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UFC 179: Toe to Toe Preview - Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes 2

Phil and David are out of Street Sharks references, but still have plenty of time to have an in depth analysis of Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes in what promises to be an exciting rematch in Brazil.

Oh look. A Dana White sighting!
Oh look. A Dana White sighting!
Buda Mendes

Jose "Scarface" Aldo versus Chad "Money" Mendes

One-sentence summary?

Thrilling merchant of violence turned icy technician takes on Alpha Male's featherweight golden boy

OR

Hulkbuster meets Hulk.

Stats
Weight class: Featherweight (145lbs)

Jose "Scarface" Aldo
25W-1L-0D (6W-0L UFC)
14 (T)KOs, 2 submissions, 8 decisions
UFC ranking: Champion
Fighting out of: Nova Uniao
Odds: -210

Chad "Money" Mendes:
16W-1L-0D (7W-1L UFC)
6 (T)KOs, 2 submissions, 8 decisions
UFC ranking: #1
Fighting out of: Team Alpha Male
Odds: +190

History lesson / introduction to the fighters

David: Let's stick with the cliff notes version on this one. Jose Aldo entered Zuffa's home with a ton of hype, and justified by debuting with a big win over then somebody Alexandre "Pequeno". He hasn't lost since. Along the way he's both dazzled and befuddled fans and experts. His performances have been a little erratic at times, and he hasn't been as violent as observers would like, but he's still holding that belt which he so effortlessly took against Mike Brown. As for Chad Mendes, he's experienced a Lon Chaney Jr. like transformation from wrestle-sometimes-boxer to brutal boxer-sometimes-wrestler. This is the best FW fight in the division, period.

What are the stakes?

Phil: Jose Aldo is not just a pound-for-pound stalwart and a dominant champion. He's not even just the last Nova Uniao champion in a major promotion, as Renan Barao (UFC) and Dudu Dantas (Bellator) both lost their belts earlier this year. He is the last current Brazilian champion in the UFC, fighting on home turf.

No pressure, then.

David: Hopefully he doesn't see it that way. Hopefully for him, it's just another leg kicking, face punching day at the office. We don't count as media, right? I mean, we're just hobbyists in my estimation, correct? Because if I'm allowed to speak freely, the stakes are higher than usual because the division is more interesting with Aldo as champion.

Phil: I'm a big fan of Aldo, but there have certainly been rumblings from fans who have been unimpressed with some of his low-output, borderline-conservative wins of late, and his tendency to get injured. Regardless, it's exciting times for the featherweight division, and it'd be a shame for it to go into the sunlight without the man who ruled it for so long at its helm.

Money was Scarface's downfall in the Pacino flick. Well, that and drugs. And being really unprofessional. Point being that he died. Kind of like this metaphor. So, does Aldo retain the belt... or does he go down in a hail of gunfire?

David: I think Aldo is more like the older facsimile, Carlito Brigante, at this point. The game is catching up to him. And even though he used to be the best player, it's not his abilities and faculties that will fail him: but a mistake, and a young brash cat like Benny Blanco from the Bronx to capitalize on that mistake. Question is...is Chad that cat? I think people underestimate what Mendes is.

We've been talking so long about other contenders that we've lost sight of how good Mendes can be, and what's done to improve his game as more than just a wrestle boxer.

Phil: So, if Mendes is Benny Blanco, we can expect him to finish Aldo off when he returns, despite being easily handled the first time round?

David: I have this dumb sinking feeling that yes, that's what will happen, which is why I went with the analogy in the first place, but forget my hunch for a second. 

Phil: Although the level of competition he's fought since their first fight has been mixed, Mendes has quietly cemented himself as the legitimate #2 fighter in the division. Gone is the early Mendes who would basically just, well, lie on people. What we have now is a legitimately dangerous counter-fighter. His extreme athleticism has been transformed into real confidence in the cage, and while the focus tends to be on how strong he is- and he is visibly muscled and stocky- what really stands out is how fast Mendes is.

Our colleague Connor has given an excellent breakdown of how Mendes controls space and baits strikes in order to come back with a murderous right hand counter. Maintaining forward motion whilst still being quick enough to evade the plethora of attacks which MMA offers is really, really hard, but Mendes is almost never hit clean by lead punches. Add to this, he has never been taken down in a fight. Ever. He is a phenomenal defensive fighter. The question becomes: is he as good a defensive fighter as Aldo is, though?

David: One of the things I always get blown away by is Aldo's ability to make complex things like simple. I'm talking about his lateral movement. A lot of fighters still have this paleolithic method of defending takedowns. Dude engages you, defend with clinch, maybe sprawl, and separate like it's a high school dance. Obviously, some of this is by design. You can rack up points in the clinch, and maybe you're looking for a takedown yourself.

But Aldo is smarter than that, and understands economy. Rather than defend takedowns assembly style, he simply swivels his hips and just gets the hell out of the way. It's a bit more complicated than that but it's MMA's version of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with Aldo's opponents playing the collective role of unevolved swordsmen.

