The centerpiece of tonight's UFC 142 RIO: Aldo vs. Mendes pay-per-view is a featherweight fracas pitting divisional monarch and top pound-for-pound candidate Jose Aldo in his fifth title defense against unbeaten Team Alpha Male wrestler Chad Mendes.
Jose Aldo (20-1) has been methodically sniping off the top end of the 145-pound totem pole. His systematic elimination began at WEC 44 against American Top Team's rugged veteran Mike Brown, who, unbeknownst to him, was wearing Aldo's future around his waist. The Brazilian had earned his shot with five highlight-reel stoppages in the WEC but Brown's cachet and power-grappling was purported to be a rude awakening.
And it was, but crosswise: Aldo eschewed Brown's takedowns and surprisingly landed one of his own in the second, then teleported instantly to back-mount and pounded him out to become champion. He'd already proven that he was a human wood-chipper on the feet by mangling foes with a cyclone of Muay Thai, but beating someone of Brown's caliber at his own game foreshadowed the complex monster that Jose Aldo has become today.
Next up was former longstanding champ and poster-boy Urijah Faber. Aldo spent all five rounds sawing his leg in half with unending waves of wicked roundhouse kicks, causing even the at-home viewers to wince in sympathetic pain each time his shin plunged sickeningly deep into "The California Kid's" tenderized thigh. Then it was Hayastan bruiser Manny Gamburyan. Bam. Lights out. Second round. Mark it, dude.
The champ's last two defenses were sturdy decisions over Mark Hominick and Kenny Florian. Some feel they exposed some holes in Aldo's game; others opine that they merely dragged the champ into deeper waters and weren't crushed immediately like the rest. I side with the latter.
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Chad "Money" Mendes (11-0) has never lost a fight. In fact, he's never even been put in a precarious situation nor revealed any glaring weaknesses. The closest thing to a hole he might have is that he's mostly a one-dimensional wrestler, but that one dimension has delivered a perfect MMA record and expedited him to a title shot in just over three years of professional competition.
A former Division 1 wrestler at Cal-Poly, Mendes tore through his first five opponents (1 sub, 2 TKOs, 2 decisions) relying mostly on his voracious takedowns and startling athleticism. While rounding out his overall skill-set with Team Alpha Male, Mendes signed with the WEC and proceeded to skyrocket up the ladder. He handed Roufusport juggernaut Erik Koch his first loss (decision), submitted Anthony Morrison (guillotine choke), and then rattled off four decision victories to assume the role of apex-contender: Cub Swanson, Javier Vazquez, Michihiro Omigawa and Rani Yahya.
Three of those fighters are BJJ black belts, two of which are at the ceiling level (Yahya, Javi) and Omigawa is still a force to be reckoned with on the mat. Some fans frowned upon Mendes' control-based strategy, yet tossing around fighters of this prestige and fearlessly diving into the jaws of their guards was extremely impressive for someone as green as Mendes. All the while, his boxing was looking sharper in each outing and he was still as lightning-fast and explosive as ever.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
I enjoy being overly dramatic in my writing and embellishing the analysis to portray the fighters like comic-book superheroes. I've put together a heaping assembly of gifs for Jose Aldo, but instead of saucing up each one with exhausting metaphors, I think the sheer violence herein speaks for itself. Just take a minute and soak each one of these in.
My professional assessment of the gifs above: that is some seriously frightening ass-kicking. This is MMA, so all the competitors are fighters. They fight for a living. Some are aggressive. Some are composed. Some are resplendently technical, others are brutally raw.
However, Jose Aldo is a f**king fighter, in every sense of the word. He can do it all and he's both fundamentally polished and uncontrollably destructive.
To the right is a subtle example of his artful skill, without even throwing a punch. When you think Mark Hominick, "technical kickboxing" should immediately come to mind. Aldo hangs out in the pocket and puts on a veritable clinic of how to slip punches.
My point is that Aldo is stamped as a Thai wrecking machine, and rightfully so, but he doesn't get enough credit for the astronomical level of abilities he's shown in so many different areas.
