Thirteen seconds, for José Aldo, changed everything. It changed his title from champion to former champion, it put an end to ten years of dominance and it gift-wrapped bragging rights to a man who needed no such rights to brag. Worst of all, though, it served to undermine everything Aldo had done before those thirteen seconds – the time it took for Conor McGregor to find his chin with a left hand and knock him out – and consequently humanised someone once deemed superhuman.
Gone, in an instant, was the notion that José Aldo was the greatest featherweight of all-time. How could he be? He’d just been flattened in less than the time it took for Bruce Buffer to introduce him. He’d been exposed; stripped of his title and his legacy. He had, in that moment, thanks in no small part to McGregor’s grandstanding, become the figure against whom an Irishman established his own greatness and superstardom.
If ever one needed an indication that fight sports are as unforgiving as any known to man, there it was. Poor José. Thirteen seconds, just like that, eradicating ten years of solid and often spectacular work.
“Although it was a while ago when I fought Conor, it was something I tried to make the best out of,” said Aldo ahead of his fight this Saturday (June 3) at UFC 212. “I’m not going to sit around and cry, but, in the end, we did lose the fight. So, if I were to go back and change anything, I would change that.
“But everything else that went around it… the division was promoted, the UFC, myself, I was promoted. I try to see the good in it, the silver lining.
“The UFC tried to make this fight happen again and it didn’t. The guy does not want to fight me again. It may be the last time that people ask. He doesn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore and that’s fine. It happened. It’s in the past.”
It’s almost impossible for any fighter to truly put such a damaging and, in some ways, defining defeat ‘in the past’, much less forget it completely. Thirteen seconds, in all likelihood, will forever stick to Aldo. So too will images of him marauding forward – recklessly, aimlessly – on to McGregor’s left fist, balled and coiled, in the centre of the octagon.
But, certainly, if Aldo was ever going to continue with his career, and regain what was once his, he had to at least try to carry the look of a man who cared little about the fact his career record is now sullied by a first-round knockout loss. And, to his credit, he’s done just that. He’s continued, he’s put on a brave face, he’s even regained the UFC featherweight title, a belt McGregor snatched from him only to then decide it was a little too tight around the midriff.
Some will even go as far as to say Aldo has never looked as good as he did the night he bludgeoned Frankie Edgar for five rounds last July, his first fight following the loss to McGregor. That night he was on-song, no doubt. He beat Edgar up on his feet, rattled through his vast arsenal of punches and kicks, and at no point struggled with the pace of the fight, nor faded down the stretch. Seemingly as good as new, if Aldo was suffering any lingering effects of his time – his short, humiliating time – with McGregor, he did a wonderful job of disguising it.
Edgar, of course, was a man he’d already beaten, therefore the perfect opponent; he and Aldo were familiar with each other, thus Aldo found himself back in his comfort zone. Next opponent Max Holloway, though, promises to be a different proposition altogether. He, unlike Edgar, has yet to face Aldo in his seven-year professional MMA career. He’s also just twenty-five years of age. Best of all, in the eyes of those backing the Hawaiian, Holloway is riding a ten-fight win-streak built on the scalps of Anthony Pettis, Ricardo Lamas, Jeremy Stephens, Charles Oliveira and Cub Swanson, all of whom he conquered consecutively.
“Holloway is a guy I’ve been looking at for a while and I knew we’d end up facing each other,” said Aldo. “He’s a tough guy.
“I think it’s going to be a great fight. I think we’ve had great fights in the past and he’s built himself up to title contention. But, you know, it really doesn’t matter to me. I have goals of my own right now and all I have been thinking about is going in there to defend my belt once again.”
There won’t just be one title on the line, mind. Holloway, too, carries a belt, albeit one of the interim variety, and this again points to the fact the Hawaiian is no ordinary challenger, nor fighter. He has the form of a champion, the swagger of a champion. He also, on evidence accumulated in the last four years, has the skills of one. It’s why many view Saturday’s fight as a close-run thing. It’s why some are backing him to topple Aldo and upgrade his belt.
Few in Brazil expect this to the case, however. They, Aldo’s countrymen, have stayed loyal while others have wavered and bolted the bandwagon. They have been able to look beyond 13-seconds of trauma and rationalise it only as a blip in an otherwise stellar career.
This not only warms Aldo’s heart, it makes him eager to fight in front of them. Comfort, after all, can often be derived from being surrounded by those who believe in you.
“It’s a great honour for me to come back and fight in Brazil,” he said. “There’s definitely a different feeling to it. Everyone is rooting for me and they all speak Portuguese, so I can interact with them.
“It’s close to my gym, too, and my family and friends can be there. But, you know, I’ve fought so much outside Brazil, so much in the United States, that that’s normal to me as well.
“I’m happy to go in there and unify this belt. Like I’ve always said, I’ve always fought. I’ve never lost a championship. I’ve always been the champion.”
Well, not always, José. You don’t need the Conor McGregor to remind you of that. The evidence is the 13 seconds of footage which seemingly do the rounds whenever the UFC wish to celebrate its greatest or most shocking moments. Evidence can also be found in how people treat José Aldo in 2017; how they back fighters to beat him, how they speak of him not as an invincible champion, as was once the case, but as a 30-year-old man with flaws and vulnerabilities like the rest of them; how fighters now want to fight him.
José Aldo was once the greatest featherweight of all-time. But, for thirteen seconds, he wasn’t.
Now, though, with a dismantling of Frankie Edgar hinting at a resurgence, there’s a feeling Aldo is once again about to play the long game. And longevity, for José Aldo, is the only thing that trumps the number 13.