a decade of unparalleled dominance over his peers; 2,544 days as world champion under the Zuffa umbrella (the most ever) and 2,215 consecutive days as champion in his prime (second-most ever); nine consecutive Zuffa title defenses (second-most ever); an improbable third act in a lower weight division that very nearly culminated in a third title run.
Aldo may have dropped fights in the back half of his career, but greatness in combat sports is not won or lost on a single night, but rather through years and decades of resume building. It is absurd to call the “flavor of the month” the GOAT on Saturday nights. Alexander Volkanovski has four titles under his belt; it is possible for him to win the title. One day, he might just be able to do so. He’s writing the first chapters of his life and there is no way to shorten the path to the ultimate goal. Max Holloway and Volkanovski still consider Aldo the greatest fighter ever, for the simple reason that sustained excellence in combat sports is one of the most difficult things to attain. But I digress. )
St-Pierre, Jones, and Silva are my top three all-time for their combinations of the factors I laid out earlier — accolades, skill set relative to peers, length of sustained success — but Aldo belongs in the conversation, and he’s no worse than fifth on any respectable GOAT list.
Lee: Let’s break this down:
Stats – 31-8 pro record, with four of those losses coming in title fights and one to future UFC champion Alexander Volkanovski. Aldo won 25 of his first 26 fights, including nine straight title defenses. He became featherweight champion a second time at UFC 200. He was the undisputed No. 1 in the world at 145 pounds from 2009-2014 and retired at No. 6 at 135 pounds in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings.
Quality of competition – In his prime, there wasn’t a top featherweight that Aldo didn’t cross paths with. His WEC run saw him disintegrate Cub Swanson in eight seconds, run through a title-holding Mike Brown who was fresh off of two recent wins over Urijah Faber, and then put a lopsided beatdown on Faber. Outside of Kid Yamamoto, Faber was the man at 145 pounds for years and Aldo completely outclassed him for 25 minutes.
His UFC title run featured an impressive lineup, including Aldo knocking out Chad Mendes twice and Frankie Edgar (former UFC lightweight champion), perennial contenders Ricardo Lamas (two-time lightweight title challenger), and Mark Hominick, who is on a 5-fight winning streak in Toronto with home court advantage.
And you can sprinkle in top-10 bantamweight contenders Rob Font, Pedro Munhoz, and Marlon Vera for good measure. If you ask Aldo about his resume, it’s basically saying that nobody has a great resume. It’s airtight.
Eye test – Who could forget Aldo officially becoming The King of Rio at UFC 142? Putting on one of the greatest title fights of all-time against Mendes at UFC 179? The double knee knockout of Swanson? Faber’s leg being butchered? The rib-roasters he laid on Jeremy Stephens and Renato Moicano? The guile he showed in outworking the competition at 135 pounds? You can go on.
Even if you saw only his highlights reel, it would be clear that you witnessed one of the best live action shows.
The losses – Aldo lost in some big fights, but it’s no shame to catch Ls against Max Holloway and Volkanovski (or Marlon Moraes or Merab Dvalishvili, depending on who you ask). You can do worse than that if this is your list.
So where do I rank him? I don’t know if he’s the best ever, but at his peak he was as good as anyone. Add it all together, and I find it hard to keep him from my top 5. Although I do not know the exact dimensions of yours, it should include Aldo.
Martin: Jose Aldo is most certainly an all-time great, but it’s tough to call him the greatest of all-time.
This is not an insult to a successful career that included Aldo becoming the longest-reigning champion at featherweight in UFC history. When we talk about the greatest to do it, however, many of Aldo’s contemporaries have done more — and perhaps in a stronger fashion — than him against better competitors.
Aldo is really suffering when he’s compared to Jon Jones. Jones has not only managed to run roughshod through a whole division over the past decade but also took on an array of legends and ex-champions. Georges St.Pierre was a champion in the UFC’s welterweight division. Fedor Emelianenko displayed incredible numbers at heavyweight, a weight where winning more than one fight in succession seems like an impressive achievement.
When he first arrived in the UFC, Aldo basically brought the WEC featherweight division with him, but the 145-pound weight class still needed time to really fill out. Make no mistake, Aldo earned plenty of impressive wins over names like Mark Hominick, Kenny Florian, Chad Mendes, and Frankie Edgar, but he was heavily favored to win all of those.
