With the WEC merger there has been alot of talk about top pound for pound fighter and now inaugural UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, so I thought it would be a good time to bring up an interesting question: just how good is Jose Aldo's ground game?
The prevailing wisdom is that it is amazing. It is actually quite common for commentators to say that Aldo's ground game is "apparently" better than his stand-up, including the respected Joe Rogan. The problem is that the phenomal Aldo is just so good at striking that he rarely gets the opportunity to showcase his ground skills.
Jose Aldo in the Aldo vs Faber preview:
My goal is to entertain the fans. I could easily take all my opponents down and submit them, but the fans love to see knock outs and I'm only where I am now because of the fans.
There is definitely some evidence that Aldo is no slouch on the ground. For one, he is a Nova Uniao black belt in BJJ, which is definitely one of the more legitimate black belts you can get. More importantly, he is a world Jiu Jitsu champion in the brown belt category, and holds a grappling win over top BJJ champ Rubens Charles "Cobrinha".
However, that Aldo's ground skills translate to MMA or any no-gi competition is completely unproven. His fights actually seem to suggest the opposite. Is Aldo's ground game better than even his striking? I'm not convinced.
First we can do the most rudimentary assessment of someone's ground game skills, play count the submission. Jose Aldo has only submitted one fighter using a method other than soccer kicks in his entire career. It was his third ever MMA fight, back in March of 2005. To put that into perspective, that means he has one submission compared to Shane Carwin's four. It is not incredibly difficult to submit people at this low level of competition. But that assessment would be unfair, a ground game is more about positional dominance than submissions.
Some point to Aldo's top control, finishing fights with ground and pound after taking dominant positions, recently against fighters like Mike Brown or Manny Gamburyan. But both these fighters were badly hurt and put to the ground by Aldo's striking prowess. Once Aldo had them in a dominant position, both of them easily giving up their backs, his instinct wasn't to set up a submission, but to strike.
Aldo puts fighters to the floor with relative frequency, but rarely follows them. His fight with Anderson Silverio reminds one of Silva vs Leites, with Aldo refusing to initiate a ground fight, content to kick at Silverio's guard. His fight with Faber had him leg kicking him to the ground, but he never showed the killer instinct to go in and finish the fight with his grappling skills. If his grappling was really better than his striking, wouldn't we see him knock guys down and finish with chokes like Kenny Florian? Wouldn't you expect to see him fight more similarly to Charles Oliveira, another gifted striker who prefers the grappling element and thus will periodically try to take the fight to the ground, despite dominating the stand-up. Aldo has shown that he much prefers to strike and refuses to engage on the ground.
Finally, in the one example of Aldo being forced to show off his ground skills, he came up short in his one career loss. After dominating the first round, Azevedo took him to the ground. Aldo puts up an uninspired defensive guard. Azevedo posts his arms on the mat but Aldo fails to isolate them. Then Azevedo makes Aldo look like an amateur, passing from guard to half guard to side control and to mount in a very short period of time. Aldo panics, the sign of an inexperienced grappler, and gives up his back. He looked lost and out of his element as he tried to stop Azevedo from choking him, getting wrist control for only a few seconds before succumbing to the rear naked choke.
Is Jose Aldo like many Muay Thai strikers that enter MMA only to get eventually embarassed by grapplers? Of course not. He has excellent takedown defence and clearly has BJJ training. But to say that his ground game not only translates to MMA on its own, but is actually better than his striking? I say myth.