Here the champ attacks with what many assume to be his weakness. Admittedly, Aldo has never encountered a wrestler like Mendes and he'll be hard-pressed to compete directly with a D1 standout, but there's no question that he's exhibited a very under-appreciated proficiency with both securing and defending takedowns.
Florian made it clear that he intended to swallow him up in the clinch to stifle his offense, but the champ had none of it. Staying elusive with excellent circling, Aldo was adept in nabbing the whizzer and punishing the challenger with a medley of knees and dirty boxing. A salient factor is that, while his clinch tactics have passed the test, the only opponent to assail him with dropping levels and shooting from outside was Brown, and Mendes' freestyle wrestling is unparalleled in the division. Rather than contest Aldo upright in the clinch, Mendes will sink low with blindingly fast shots that are set up brilliantly with his strikes and footwork.
Mendes is truly an athletic specimen with obvious takedown prowess, but he implements his strengths very intelligently.
To the left, notice how he fakes a level drop to open things up. This causes Vazquez to freeze in place and brace for the takedown, and Mendes switches it up and cracks a high kick. In the ensuing blitzkrieg he follows with, the wrestler carefully measures his steps to shrink the distance and maintains excellent balance while pressuring with punches.
It's worth noting that, though he sets up the high kick and shows decent form with his aggressive boxing, his defensive mannerisms definitely offer some opportunities for a precise marksmen like Aldo.
Sure, the front roll and flip to the right might be a little more "show than go", but I applaud the high work-rate, activity and courage of Mendes. Vazquez is a complex submissionist and it takes huge cajones to pull off these theatrics. The way Mendes confronted such talented grapplers would indicate that Aldo will have a tough time sweeping or submitting from the bottom.
All of my praise for Mendes' strides with his stand up comes with the disclaimer of how inexperienced he is. Plus, pure wrestlers typically struggle to get comfortable on their feet because of the opposing variables of stance and footwork, and Mendes has excelled phenomenally in putting it all together.
That being said, all of his offensive striking in these animations show a susceptibility to precise counter-punching, where Aldo reigns supreme. Despite his encouraging improvement, I can't help but think that Aldo is going to light him up on the feet.
For everyone who equates Mendes with guys like Tyron Woodley who are "scared to fight" and "only play it safe", please review this collection of gifs and rethink your stance.
As far as physical attributes like strength, quickness, agility and conditioning, I'd put Mendes at the top of the heap. Aldo is still fleet afoot and will have a slight edge in height and reach, but the gist of the match up comes down to who can keep things in their preferred phase of combat.
Footwork will dictate the location of the fight and Mendes has incredible movement. While Aldo is a black belt in BJJ, Mendes has proven his prowess against others with the same accolades and Aldo didn't seem to scramble with busy hips and the sense of urgency I'd expect in his past performances. Mendes should be able to shut down his guard and be productive enough with ground and pound to avoid stand ups.
Aldo epitomizes the statement that "good offense is the best defense." The short, spearing knee he lands in the second gif might be a handy tool to keep Mendes wary about dropping levels. The champ has a wide arsenal of dangerous strikes to employ for an aspiring takedown artist, such as his uppercut and knees, which makes the area around his waist a very hostile environment to invade. If Mendes telegraphs his shots in the slightest, I can see him going to sleep. The contrasting variable is that Aldo will be at risk every time he plants his feet; it's something he must do to add velocity to his strikes. Footwork, distance and timing are factors of the utmost importance.
To summarize, it's just too hard to pick against an undefeated wrestler like Mendes, especially considering how much power takedowns and top control have in neutralizing other weapons and in the eyes of the judges. Mendes will likely be moving forward and pressing, which is generally received as more effective aggression. His chin has looked solid thus far but he's yet to encounter someone of Aldo's stature. I'd estimate their advantages to be about even in their respective specialties -- Mendes on the mat and Aldo standing -- but think Mendes has the better chance of implementing his cardinal weapon.
My Prediction: Chad Mendes by decision.
Aldo gif collection via Gifsoup.com
Aldo head-movement gif via ProMMANow.com
All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com