LAS VEGAS — At the moment of impact, José Aldo feared for his fighting future.
This was not the impact produced by a fist swathed in a four-ounce glove hammering a chin, or even by a bony shin smashing into a cheekbone. This was even more crushing than a cagefight. This was steel-on-steel, the sickening groan of two motor vehicles crashing into each other. An especially frightening factor was that the person who cut off Aldo on a Rio de Janeiro street that September day was driving a car, while the UFC featherweight champion was on a motorcycle.
Aldo had been out playing beach soccer and was driving home through the bustling Copacabana neighborhood. He was in the right lane when a car to his left suddenly cut in front of him to turn onto a side street. José tried to avoid a crash but couldn’t, and he distinctly remembers that the pain he felt in his right ankle as he fell from his bike was mixed with a twinge of anxiety over whether he’d just done permanent damage to his career as a mixed martial artist.
“That was my first thought,” the 26-year-old said through a translator on Thursday as he met with reporters two days before his title defense against Frankie Edgar in the main event of UFC 156 (Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, PPV). “But I soon got up, started jumping and kicking around. And I believed that I could fight.”
He could not.
That reality took a while to settle in, though. A week after the accident, Aldo returned to the Nova Uniao gym to resume training for a bout against Edgar that was scheduled for a month later. His scrapes and bruises were mostly healed, and while his ankle was still swollen, José was determined to push through the discomfort. But in his first sparring session, he was unable to plant on his right foot. That pain was followed by anguish: His head trainer, Andre Pederneiras, immediately called the UFC to postpone the fight.
This was not good news for promotion president Dana White. That same day he also lost the card’s co-main event when Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, citing an injury, pulled out of his scheduled bout with Glover Teixeira. Those light heavyweights eventually did fight on last weekend’s UFC on Fox 6 card, with Teixeira having his way with Jackson. And, of course, Aldo (21-1) and Edgar (15-3-1) have been successful at rescheduling their playdate, too.
But at the time Dana White was disconsolate. And while Harley Davidson is one of his company’s longtime sponsors, the UFC poobah let his feelings be known about Aldo’s chosen mode of transportation during the post-fight press conference at the reconstituted UFC 153. “José Aldo, I love you, man,” White said when his champion’s name was brought up. “But dude, you made a lot of money. You cheap bastard! Buy a car, all right, man?”
One wouldn’t think money would be an issue for a fighter whose most recent title defense was a pay-per-view main event, whose two previous fights in the UFC were co-mains and who headlined three cards in the WEC. Over the course of 11 fights — all wins — in the sister promotions, Aldo has won three Knockout of the Night bonuses and a Fight of the Night check as well. He couldn’t scrape together enough scratch to buy a used car?
Apparently not. On Thursday, after being reminded of White’s feelings about motorcycles as anything other than recreational vehicles, Aldo said, “I totally agree with Dana, but that’s what I had. I had to get around and couldn’t afford a car. I totally agree, but what could I do to move around?”
This might simply be a matter of a young man who is said to have grown up poor not feeling secure enough in his newfound prosperity to be comfortable spending money on himself. Whatever. We’ll set aside the economic conundrum and simply address what was lost. Time, for one thing. And home-field advantage.
UFC 153 was held in Rio, which also was the site of Aldo’s last fight, a full year ago. You might remember the scene. José finished Chad Mendes with a stunning knee to the face with one second remaining in the first round, then raced out of the octagon and into the crowd, where he celebrated with a high-spirited horde of hometown folks. Now, instead of getting to face Edgar down in Brazil, he must take on the former lightweight belt holder here in the Nevada desert.
Aldo professes to be not so disappointed. “It’s always a pleasure fighting for your home crowd,” he acknowledged. “But I grew up watching fights in Vegas. It’s a very exciting place to be. I love fighting in Vegas as well.”
So it comes down to a matter of the time that was lost in the career of a fighter who, with 14 consecutive victories, is on top of his game. Aldo has not fought for a year because, after disposing of Mendes and being scheduled for a July defense against Erik Koch, he had to postpone the fight until October because of an injury his camp did not specify. Then, when Koch was hurt in training for the new date, Edgar, who had just announced a move down from 155 pounds, was tabbed as the replacement challenger. That was followed by Aldo going all Evel Knievel on us, and his showdown with Frankie ? which the UFC is referring to as a “superfight” because it pits a champion against a recently (and narrowly) dethroned champ — had to be put off until this weekend.
As with the change of venue, Aldo says he is not frustrated by the delay. “I had a few injuries, but minor injuries,” he said. “They stopped me from going back to the gym just for a short period of time. And I kept myself very busy, training in all of this period.”
And when he’s gone to the gym for all of those training sessions, how does he get there? “A car,” he said with a smile. “A small one.”