With MMA retirement looming, Jose Aldo talks UFC on FOX 30, title hopes, legacy and Max Holloway

After Jose Aldo is done with his UFC on FOX 30 meeting with Jeremy Stephens on Saturday, he’ll have three fights left on his UFC contract.

And he’s not planning on renewing it.

In fact, as Aldo (26-4 MMA, 8-3 UFC) told Brazilian show “Revista Combate” earlier this week, he might not fulfill the contract. Aldo reiterated his retirement plans on Wednesday during an online chat with Brazilian media, when asked whether he’d consider a new contract in case he doesn’t reclaim the featherweight title before the current one expires.

“I don’t think so,” Aldo said. “It doesn’t cross my mind to renew my contract after that.”

At 31, Aldo is hardly one of the oldest fighters on the UFC roster. Still, this news isn’t exactly shocking, as he’d long thrown around the word “retirement” and talked about how he’d been taking the proper steps to make sure his MMA career didn’t stretch on for too long. Recent events in his division, it turns out, help explain why.

Max Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC) recently had to pull out of a scheduled title fight with Brian Ortega after having concussion-like symptoms. As per his most recent update, Holloway and his doctors are still trying to “figure this out,” and the 26-year-old champ’s future remains unclear.

Asked whether he was afraid of having that type of situation happen to him, Aldo answered affirmatively.

“I think that’s why it’s the right time to stop,” Aldo said. “We (want to) make this contract count. We have this in mind. First, the goal is to win the belt and then we’ll think about this. But, of course, I think not only me, but every athlete has this fear. Health comes first, so we have to take precautions in order to keep it from happening.”

As for the time he has left, Aldo made it abundantly clear that he’s focused on two things: First, taking out Stephens in what will be the Brazilian ex-champ’s first non-title fight in nine years. Then, it’s on to re-claiming the belt he’d held for so long – a path that Aldo admits “might be easier” with Holloway’s current absence, though the former champion won’t speculate much.

“Holloway is going through this problem, and we don’t know when he’ll be back, or if he’ll be back, so it’s hard to talk about it,” Aldo said.

If it doesn’t happen, though, the former UFC and WEC champion says he’ll leave the sport with a sense of mission accomplished.

“I’m training a lot, more and more, in order to get there,” Aldo said. “But if it doesn’t happen, I think I do. I think I will leave a good legacy to the athletes that are coming in. I think there are new people, be it at featherweight, bantamweight, lightweight, other divisions, who are inspired by the legacy I’m leaving behind. So I’m very happy with that. I see that newer people still look up to my story.”

For more of Aldo’s thoughts on the time he has left and the path to the title, as well as considerations on fellow UFC fighters Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov, check out highlights from the full chat with Brazilian reporters below:

Before the rematch with Holloway, you said you’d be back to using your kicks and your jiu-jitsu. You even competed in jiu-jitsu, but only used boxing during the fight. This time, you said you’ll use the kicks and jiu-jitsu again. What’s the difference?

The difference is that it depends on the fight and how it unfolds. This time we’ve trained hard, too, both jiu-jitsu and kickboxing. I want to utilize my legs a lots. Of course, I’ve been training that a lot, but it all depends on the fight. Holloway did a game that wouldn’t allow me to kick. But now we’re coming in with new techniques that will allow us to kick a lot.

With the current Holloway situation, how do you see yourself in the division? With a win over Stephens, do you see a possibility of fighting Brian Ortega for an interim title?

First, I need to win on Saturday. My main goal now is to win Saturday. Then, with a win, I think I have a big opportunity ahead maybe, who knows, in the future fighting Ortega for the interim belt. But it’s a very delicate situation. Holloway is going through this problem, and we don’t know when he’ll be back, or if he’ll be back, so it’s hard to talk about it.

You said in a recent interview that you intend to fight for the belt and, if you win, close out your career. But if you don’t take the belt, do you plan on renewing your contract until you get it? And is it more motivating that the path is easier now that Holloway has been away?

The path might be easier. (But) we need to focus on this fight. The first step is winning on Saturday and then we’ll see about the future, whether there’s a title shot or not. But, no, I don’t think so. It doesn’t cross my mind to renew my contract after that.

Holloway was removed from the fight with Ortega because of concussion-like symptoms and he’s only 26. You’ve had 30 fights. You’ve been in many battles. Do you have any fears about your health in the future?

I think that’s why it’s the right time to stop. We (want to) make this contract count. We have this in mind: First, the goal is to win the belt and then we’ll think about this. But, of course, I think not only me, but every athlete has this fear. Health comes first, so we have to take precautions in order to keep it from happening.

How do you want to be remembered by fans when you retire from MMA?

I think, when I stop, I (want to be) remembered as a guy who had a dream and managed to win his battles. I hope my story can help new athletes and regular people, too, so they can work hard, not walking over anyone, and still make it in life.

Are you afraid that the loss to Conor McGregor is what ends up sticking after you’re done fighting, instead of the glory years you’ve had in this sport?

Never. If you look at it, no one ever even talks about it. I think the only people that talk about it are the Brazilians, sometimes. But nowhere – I think, even here, people still treat me as a champion. They still call me champion. I think it was such a quick thing that happened, and it’s in no one’s memory. I think it didn’t stick – also because, if you look at it, (McGregor) doesn’t talk about it. He doesn’t talk about anything. And, when he did, he always said good things. So there’s no reason why a loss would taint what was a great career.

Conor McGregor is facing charges for the incident with the van, and the UFC isn’t talking about the case. What punishment do you think he should be given?

It’s very hard to talk about punishment and these things. I don’t know what the guy was thinking when he did that. I think it was very harmful, I think it also hurts the UFC’s image. But I think he needs to respond to that in the justice system. They will take care of it. I’m not the one to talk about punishments or penalties. If he made a mistake, he needs to pay for his mistake.

