Why Jose Aldo is getting the title shot against Henry Cejudo

There is more to booking fights than who "earned" the fight.

On May 18th, 2013 Vitor Belfort spun and heel-kicked Luke Rockhold cold in Jaragua do Sul, Brazil. While Belfort’s subsequent championship run didn’t go as planned (and Rockhold’s did), it did set off a stretch of 6 consecutive early-summer events in Brazil, 5 of which have occurred in May. The Ultimate Fighter Brazil 3 finale between Stipe Miocic and Fabio Maldonado took place on May 31st, 2014. Carlos Condit fought Thiago Alves on May 30th, 2015 in Goiania. On May 14th, 2016 Miocic returned to Brazil to dethrone then-champion Fabricio Werdum on a stacked UFC 198 in Curitiba. Max Holloway unified the featherweight title against Jose Aldo on June 3rd, 2017 in Rio de Janerio. Last summer, Rio saw Rose Namajunas lose her strawweight title to Jessica Andrade on May 18th, 2019.

This morning, Combate reported that UFC matchmakers have nearly finalized a bantamweight title bout between Henry Cejudo and the former two-time featherweight king Jose Aldo for May 9th, 2020 in Sao Paulo. The MMA community erupts in righteous fury

News of the fight broke to the MMA community in the early hours on the eve of Conor McGregor’s return against Cowboy Cerrone, a fight whose very existence has already kicked a hive of bees among fans and journalists. Shaking with the excitement of fight-week after a 3 week layoff and fury over the controversies of both McGregor’s supposed immediate title shot against Khabib Nurmagomedov following a win on Saturday AND the confirmation of a middleweight title fight between Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero, the reaction to Jose Aldo’s fight have been universally and violently negative. Fans far and wide are crying sham, accusing the UFC of decline, favoritism and nonsensical matchmaking of fighters coming off loses. I’d like to argue the opposite.

I’d argue this fight is the only fight that makes sense.

Chewing at the door of UFC gold are Marlon Moraes, Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling. After the dismantling he took last June at UFC 238, Marlon Moraes is far from a title shot against the man who beat him, even with a split-decision win over Aldo. This leaves Yan and Sterling. Aljamain Sterling (18-3) has been recovering from an injury for a while now and would be ready by May. Since a nasty KO loss to Moraes, he has won 4 in a row against then-ranked fighters Brett Johns (15-0 at the time of defeat), Cody Stamann (17-1 at the time of defeat), Jimmie Rivera (22-2 at the time of defeat), and Pedro Munhoz (18-3 at the time of defeat and coming off a KO victory over former champion Cody Garbrandt). However, Sterling has yet to find that signature, marque win the way Yan has. Sterling may need that win before a title shot is on the horizon, though he certainly has made a case for it. Enter Petr Yan.

“No Mercy” (14-1), recently finished UFC Hall of Famed Uriah Faber (35-10 at the time of defeat) at UFC 245 and had previously defeated Jimmie Rivera (22-3 at the time of defeat), John Dodson (20-10 at the time of defeat) and Douglas Silva de Andrade (25-2 at the time of defeat), among other non-ranked fighters. The violent fashion of victory in December, his effective and entertaining style of brawls, and loyal fan-following have made a strong case for a title shot against Cejudo, who Yan had been repeatedly calling out for “ducking” him and picking “easy” fights. The stage seemed set for a glorious title fight in the spring; the former two-weight champion against the man deemed most deserving of a title shot by the MMA community.

But it is rarely about what people deserve, and rather, who is ready and when.

Let’s sit in the shoes of Dana White and UFC matchmaking for a moment. The UFC is following the aforementioned summer booking schedule in Brazil and needs a headliner. You look at the champions, the contenders, and who is available. You cannot host a Brazilian event, especially a PPV, without a Brazilian headliner. As of January, who could be ready by May 9th?

The men’s flyweight title is booked a couple of months beforehand, with Brazilian Deiveson Figueiredo opposite Joseph Benavidez. Men’s featherweight has no clear Brazilian challenger. Lightweight is booked soon beforehand. Welterweight has no Brazilian contender unless you run back a snoozer between Usman and Demian Maia. Middleweight is booked shortly beforehand, which, had Costa gotten the shot over Romero, would have been a fine headliner for UFC 250. A light-heavyweight title rematch between Jon Jones and Thiago Santos would be a possibility, but Jones would be looking at a short layover since his fight in February. The recently reintroduced Fabricio Werdum is not getting a title shot. Strawweight is out. Women’s flyweight is out. Amanda Nunes has no clear contenders at bantamweight or featherweight.

What is left, but men’s bantamweight? Who is left, but the lost king Jose Aldo, to sell out Sao Paulo and give Cejudo the fight of his life?

Jose Aldo (28-6), one of the greatest featherweight fighters of all time, is coming off two consecutive loses after a nearly-successful bantamweight debut against former title-challenger Marlon Moraes (23-6-1), a fight a large number of viewers (including Dana White) believed he won. Before this, Aldo dropped a unanimous decision to now-champion Alexander Volkanovski (21-1) following a two-fight finishing streak of Jeremy Stephens and Renato Moicano. MMA math dictates Jose Aldo, now the 9th ranked UFC bantamweight, does not deserve a title shot. The MMA community is crying foul and Petr Yan is hitting the bags a little harder. Would we be seeing the same reaction had Aldo defeated Moraes in December? I don’t believe we would.

Getting a UFC title shot in 2020 is most often a matter of circumstances, as Romero’s and Aldo’s bookings confirm. In a perfect world, yes, Yan would be fighting for gold, followed soon by Aljamain Sterling and perhaps Cory Sandhagen. However, these fights just don’t happen when they “should”. Could the brass book Cejudo against Yan or Sterling in Brazil with Aldo on the undercard? Absolutely not. Could brass book a strange women’s featherweight title between Amanda Nunes and Felicia Spencer? Not likely. Who else is there? What other viable, marketable option is there?

The situation with Aldo is ruthless pragmatism by the UFC, and nothing more. No favouritism, no leapfrogging your way to the top. And looking at the fight itself, who can’t get excited with the potential here? The two men have been at each other’s throats in the months since Cejudo’s bantamweight crowning last June; the pool-soaked, shirtless Cejudo calling out Aldo while surrounded by hired women. Aldo fired back, literally, in a video of assault rifles aimed at Cejudo’s likeness calling him “Snow White’s Security Guard”. The Triple-Champion will walk into Sao Paulo to oceans of “UH VAI MORRER” with Aldo, Scarface, King of Rio, emerging from the darkened tunnel like the prodigal son to steal the gold back. I’m shaking.

The day may come, someday, when meritocracy runs the UFC. The day may come when we have the perfect system in place and everyone fights who they ought to fight. But the fight game is fickle. Even with a perfect system, injuries still haunt us. PED testing still clears the field. Contracts are still disputed. We may have ended up with Aldo even if Yan had gotten the shot initially. You cannot hold the fight-game too accountable, and you cannot know what fight you will end up with if any until the octagon doors close. We should revel in the absurdity of this “sport” and enjoy Aldo while we still have him. This fight doesn’t make sense using fight math. The fight doesn’t make sense in fairness to other fighters.

It makes sense in every other way we love.


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