Jose Aldo happy with UFC 251 performance despite loss, praises referee for ‘excellent job’

Jose Aldo (right) rules out a return to featherweight after dropping two in a row at 135. | Jeff Botari, Zuffa LLC

Stuck in Abu Dhabi for one week after a failed bid to claim another UFC belt, Jose Aldo had plenty of time to digest his fifth-round stoppage loss to Petr Yan. The Brazilian star had success early with his leg kicks, but Yan proved to be too much in the later rounds to claim vacant gold on July 11.

After returning home to Rio de Janeiro and preparing himself to resume training, Aldo spoke with MMA Fighting about what went wrong on Fight Island.

Despite his defeat, Aldo said, “It was a good fight. I liked my performance.” He used an extra week in the United Arab Emirates to sit down with coach Andre Pederneiras and write down everything they had to get better at – and plan their next move.

The former featherweight king hasn’t re-watched his UFC 251 bout with Yan. He said he rarely watches his own fights, or any other, really, because “it’s in the past and can’t be changed.” But Pederneiras and his other coaches know what needs to be fixed.

“Pretty much everything worked out,” Aldo said. “Everything we thought would happen in the fight happened. It was a very tough fight. We were basically tied going into the fifth round, but the main factors in the fight were a kick that landed on him and his punch that got me in the first and affected me. I thought it would be a tough fight, but I would be able to control it.

“We fought smart for two rounds. When I came back to the fourth, I don’t know why I changed my strategy again. I should have kept it, controlling the distance, but it’s his merit for imposing his rhythm, coming forward and controlling until the fifth. We thought about fighting [the way I did in round one], but he connected a good punch, and I went down and stayed there for a while trying to recover and couldn’t fight until the end.

“But, like I said, I’m very happy. I was able to land kicks, I was able to land punches. I think I should have done more combinations with my hands. I think it was a good performance regardless. I think it’s more of his merits for being able to neutralize some areas we had in mind than me not doing something.”

Yan was ahead on all three official scorecards going into the last round, and Aldo’s key to winning the second stanza was outstriking the Russian talent, working with kicks to the leg, body and head. Aldo knew that kicks would be an important factor in his strategy and added, “I haven’t fought that way in a while.” Unfortunately for him, Yan adjusted to avoid more of those attacks.

“I have strong kicks and he knows it, but he didn’t expect that — we kicked through him, he felt the leg, and that’s why he switched stances,” Aldo said. “We knew he would switch stances, but he checked a kick well once and I felt [my] foot. The fact that he kept putting pressure [on me], walking forward, made it hard for me to combine with kicks. If I had let my hands go more, I would have been able to kick more in the fourth and fifth rounds. I did a lot of combinations, kicking him in the body and legs. That was the path, to kick his body when he was on southpaw stance and hit his arms. I could have done that, but I’m very happy [with the fight].”

One of the biggest topics emerging from the championship contest was the stoppage. The official stats show Yan landed 62 of 68 significant strikes in just over three minutes in the final round, with Aldo connecting with just one shot of his own.

Referee Leon Roberts gave Aldo plenty of chances to recover, and was criticized by many for allowing the fight to continue, but the ex-champ agreed with the official’s performance.

“The referee was great, man – excellent work by the referee,” Aldo said. “It’s hard to think about stopping a title fight. If he stopped it early, everyone would talk about it. I wasn’t out at any moment. I went down and was trying to recover. Everyone who gets in there, or those who have been knocked down before, knows how the body reacts. You get slower, that’s a fact. Fighters who say it should have been stopped earlier are just kidding themselves. You get slower, you try to move, but it’s completely different.

“To me, the referee did an excellent job. Getting punched once or twice more won’t make any difference in your life. You’re willing to do it. What if the referee doesn’t stop it there, I recover and land a good one that knocks him out? Every referee goes to our locker room before the fight to go over the rules, and I always tell them to not stop the fight, only if I have no reaction. As long as I’m fighting, let me in there. It’s part of the sport.”

The Nova Uniao veteran, who turns 34 in September, has no plans of slowing down. But he’s in desperate need for a win after dropping three in a row for the first time as a professional MMA fighter. Even though his official record registers an 0-2 run as a bantamweight, he’s gone against two of the best 135-pounders in Yan and Marlon Moraes, and he’s “very happy” with his standing in the division.

“On paper I have two losses, but that’s life, man,” Aldo said. “We’re in a sport of highs and lows. It’s part of the sport. If I had retired when I was winning, cool, I would be one of those guys that people would be able to say, ‘You were the best,’ and whatnot, but, no, I keep fighting and aiming for great things. You aim big, you win big. It’s part of the sport. There are wins and losses.

“The performances I had against Marlon, where I did well and undoubtedly won the fight, even if the result says otherwise, and Petr Yan… he’s an up-and-comer, and nobody wants to fight the guy. But I volunteered to do it and put on an excellent performance. That’s the sport, you either win or lose. It’s time to get my head back in place, set a new strategy, get a new fight booked and win again. That’s what I have in mind right now. I don’t think about anything but a win. Get the confidence, climb in this weight class step by step. I can make the weight, and I’m well adapted to it with my body and speed.”

Aldo was already counting on a quick turnaround even if he came out victorious from UFC 251, and that hasn’t changed a bit. The former WEC and UFC featherweight titleholder plans on getting back in the gym next week and will start a new training camp in September, entering to the eight-sided cage again — in Abu Dhabi or Las Vegas — before the end of the year to “start a new history” in 2021.

“I’m an athlete,” Aldo said. “I’m a fighter. This is what I’ve chosen for my life. As long as I have this hunger to train and learn, to get out of my comfort zone, brother, I want to fight. That’s the goal. I’ll get back to training, do what ‘Dede’ and I are planning, and ask Dana (White) for a fight.”

As for the ideal opponent, whether he’s booked against someone ranked in the top of the division, or a fellow MMA legend, Aldo has no preference.

“This new generation keeps picking fights, but I train to fight anyone,” he said. “If you want to be a champion you have to fight the champion, or the worst guy in the division, it doesn’t matter. If you want to be the champion, you have to fight everyone.”

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