Farewell to a Great Warrior: A Tribute to a Great Warrior

There are moments in our lives that stay with us forever. Sometimes they are sad, sometimes they are funny, or perhaps just unexpected, but when they happen, you know that you will never forget. For my fi rst column in FIGHT!, I want to tell you about one of those moments in my life, that took place inside the Octagon on Feb 4th 2007.

UFC 57 was headlined by the highly anticipated rubber match between Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture. On the under card was a fi ght between heavyweights Paul “The Headhunter” Buentello vs. Gilbert “El Peligro” Aldana. Paul Buentello was a fighter coming off a loss to then Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovski. Because of this loss, he had fallen from fighting main events to preliminary fights, and badly needed a win. Buentello was a tough as nails fighter who had a very smooth and accomplished stand-up game, and was also an adequately versed grappler on the ground. At this point in his career, Paul had approximately 30 fights. He was a seasoned veteran.

Gilbert Aldana on the other hand, had only five professional fi ghts in his career, with all of them taking place in the Arizonabased promotion “Rage in the Cage.” Gilbert had won all of his fights by knockout and was known for his ferocity and punching power. Because of his lack of experience, it seemed that Aldana was being used to rebuild Buentello after his loss to Arlovski. Nobody told this to Aldana, so he came into the fi ght full of determination.

But somewhere between the weigh-ins and the walk towards the octagon, it happened as it always does. Fighters coming into the UFC for the first time are always hit with the enormity of the show. It is flat out scary; there is nothing that can prepare you for it and Gilbert Aldana was no different.

When I entered Gilbert’s dressing room, his manager, Roland Sarria, was trying his best to inspire him, telling him that he was going to knock out Paul. As usual, I went over the rules, answered any questions he had (which were few), and advised him on what I would be doing given certain situations that could occur in the fight. I wanted him to understand what I would look for, and do before I stopped a fight. I could sense that the pressure of the whole event was starting to weigh on him. This was his chance: if he could beat Paul it would be huge for him, and he knew it. Just before leaving, I looked at him and said “Relax and go out and do what you do best. Think of it as a Rage in the Cage back in Arizona.” He smiled and thanked me.

Upon touching gloves, both fighters came out swinging for the fences. Paul opened up with a spinning back kick that Gilbert used to shove Paul into the fence, and from there the war was on. Power is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of heavyweight fighters; they generate an enormous amount of it. One shot in the right place could end the fight. When you are inside the cage with the fighters, you can actually feel the thud of a body shot. You can hear not only the smack of the punch or kick landing, but also the air coming out of the fighter’s body. It is what separates heavyweight fighters from lightweights in the minds of fans; the power to end the fi ght in a blink of an eye. On this night, the fighters were exchanging powerful, devastating blows.

Gilbert was definitely game. He was hit with some vicious uppercuts that stunned him, but he always fought back and at one point hit Paul with a right hand that put Paul on his back. Gilbert’s weakness, however, was his conditioning. Often fighters will come into a fight well-conditioned, but the nerves and anxiety associated with the big show quickly take their toll and put the fighter into a cardiovascular tumble.

It has been said that fatigue makes cowards out of all of us. That is usually a true statement, but not for Gilbert Aldana. He was tired from about the three-minute mark of the first round. From that point on he was fighting on pure heart and determination, but fight on he did.

By the start of the second round, it was clear that Gilbert was tired and Paul was not. Paul launched a spinning back kick followed with a left high kick to the head, then hit Gilbert with a couple of good shots followed by a low leg kick that sent Gilbert to the canvas. Paul jumped on him and from side control began raining down punches and elbows. He then attempted a keylock and moved into position for an armbar. Gilbert was hanging in there, but was too tired to form any type of offense.

Fighters often talk during fights. Sometimes it’s done in a serious fashion where one fighter says something about the other fighter, other times its to egg on the opponent or occasionally even joking, but it happens more than most people realize.

On that night in the cage Paul was beating Gilbert brutally, and while on top of him, he stopped for a brief second and said, “Hey man, just give it up.” It was Gilbert’s reply that, now, will be one of those moments in time that will stay with me forever.

“Never, you’ll have to kill me.”

Although he was fighting in front of millions of people on TV, only two people in the world heard him say that. It has always stuck with me.

Here was a guy who took this fight on short notice, did not have a lot of time to train or get himself into the kind of shape needed to handle such a fast paced melee. He was facing a very talented and experienced heavyweight fighter in Paul Buentello, who was now hammering away at him from the side mount position and he knew he wasn’t getting out of it. Too tired to protect himself, he still wouldn’t give up. I had to stop the fight. I stopped it because I needed to protect Gilbert from himself as much as I needed to protect him from Paul. No retreat, no surrender. Gilbert Aldana was a warrior, and in his mind warriors didn’t give up.

Gilbert Aldana died today, a victim of drowning. He jumped into cold water to retrieve a shirt that had gone overboard. It is believed that vertigo, coupled with the cold water, confused Gilbert and sapped him of his strength. A husband, father, and warrior was lost. Rest in peace, Gilbert. There is no doubt that you were a warrior on earth and you will forever be one in heaven.

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