(Evening, BE community - longtime lurker. Relocating from Cagepotato. Glad to be here.)
Flaubert said , "We must not touch our idols; the gilt comes off in our hands."
There has been no period in MMA history more demonstratively Flaubertian than the last few weeks. From Mousasi to BJ to Anderson - fans have been alternately shocked and infuriated when such lofty immortals proved human and fallible.
I want to argue that this strange juxtaposition between mastery and vulnerability is the central defining tendency of the modern era of mixed martial arts, and Jose Aldo is the current and best example.
Aldo is prodigal. But prodigal status requires faith and imagination: the glossy sheen of dominance that, in the fight game, can belie the kind of yawning unknowns that a top-tier fighter can and will exploit. There are individual differences, but Aldo's hype is reminiscent of Torres before Benavidez, or Marquardt before Sonnen, Hendo before Shields, Penn before Edgar. It’s not that the favorites aren’t better fighters, it’s that there is too much flux at the top level of mma to assume dominance. Fighters are one exploited flaw, one psychological slip, one recurring bad habit from a loss. (And note the trend: top tier wrestlers who don't know how to quit.)
(I wanted a picture of Edgar taking down BJ here, but only Chael got love from a Google image search.)
Faber’s a live dog here, undervalued and under-appreciated by the selective memory of his Brown losses, and the persistent and inaccurate notion that he is an unevolved fighter. His wrestling base and transitions in the Assuncao fight assure me that he hasn't lost the cunning takedown transitions that were the foundation of his reign from 2005-2008.
And his extraordinary toughness and conviction in the second Brown fight suggest, to me, that he is the psychologically proven fighter. That's one of those qualities that, like the "imposing his will" cliche, sounds gooey and irrelevant. But bear with me.
Could Aldo knock Faber’s head into the second row with a clean knee off a double? Yes. But Aldo thrives at range, and he thrives when he’s dictating pace and distance. I don’t think Faber lets him do either. Aldo’s lateral movement is very good, but Faber is stunningly fast, and people forget just how good his angles are. I think he crowds Aldo for the entire fight, works for trips and negates Aldo’s hips and sprawl, grinds him, frustrates him, threatens takedowns, clips him with short elbows and inside uppercuts. I think any fight that goes more than two rounds leans in Faber's favor, for reasons of boundless cardio and instinctive wrestling.
I think Aldo gets tested for the first time. I don’t think it is impossible that Aldo is Thiago Alves, instead of Anderson Silva – a lion when he can bully, but a tabbycat off the back foot.
At the top tier of MMA, with its manifest complexity, with tape to study and months to gameplan, with the waxing and waning of undisclosed injuries, with the disorientation that can come off a single strike an adrenaline fade, with the simple baseline human fallibility of every fighter who steps in the cage - there is no such thing as the current media image of Jose Aldo. He is a myth.
Dominance is never a uniform quality, and a guy like Urijah Faber should never be +280.
Thanks for having me.