Lack of fire hurting Jose Aldo's status

February, 2, 2014
Feb 2
9:22
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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NEWARK, N.J. -- Dana White’s reaction to his company setting a new record for decisions on one card is about what you’d expect it to be.

Less than pleased.

Ten of the 12 fights at UFC 169 at the Prudential Center went the distance on Saturday. That’s the most decisions on any fight card the UFC has ever promoted.
[+] EnlargeJose Aldo
Ed Mulholland for ESPNJose Aldo's safety-first approach isn't sitting well with UFC president Dana White.

None of them seemed to irk White more than the co-main event, in which Jose Aldo defended his featherweight title for the sixth time against Ricardo Lamas in a one-sided decision judges unanimously scored 49-46.

It’s not that White was “upset” with Aldo’s performance, but he wasn’t blown away. And with all of Aldo’s talents, White expects to be blown away.

“The thing about Jose Aldo that drives me crazy is the kid has all the talent in the world,” White told ESPN.com. “He’s explosive, fast. He can do anything but he just lays back and doesn’t let anything go.

“When you talk about being the pound-for-pound best in the world, you can’t go five rounds with guys that it looks like you can defeat them in the second round. That’s what Aldo has a habit of doing.”

Maybe. Only lately, though.

Outside of the UFC, Aldo had a finishing rate of 78 percent in 18 professional wins. Inside the UFC, that figure drops to 33 percent. Why? Here are theories:

A. Better competition, obviously.

This is the theory Aldo (and other fighters who are accused of not finishing enough fights) typically turn to: There’s another fighter in the cage, after all. It’s not like that fighter wants to be finished. He’s fighting the best guys in the world, you know.

“My opponents study me a lot now and they know my game and my strategy,” Aldo said. “I try to reinvent myself before every fight.

“If it were up to me, I would end every fight with one punch. The problem is, I have an opponent. He worked very hard for me and he wants to beat me.”

There are shades of truth to this theory, no question. Aldo is fighting better competition now than he was at Meca World Vale Tudo in July 2005. You can defend this theory -- but it also doesn't feel like the full story.

B. The Mark Hominick fight changed things.
[+] EnlargeMark Hominick
Ric Fogel for ESPNFading down the stretch against Mark Hominick, top, might have had a lasting effect on Jose Aldo.

It is accurate to say Aldo’s finishing rate since he joined the UFC is 33 percent. It’s also accurate to say his finishing rate is 33 percent starting with the Mark Hominick fight in April 2011, because that was his UFC debut.

The Hominick fight is a significant one in Aldo’s career. Something weird happened. He tanked, badly, in the final round. After creating an infant-sized hematoma on Hominick’s forehead, Aldo spent the final round on his back absorbing damage.

Of course, everyone wanted to understand why. The most popular theory was that a nasty weight cut in Montreal was to blame. It made perfect sense.

Since that “loss” in Round 5 at UFC 129, one could argue there’s been a visible change in the way Aldo fights. It’s still violent, explosive and dominant -- but it appears, oftentimes, to be more calculated and definitely more paced.

Everyone likes to say Georges St-Pierre never fought the same after Matt Serra knocked him out in 2007. Maybe Aldo, in a similar way, took a lesson from one bad round against Hominick. He doesn’t want to run out of gas again, so he paces himself.

C. This works as more of a subhead to Theory B: He’ll be different at lightweight.

At lightweight, Aldo will no longer be forced to endure a weight cut that, I can only imagine, has become more strenuous as he gets older.

Combat athletes tend to move up in weight as their careers progress, not down. There’s a reason for that. They are naturally heavier approaching the age of 30 than they are at age 22.

There is a likelihood Aldo will fight different at 155 pounds. He fights “big” as a featherweight, whereas at lightweight, I could see him fighting smaller, upping his volume and general movement.

Prior to the UFC, Aldo landed an average of 4.88 strikes per minute in the WEC. In the UFC, he averages 2.57. Is that change indicative of better competition or Aldo’s desire to pace himself?

Ultimately, it probably doesn’t matter to Aldo as long as he continues to win. Should he take on and defeat Anthony Pettis for the UFC lightweight title, Aldo would become just the third fighter to win UFC titles in multiple weight classes. That kind of accomplishment speaks for itself.

But White made a valid point on Saturday. When it comes to determining the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, where the difference between Nos. 1 and 2 are minuscule, finishes matter. And Aldo isn’t finishing fights like he used to.

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