According to oddsmakers, Aldo didn’t really draw a serious threat until he faced Conor McGregor in 2016 and, sadly, the result in that fight probably still haunts The King of Rio to this day. There are plenty of good wins on Aldo’s record, but he suffered a bit from the UFC still building and growing the featherweight division while he reigned as champion.
It’s also why Demetrious John — my opinion — has difficulty getting into this discussion when compared with names such as Jones, St Pierre, and Anderson Silva who have all won in established weight classes. Aldo did amazing things at featherweight, but he got in early before the division was completely loaded with killers.
That said, Aldo deserves tons of praise for not only ruling over the 145-pound weight division for the better part of six years, but also managing to reinvent himself as a bantamweight in the second stage of his career. He never quite became a champion, but he certainly rose up the ranks to threaten as a top contender — and some would argue (and by some, I mean me) that he should have gotten a title shot against Aljamain Sterling over T.J. Dillashaw.
Still, Aldo serving as the GOAT at featherweight and then becoming a damn good bantamweight makes him far and away a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but that’s still not quite enough to say he’s the greatest fighter to ever do it.
Meshew: If you don’t rank Jose Aldo as the greatest fighter of all-time, that’s fine. It is largely a matter of taste, after all, and there are plenty of people in the world who don’t like peanut butter or chocolate. But Reese’s are the best and if you disagree, you’re wrong, just like with Jose Aldo.
I’ve said it countless times but the most difficult thing to do in MMA is to defend a title time after time, year after year, against the best that your division has to offer. This is a difficult task as you are getting the culmination your opponent’s whole life. All of their dreams, hopes, and energy have been focused on one goal, while you work another day. You have to consider that you are competing with fighters who spent literally years planning to fight your opponent, while you have been fighting other deadly killers. It is amazing that someone can have more than five titles defenses. This may explain why so many people have walked on and off the moon.
So starting from there, the GOAT talk can really only include six names, the list that Shaheen already gave plus Fedor Emelianenko (Fedor only actually defended a belt five times, but that was because Pride was weird – he won 18 times while being broadly recognized as the best fighter in the world at his weight class, which is what matters here). And off that list of six, Jose Aldo has by far the least baggage attached to his GOAT case.
Fedor fought in a very different era and beat a ton of cans. Anderson Silva popped for PEDs. Twice. Demetrious Johnson fought for a division that was barely known. Georges St.Pierre lost. Not when his career was waning, but when he just had ascended. Jon Jones was also guilty of a host of issues outside the cage. He used PEDs, and his “established weight” was dominated by middleweights, old washed guys. Seriously, of Jones’ 14 wins in UFC fights since becoming champion, six of them were against opponents who at one point in time fought at 185 pounds.
Contrast that with Aldo, who beat a former lightweight champion and a former lightweight title challenger before he himself dropped to bantamweight, and well, I know which of those things I consider to be more impressive. (Also the idea that being a betting favorite is a knock on someone’s career is one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard. Literally, every single champion was considered a huge favorite over the opposition. That’s how it works! Jon Jones being a pick’em for Chael friggin’ Sonnen would render him ineligible from the conversation!
Jones may well be the best fighter to ever live, but he isn’t the greatest. At least not yet.
Look, if you don’t want to put Aldo as the GOAT, I mean, do you. But he’s my GOAT for one main reason: If I could choose to Freaky Friday myself into one fighter and get to have the career they had, it would be Aldo. The UFC doesn’t count Aldo’s WEC run, which is insanely stupid since they were owned by the same company and Zuffa even ran a PPV event using their UFC people, but still called it WEC. But if you factor that in, Aldo:
- Was the youngest champion in Zuffa history, 23 years and 69 days
- Is tied for third all-time in promotional title defenses (9)
- Has the second longest title reign in history (2215 days) behind only Anderson Silva
- Holds the record for the most days as promotional champion, 2,544.
And he did it all without a single controversy or real criticism. He did all of it while competing in a different weight class. There’s a reason Jose Aldo is universally beloved and why he’s your favorite fighter’s favorite fighter: He’s the f****** GOAT.