You ran into Khabib Nurmagomedov recently. How do you think a fight between him and Conor would go?

I think Khabib is living a great moment. He’s a tough fight for whomever faces him. I think the only one who can have more of a chance with Khabib, who can bother him, is (Tony) Ferguson. Other than him, I don’t see anyone beating him.

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What’s the difference between training for a three-round fight and not a five-round one?

The difference is in – not that we train less, but we plan to do a lot less, because a fight that’s two rounds shorter also means 10 less minutes less. But the preparation is always the same. I try to prepare myself the best way possible. Not much changes. For me, it’s practically the same. I’m always ready for a war. So there’s no training less, slowing down. The difference was mostly in the sparring, because, as I was starting to warm up, it was over. So I tried to give it my all in the three first rounds, because I knew I only had those. 

How was it, meeting Khabib? Did you train together?

There’s no way. I’m here all skinny, cutting weight. The guy is strong. But we trained around the same time, he was helping his training partner and, shortly after, we took pictures and exchanged a few words. I have a lot of regard for not only Khabib, but the Russian people, because they’ve always sent me messages of support. To this day, they invade my social media with support messages and saying they love me. When I was in Russia, I got to feel that first-hand. Yesterday, it was the first time I got to be closer to him and talk to him.

You’ve talked about moving up to lightweight a few times. Is that still a possibility?

It’s a very distant possibility, because I have to try to re-claim the belt and then do these big fights. That’s the idea, but it’s not in my head right now. I need to get back to winning the title and then I’ll think about moving up. I’m staying at featherweight for now. 

June marked one year since you haven’t had the belt. For a guy who’d been champion for so long, was that hard?

I didn’t even know that (it’d been one year). For me – of course, the belt being there, symbolically, makes a difference. But it didn’t even go through my head. What I think about is winning again and then, getting back on the winning path, we can think about a new title shot. But, for me, nothing changed. It’s the same. I think the love from the fans only grew bigger, so I don’t see a difference – whether it’s one year or however long it is.

You’ve talked about the end of your contract, but also say you’re motivated for this. Is it hard, staying motivated when you have a contract to complete?

No, I think it’s even easier. Because you know you’re getting near the end so you have to give it your all. Because you don’t want to leave on a low note, you want to come out on top. It’s a lot easier to see the end of the tunnel and work harder because the end is coming. When you’re starting out, there’s an euphoria and all, but not for me – it’s the same. I dream of being champion and I dream of leaving as a champion, that’s my biggest motivation.

What was  the biggest difficulty in your career?

There were lots of difficulties early in my career. Leaving (home city) Manaus, living in the gym, too. There were many, it’s hard to point out the biggest obstacle I had to overcome. But with every obstacle, I knew I was on the right path. It didn’t matter how hard it was, but the way I found to overcome it. I think that’s what sticks. There will always be difficulties, not only in my life but in everyone else’s. As you go through them, you show that you’re working and doing the right thing.

Is there anything you would have done differently, looking back? Is there a fight you wish you’d done but didn’t?

I think I wouldn’t have done anything differently. The only thing that was missing for me, let’s say, is testing myself in the upper division, fighting – like it’s normal these days. Back when I was champion, there wasn’t really this thing of being able to do super fights in the upper division. That’s not how the UFC used to go. So maybe that was missing. But it can happen in the near future. Now, it’s a lot more open, it’s much easier to challenge a guy in a different division and for them to say yes. 

What’s your opinion on Brock Lesnar being back and what went down with him and Daniel Cormier after UFC 226?

It’s like I said in the previous answer. The easier thing now is to promote fights and make as much money as possible. I think that’s the main reason. If you look at it, it was kind of a theatrical thing, Cormier got pushed and he kept smiling. He knows that’s a money fight. Cormier is nearing the end of his career and he wants to do that. The more money can make, the better.

Do you intend to keep competing in jiu-jitsu after you’re done with MMA?

I think so. I think that’ll keep me active. It will be nice. With jiu-jitsu – whenever I’m done with a fight, I put on my gi and train. So yes, I think that’s very possible, to get back to competing in jiu-jitsu. There’s where I came from, so I’d like to stay in these competitions I enjoy.

Brazil only has two champions currently. How do you see Brazil in the UFC today?

For me, that’s normal. It’s a transition period. When I arrived, too, there was only Anderson (Silva). Then, came Junior Cigano, myself, Shogun, Barao. It’s a transition. There will be new generations. We’re seeing evolution; (Paulo Costa) is getting close. There are great athletes who can take belts in the future. 

We know Brazilians can be a little ungrateful toward their idols. Did you feel a difference in the way you were treated, now and then, when it comes to sponsors?

I think nowadays, because of my history, there’s a lot of love and respect from people for my image. But with sponsors, yes, it changes. When you’re a champion, there’s more visibility. And when you lose you’re practically – I won’t say disposable, but you’re more left to the side.

What’s your main motivation to keep fighting?

Winning. Winning and conquering the belt. I think that, for me, is the biggest motivation. I’m very proud when it comes to wins. I don’t accept losses and I’m always trying to get better to look for (wins). Once I lose that flame, it’s time to stop.

If you end up not re-claiming the belt before retiring, do you leave the sport with a sense of mission accomplished?

I’m training harder, more and more, in order to get there. But if it doesn’t happen, I think I do. I think I will leave a good legacy to the athletes that are coming in. I think there are new people, be it at featherweight, bantamweight, lightweight, other divisions, who are inspired by the legacy I’m leaving behind. So I’m very happy with that. I see that newer people still look up to my story.

For more on UFC on FOX 30, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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