Phil: As both Connor and front-page contributor James Stapleton have pointed out the great thing about Aldo's defense is that it is all-purpose, covering both strikes and takedowns. And it covers them really well.. Considering his level of competition and long tenure as champion, his aggregate numbers on striking and takedown defense make him probably the best defensive fighter we've ever seen. In addition to his pivots, he also possesses superb head movement (as does Mendes), shifting just out of the way to avoid strikes without compromising vision or his ability to counter. He exploits this to the fullest, and normally wins fights by winning rounds due to a small number of clean, hard shots landed, often on the counter.

So, with two defensive wizards, who gets broken first?

David: Mendes. Keep in mind, I don't think this fight will look anything like their first. But Aldo takes a lot of criticism for not finishing fights, which undercuts how dominant he still he is (as well as how resilient his opponents have been). For example, look at the Lamas fight. One, people underestimate Ricardo. He was coming off three big wins over Hioki, Swanson, and Koch. And he fought as intelligent a fight as you could against Aldo. And yet even Lamas' patience, and confidence weren't enough.

This tends to be where Aldo takes over: when his opponents are forced to play with the terms he dictates. It's not just that he's one of the best strikers in MMA. It's his economy of action. He plots every combination in advance, taking away any sense of rhythm for his opponent. Moreover, he violently capitalizes on opponent mistakes ala Mendes/Aldo 1 (with an assist from the fence of course). Just to be clear, I'm a big fan of Aldo. I think his brilliance gets lost in the kentucky fried, oreo dipping, halfwit discussions about who is better pound for pound (can MMA, for once, just proceed one thought at a time and appreciate its champions as rulers of their own universe?), and why he can't finish. In my estimation, he is the best MMA athlete (I don't think anyone comes close to looking as graceful in MMA's many different elements), and yet that athleticism is perfectly fused with a keen mind for violence. I'll grant that the two haven't combined to create scintillating finishes, not to mention, injuries and a young division have hampered his status (ok, inconsistent performances too), but he's a real student of the game.

Mendes, for all of his talents, isn't the specialist that must exist in order to take Aldo out. I don't underestimate Chad though. He's managed to really funnel that power in his fists into part of his general gameplan, rather than throw them as a default weapon when he can't secure a takedown. This is why he can win any fight in the division.

Phil: I tend to agree. With a pair of defense specialists, the question becomes: who has the better, safer, more reliable offense? More specifically, it comes down to who can open and close their attacks with more efficiency. Here I have to favour Aldo, as he has his crisp, ramrod jab to open combinations and his leg kick to close. Mendes has clearly trained himself to instinctively run single legs against leg kicks, but there are going to be times when he can't.

Insight from past fights?

Phil: The most obvious example is clearly their last showdown, specifically the infamous moment where Mendes had a rear bodylock on Aldo and attempted to slam him to the floor. Aldo reached out, tore a bunch of wires out of the fence with his bare hands, and then jammed them straight into Mendes' eyes. While Mendes staggered around, blinded, Aldo uprooted one of the cage posts and used it to bludgeon him unconscious. Can Aldo pull off that kind of egregious, fight-changing foul a second time?

David: I don't remember the uprooting the cage posts part. Then again, my memory tends to be hazy on this stuff.

Phil: All I really remember is the collective outrage. Given the sheer anger displayed, I'm probably downplaying the foul's severity.

David: Let's stick with the first fight because well...this is a rematch, after all.

Phil: Mendes was utterly desperate for the takedown first time around, which is what led to him being finished. Whether this was lack of confidence in his striking or a specific game plan to wear Aldo out, we'll never know. However, in the rematch I think we see a much more measured and confident performance.

My main issue is that while his takedowns are superlative, his top game is controlling rather than damaging, and Aldo is superb at scrambling to his feet. Mendes has added something of a Frankie Edgar 'flurry on the way up' wrinkle to his game, as well as the traditional Alpha Male chokes and headlock series in transitions, but his inability to do damage from guard may work against him as the fight goes deep.

X-Factors?

David: Aldo's health. Not only has he been injury prone outside of the cage, but inside as well. Aldo may be able to fight injured against the Mark Hominicks of the world but if he breaks his foot in round 2 or something, Mendes will win.

Phil: This is the big one. Just how injured Aldo really is has been floating around as MMA gossip for years now. Did he ever really recover from that bike accident? Has the changing of his style been to compensate for the fact that he is fundamentally reduced in ability? Did the UFC ask Conor McGregor cageside and get him to talk about Mendes because they thought Aldo might drop out? Did you hear that Candace and Jake from Home Ec. went ALL THE WAY? Like, omg.

This is kind of a bummer for Mendes. Even if he wins the fight, Aldo's injuries will be raised up as an incessant excuse, and Uninjured Aldo will pass into MMA myth along with Serious Anderson, Prime Cro Cop, Motivated BJ, Healthy Shogun and all the others as being fundamentally undefeatable.

Prognostication:

David: I think Aldo maintains his focus in front of his hometown crowd, and keeps it on the feet without taking one of Chad's hydrogen bombs. Jose Aldo by Decision.

Phil: This fight was intriguing the first time, and has only become better with Mendes's improvements. It is undoubtedly razor close, and is most likely the biggest test of Jose Aldo's career. Is it a test he passes? I'm excited to find out.Jose Aldo by decision.