September hasn't been kind to Jose Aldo, but things could be worse.
On the first of the month, a day after agreeing to fight Frankie Edgar in Rio de Janeiro, the UFC featherweight champion suffered scrapes and a swollen right foot when the motorcycle he operated was TKO’d by a car in Copacabana. He thought he could still fight Oct. 13. His team did too, and so it seemed the 25-year-old Brazilian would get off easy.
But then news came down Wednesday that that his rear leg hadn't improved. He couldn't plant on it, let alone kick. In fact, infection had set in. His ankle was worse than the foot, so he had no choice but to bow out. An unmitigated disaster in the midst of a terrible streak of injuries that propelled the cancellation of UFC 151 and that shuffled fight cards.
Aldo’s situation stood out, and not for any good reason. His wasn’t the result of a fluky misstep on a mat like Dan Henderson. Aldo made a decision to sit on a motorcycle, and the odds caught up to him.
To hear Aldo's trainer and manager tell it, though, the talented kid was fortunate.
"For sure he had a lot of luck in this case," Andre Pederneiras said.
Luck? He put down a bike and suffered an injury that ruined a highly sought-after matchup. How is that lucky? To Pederneiras, the answer is clear: Aldo isn't the next Will Ribeiro.
Four years after suffering debilitating injuries when his motorcycle was crunched on the street, Ribeiro’s career as a mixed martial artist is long gone. Aldo’s former teammate still fights, but in a much different context. He’s confined to his home, a third of his skull gone. The right side of his body is essentially lifeless, so he’s in a wheelchair all the time. He experiences minimal feeling and movement. He can’t see much of anything.
“I just stay in my house and wait to fix my injuries from the motorcycle accident,” Ribeiro said. “My wife is everything for me.”
Yes, Pederneiras is correct. Aldo is lucky. So very lucky. No one is bulletproof, not a young warrior king like Aldo, though he’ll sometimes carry on like he is. The tale of a stud athlete, a champion fighter, almost always mandates that Teflon sensibility to the day-in, day-out rigors of life.
“When I talked with him he said to me, ‘I will never drive a motorcycle again. I promise you.’ That's what Aldo said,” Pederneiras recalled. “But it’s like a son, when the son does something wrong and he promises to his father, ‘I will never do that again.’ If you’re asking me if I believe he won’t ride again, I need to say to you, I don't know.”
Unbelievable -- because Aldo knows Ribeiro; because the high price of messing up on a bike is now a tangible thing; because everything he’s so gifted at doing could be gone in a blink.
Beyond Ribeiro, it’s not like this sort of thing is unheard of. Frank Mir was a once-beaten UFC champion when his life was imperiled following a motorcycle accident. The hours and dedication it took Mir to return to fighting is incredible. The story has been told countless times. Mir’s never been the same. Aldo knows this; everyone around the UFC does.
Yet the fighter gets on a bike anyhow.
When Ribeiro first heard the news of Aldo’s accident, his immediate thought hung on a sense of sadness that his friend wouldn’t get the fight with Edgar like he wanted. It’s in these moments where clear differences between normal people and professional fighters are obvious. Oh, Ribeiro mustn’t worry; Aldo is the fortunate one, able to do what he loves again. Perhaps with a deeper sense of appreciation next time. And the knowledge that, despite the lofty words of fans and media, he’s a man prone to mistakes and their sometimes awful consequences.