RIO DE JANEIRO -- One second. That's how close Chad Mendes was to taking Jose Aldo into the second round. But a perfectly timed knee from the Brazilian put to rest Mendes' title aspirations and gave Aldo his first stoppage inside the UFC Octagon.
Aldo is a product of Nova Uniao, a powerhouse team based in Rio with one of the strongest Muay Thai pedigrees in the game. The team has two signature techniques that almost all its fighters regularly use -- one, a long, looping rear uppercut; and two, an equally long-range, rear-leg rising knee. These attacks come at a fighter in that blind spot under his forward hand, and it is this “unseen” factor that makes them so devastating. Aldo's attack came as he spun out of the clinch and as Mendes dropped in to clutch at the champion's legs.
Although a fantastic and powerful wrestler, Mendes got a taste of Aldo's amazing takedown defense from the get-go. Former lightweight title challenger Gray Maynard described Aldo as "nearly impossible" to take down during training sessions, and this proved true as Aldo danced away from Mendes throughout the first round.
And although we haven't seen much of it (because he so rarely has to rely on it), Aldo is a black belt in jiu-jitsu. His impeccable striking, fluid wrestling and advanced ground game make him a well-rounded champion. His 6 1/2-year unbeaten streak and 2 1/2-year reign as top dog in the featherweight division make him one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
If there's one thing that could get Aldo in trouble, it's his habit of diving into the crowd following a victory. His first UFC victory in front of his countrymen was obviously a special moment for him, and he chose to share it with them by running into the bleachers and disappearing into a sea of jubilant Cariocas. Security literally dragged him out of the melee and back into the cage.
Dana White seemed somewhat concerned by Aldo's excited state, although he needn't have worried. “I do not like Jose Aldo jumping into the crowd, it freaks me out, but this one was pretty impressive and I’m glad nobody got hurt,” he said.
For all the talk of potential soccer-related violence and security threats due to Aldo's position as a supporter of Flamengo (one of the main soccer teams in Rio), it was a party atmosphere shared by all Brazilians, despite Aldo's hoisting a Flamengo flag above his head shortly after returning from the crowd. “The crowd here is fantastic; the energy is fantastic,” White said. “It’s definitely one of, if not the, loudest crowds in the world.”
Belfort steps up while Johnson is out
Having missed weight by 12 pounds at the official weigh-in, Johnson weighed about 7 to 10 pounds more than Belfort come fight time, and his size and weight advantage helped him early. Flinging Belfort to the ground, he looked strong from top position. A series of helpful restarts from referee Dan Miragliotta had them back on their feet, though, where Johnson looked uncomfortably aware of Belfort's knockout power.
Johnson was uncharacteristically nervous and jerky in the stand-up, missing his kicks and telegraphing his takedowns. Belfort was patient and stuffed a number of desperate shots, taking Johnson's back as the former wrestler became increasingly fatigued. The Brazilian scored only his third submission victory in a 16-year professional career via a rear-naked choke with 11 seconds left in the first round. It was Belfort's first submission since 2001.
Missing weight is bad enough, and Johnson already was in the doghouse with the UFC brass for the "stupid" behavior that led to his coming in 12 pounds over. His woeful performance both leading up to and during the fight has put his UFC career on hold.
"This is the third time he's done it. Three strikes and you're out," White said at the postfight news conference.
White defends Yamasaki, Silva gets win bonus
One of the hottest topics of the evening was Joe Rogan's stand-off with referee Mario Yamasaki in the Octagon, moments after Yamasaki deemed Erick Silva's fight-finishing blows illegally landed behind his opponent’s head, handing the win to Carlo Prater. Rogan led the charge in condemning Yamasaki's decision, which was picked up by the media following the event.
The Brazilian media, possibly unaware of Brazilian-born Yamasaki's heritage, queried whether he was biased against Silva.
"Mario Yamasaki has made a lot of good decisions in his career, too; the guy made a decision, it was the wrong decision, but hey -- let's not put the lynch mob on Mario," White said.
Erick Silva won't be penalized by the UFC for his actions, though.
"We're going to treat him like he won the fight, meaning we’ll move him 'up,'" White said. “I don’t know what we can do about it. I was talking to Marc Ratner about it tonight; I’d like to get together and work out a way we can use an instant replay,” he added, saying that it would be more difficult to implement such methods with athletic commissions.
Silva will receive a win bonus from the promotion for his quick KO that officially stands as a DQ loss.