Pep Talk: Aldo Erases Doubts

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After watching WEC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo dominate heavily favored Mike Brown at WEC 44 just over five months ago, it was hard not to become a prisoner of the moment and say that he was heads and tails above any other 145-pound fighter in the world. But I fought the urge when I wrote the post-fight piece for that event because of one man – Urijah Faber. Given the former champ’s speed, experience, athleticism and skill set, I wrote that if, and it was a big if, anyone could give Aldo a run for his money, Faber was that guy. After watching the dominant performance Aldo put on in the main event of the WEC’s first ever Pay Per View event, there’s no reason to hold back.

The distance between Jose Aldo and the rest of the Featherweight division is something along the lines of the Grand Canyon. Yes, he is that good, and there’s a great chance that he is the best pound for pound fighter in the world. With the recent loss of BJ Penn and less than stellar performances of Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre and Lyoto Machida in their most recent outings, he has to be in the conversation for the top spot.

Urijah held his own in the first round against the champ, trying to find his range against the longer opponent. Jose landed the more significant blows of the round, however, including several leg kicks that would set a pattern in place that would dictate the outcome of the fight. The real pain came in the second round. Aldo started to land those leg kicks to Urijah’s front leg with greater force and frequency to the point that he was noticeably having trouble putting pressure on it. By the third round, Urijah became a sitting duck for Aldo’s striking as his trademark mobility and speed were all but gone. He hit the mat several times from the combination of Aldo’s precision leg kicks and a front leg that just didn’t have much strength left in it. In the fourth, after another leg kick knockdown, Jose followed Urijah to the ground, had his back while working for a choke and then put Faber in crucifix where he delivered approximately 90 punches and elbows to his defenseless head. None were big shots, which allowed Faber to make it to the end of what should have been a 10-8 round to any judge not in need of Lasik surgery. Aldo played it rather safe in the fifth round as Urijah did his best on one leg to make it to the end of the fight.

For his part, Faber showed the incredible heart and never-say-die spirit that makes him a superstar and one of the most popular fighters in all of mixed martial arts. We’ve now seen him fight with two broken hands against one champion and try to hang with the best 145 pound fighter on one leg for almost four rounds. Many will criticize his game plan, saying that he should have tried to use his wrestling to take Aldo down. This wasn’t an issue of Urijah not executing but Aldo not allowing it. Faber had trouble with Aldo’s length and the off-the-chart Muay Thai clinic he put on took the California Kid’s legs away from him somewhere in the second round. Regardless of how talented Urijah is, no one is taking down a guy who Mike Brown couldn’t get to the mat with a double leg locked in against the cage when they can’t put pressure on their lead leg.

What can you say about Aldo? Many, myself included, thought Faber would be the one to answer the questions of how he would respond to getting hit on the button and put on his back. Even though Faber failed to do either, maybe that is the answer. Maybe Aldo is so good that while seven WEC fighters have tried to do all those things to him, he has just said “No”. He was Fight Magazine’s 2009 Fighter of the Year. Don’t be surprised if he is everyone’s Pound for Pound Best in the World when we put the wraps on 2010.

Ben Henderson retained his WEC Lightweight belt by submitting Cowboy Cerrone with a beautiful guillotine choke in the first round. Henderson put Cerrone up against the cage and nailed him with several knees to the head before taking him down. After some brief ground and pound, Henderson quickly locked on to the Cowboy’s neck and had him tapping seconds later. While their first meeting was a 25-minute war that topped some Fight of the Year lists, it only took 1:57 for Ben to score his third guillotine submission and remain undefeated in the WEC with wins over Cowboy (twice), Jamie Varner, Anthony Njokuani and Shane Roller. He also earned a cool check for 65K for Submission of the Night. If Kamal Shalorus is able to defeat Varner at WEC 49, expect him to get the next shot while Varner could lock up with Cowboy in what should be a heavily promoted grudge match.

Closing Shots

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(I guess they’re not all bums over Strikeforce, eh, Dana?)

• It wasn’t quite Serra/GSP I, but according to the sports books it was pretty damn close. Former champ Mike Brown was listed as a -600 favorite on the basis that he was a bigger, better version of his opponent, Manny Gamburyan. Apparently not. A Gamburyan right counter was good enough to floor Brown and allow Manny to finish with hammerfists for the TKO and Knockout of the Night. Smart money says Manny will get a shot at testing his newfound counterstriking against Aldo.

• Who knows if Joe Rogan is right and it was Fight of the Decade, but it sure as hell was the best Fight of the Night and 2010 so far. For those tired of watching Leonard Garcia and Roger Huerta reruns, Leonard has a new hit out called Garcia vs. Chan Sung Jung. Maybe the craziest fight I’ve ever seen and a complete slugfest that had the crowd going crazy then booing a split decision in favor of the Bad Boy over the Korean Zombie. Both left Sacramento with broken hands and 65 grand.

• Anthony Njokuani vs. Shane Roller was a classic striker vs. grappler matchup. Score a shutout for the grappler in this one. Roller took Njokuani down in the opening moments of the fight, never let him up and patiently worked for the fight ending rear naked choke. Will Roller get a rematch with Henderson for the belt? That guy you hear screaming and cheering for Varner at WEC 49 might just be Roller.

• Scott Jorgensen avenged the last loss on his record when he brutalized Antonio Banuelos for the last two rounds of their fight after dropping the first. That’s four in a row for “Young Guns” and official entry into the Bantamweight title picture.

• Anthony “Showtime” Pettis has superstar written all over him. Dynamic striking and aggressive, top-notch submission skills. Just ask Alex Karalexis who got triangled in the second round after losing the striking exchanges in the first. It’s time for the 155 pounder to get a shot at a big name opponent his next time out.

• Chad Mendes and Mike Brown have something in common. They’ve both devoured some “Cheesesteak” in the form of Anthony Morrison by choking him out in the first round. Mendes looked fantastic in this fight, showcasing his elite wrestling by taking Morrison down early in the round and smoothly transitioning to a deep guillotine choke. As the saying goes, “That’s a wrap, son” as Chad gave people a glimpse into why he has been so highly spoken about by those in the know and why AMP Energy signed the relative unknown to a contract.

• Dana White should be ecstatic tonight as the stench of UFC 112 got washed away by an amazing card from top to bottom. Anyone who bought the WEC’s first PPV was treated to ten fights (with the Spike prelims) and amazing action, finishes and fighters who showed what makes MMA great. He might also be ecstatic because he appears poised and ready to sign Jake Shields. The two were sitting cageside as Dana mouthed the words, “He’s mine” to the camera. I know the thought of reading a TUF 12 GSP vs. Shields announcement and an immediate title shot for Shields has me smiling already.

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