It looks like José Aldo’s time in the Octagon has come to an end.
MMA Fighting reported earlier this week that the legendary featherweight and bantamweight fighter had negotiated his release from the UFC with one fight left of his contract. He is now free to pursue other combat sport opportunities. This includes a potential professional boxing career, which he has expressed some interest in lately. But it does mean that his current career is coming to a close. José Aldo has retired from MMA.
While we are excited to see what’s next for such an intriguing and inspiring fighter, we’d also like to take a moment to celebrate what he’s already done. So, in honor of Aldo’s retirement, let’s take a look back and his storied and decorated mixed martial arts career.
In The Beginning
Born and raised in Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil, José Aldo da Silva Oliveira Júnior showed a love — and aptitude — for sports early in life. He seemed to excel at everything he tried, but his opportunities to play were sometimes limited by his family’s financial situation. His family’s budget for extracurriculars was limited and the young Aldo often helped his father with work, which left him with less free time for training than some others.
In the time he was able to dedicate to athletics, though, he excelled. One of the things he tried during this period in his life was a capoeira class. He was good at it, but the cost soon became a problem. But a new martial arts opportunity soon entered his life: Manaus jiu-jitsu hero Marcio Pontes had opened a gym, and he wanted to give local poor kids a chance. He offered the young Aldo free lessons and a free gi.
Aldo embraced the opportunity. And he soon found some other benefits to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, too. “I wanted to train jiu-jitsu instead of capoeira because the mat was soft,” Aldo told MMA Fighting in 2015. “It was better than training capoeira on the hard floor. I started reading jiu-jitsu magazines, reading about the world champions, and becoming one of them became my goal.”
Within a few months, Aldo was competing in — and winning — BJJ tournaments. When he turned 17, he made the decision to move to Rio de Janeiro to pursue a career in MMA.
Early MMA Success
Although life outside of martial arts remained hard — the teenager spent a period of time sleeping on the mats of his first gym in Rio before moving in with members of his training family — “Junior” José Aldo’s professional MMA career was an instant success. On August 10, 2004, the featherweight competitor won his first professional fight via knockout in 18 seconds. He was still just 17 years old at the time. This was the start of an undefeated streak that would last for another six fights.
In the fall of 2005, though, Aldo suffered a loss that made him question his entire career. The bout itself wasn’t necessarily an issue, but the circumstances around it. It’s sometimes hard to remember this in today’s MMA climate, with all of the promotions and weight classes we can enjoy, but the future wasn’t always so bright for featherweights. Fighters who were Aldo’s size often had to fight in bigger divisions to try to advance their careers. Which is exactly what Aldo did when he stepped up to the lightweight division on November 26, 2005. And he’d lost. For a while, he didn’t know what was next.
“We had few opportunities to fight at 145 pounds,” his wife, Vivianne Aldo, told MMA Fighting. “We considered moving up to lightweight so he could fight in the UFC. He said, ‘I will never make money (as a featherweight). I’ll move up and try going to the UFC,’ but there was a long list of fighters at Nova Uniao waiting for a chance. ‘It might take a while before you get there,’ they told him. He tried going to Japan, but it didn’t work either.”
Returning, Rebuilding, And Reaching New Heights
Aldo eventually tried — and won — a few more fights at featherweight in Brazil before realizing his dream of going to Japan, where he defeated Shoji Maruyama via unanimous decision at Pancrase: 2007 Neo-Blood Tournament Finals in July 2007. And then the WEC came calling.
World Extreme Cagefighting provided Aldo with an opportunity that he’d thought was impossible only a few years earlier: a chance to fight and to earn money as a featherweight. And he ran with it. In his debut match for the promotion, he scored a technical knockout against the esteemed Alexandre Franca Nogueira at WEC 34. It was the beginning of an undefeated streak that would last for the rest of the promotion’s history. That streak included multiple Knockout of the Night nods and victories over the biggest names in the division, like Cub Swanson, and Urijah Faber, whom he defeated for the WEC Featherweight Championship at WEC 44 on November 18, 2009. He held the belt for the rest of WEC’s existence.
In addition to the platform that WEC gave Aldo to put on some of the most exciting fights in featherweight — and MMA — history, it also gave him an opportunity to be able to support his family after a lifetime of hardships. The fighter spoke a little about that in an emotional interview with Yahoo Sports before WEC 44.
When the WEC was absorbed into the UFC in 2010, Aldo’s WEC Championship became the UFC Featherweight Championship, which he would continue to defend for four years. He also had another brief run with the belt in 2016.
Aldo’s time in the UFC had highs and lows. He put on a number of fights that made him one of the most interesting and dominant fighters in all of MMA. He also had a chance to test himself in other weight classes on his own terms and even competed for the UFC Bantamweight Championship. But he also struggled with injuries and suffered some high profile losses, including the infamous TKO loss to Conor McGregor in 2015.
The lows weren’t enough to stop him, though, or tarnish his legacy. Aldo retired with an impressive 31-8 record, with multiple championships, and fight and knockout of the night awards. And he broke so much ground for the featherweight division that the next Aldos will never have to wonder if there’s a place for them in the MMA world.
Wherever he does next, he’s already a legend.