Mixed Martial Arts Legend and Two-Time UFC Champion José Aldo is Still the Hungry Kid From Brazil

The MMA icon returns to the cage live on ESPN this Saturday
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There are few names in the mixed martial arts world quite as revered as José Aldo.

The two-time UFC featherweight (145 lb.) champion and current bantamweight (135 lb.) contender is universally considered one of the top 10 MMA fighters of all time thanks to his six-and-a-half-year reign atop his division that saw him clear out an entire generation of challengers — often via decimating kicks and highlight-creating knees.

Even after losing the championship belt, the Brazilian fighter remains one of the greats. Aldo is still near the top of the UFC rankings while many his peers and opponents from over the years have faded from title contention or hung up their gloves. But perhaps the most impressive thing about the 35-year-old is that he’s still very clearly evolving his skills each time he steps into the cage. Following a loss in his first attempt at the bantamweight championship in July 2020, Aldo reinvented himself with a new penchant for boxing and a fresh mentality.

Now looking for his third consecutive big win in the past year — and to cement himself clearly back into the title picture — Aldo takes on fellow bantamweight contender Rob Font in the main event of Saturday’s (December 4) UFC on ESPN card. SPIN spoke with one of the MMA greats (with the UFC’s Brazilian publicist, Lilian Caparroz, serving as a translator) about his past, present, future, and surprising musical taste ahead of the fight.



SPIN: What can people expect from your fight with Rob Font this weekend?
José Aldo: I think all of the fans can expect a great fight we’re both very aggressive athletes we move forward so I think that they can they’re which will have the show that they want

You’ve literally been fighting the best of the best in your division — first featherweight and now bantamweight — since 2009. What keeps you motivated and able to compete at such a high level when so many of your peers have either fallen off or retired?
So, I have this dream of becoming the bantamweight champion and holding both of these two titles under my belt. I want to say that I was champion in two divisions. It’s a big dream, and I’m always motivated by it. What I want is just to make my legacy bigger, so I’m being motivated by all of that. That’s why I step into the octagon with these quality [opponents] every time.

When you first made a name for yourself in MMA, you were really still just a kid at 23 years old. What has it been like to grow up in the spotlight to where people recognize you now and consider you a legend of the sport?
I think that that’s all a result of the recognition of my work. I don’t see myself as a legend or celebrity. I still see myself as that kid. Now it’s just more difficult to walk down the street because people now recognize me. But I understand that people know who I am because of what I did in fighting.

Since SPIN is a music publication, what kind of music do you listen to during training camp?
[Laughs.] I actually get motivated by listening to heavy metal.

There’s been a lot of discussion over your last few fights about your improved boxing and how you rely on it more than you did early in your career. What inspired you to make the change?
I didn’t get the result that I expected from my previous for the title in the bantamweight division, so I understood from that fight that I needed to change something. I needed to get better and fill in the gaps [in my skills], so I started training my boxing better. I joined the [Brazilian Navy’s] boxing group and focused a lot on that just to make sure that improved.

Seeing as this fight is your first five-round main event that isn’t for a championship belt, did it feel any differently to prepare for this one?
I don’t see it that way. I think that it doesn’t matter if it’s three or five rounds. I see it as a step toward getting to where I want to be. It’s like fighting for the title — which would be a five-round fight — so I just see it that way.

For people who don’t know you super well or only know your legacy within the UFC, is there anything you would want them to know about you?
I just want people to know that I’m the same as I’ve always been. I’m the same kid that was born into poverty, and I’m just going after everything that I dreamed of. I worked really, really hard to get here, and I want to continue to do that. I don’t want people to think of me as José Aldo the legend, but as José Aldo the hungry kid.


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