Tim Caplan – News Editor
The last time the “King of Rio” Jose Aldo Jr. fought in his beloved home country of Brazil, he was knocked out in the third round in front of thousands of his fellow Brazilians by current featherweight (145 lbs.) champion Max “Blessed” Holloway at UFC 212. Aldo lost his world championship belt for the second time that night, by knockout, the same way in which he lost his belt a year and a half earlier to Conor Mcgregor at UFC 194 in Las Vegas.
Jose Aldo held the featherweight since the UFC introduced the weight class in 2011 and defended it seven times against the best the sport had to offer at that weight. After Aldo’s final title defense against Chad Mendes at UFC 179 in 2014 he went 1-3 in his next four fights, losing all three by knockout.
Saturday night gave Aldo an opportunity at redemption in front of his home crowd for the first time since losing to “Blessed.” UFC Fight Night 144 was held in Fortaleza, Brazil at the Centro de Formação Olímpica do Nordeste. The main event was a rematch between the number two and three ranked fighters at 135 pounds, Rafael Assuncao and Marlon Moraes, both native Brazilians.
Many fans and media alike believed Aldo’s best days were behind him. Even after an electrifying body shot knockout against perennial featherweight contender and hard-nosed veteran Jeremy Stephens in August, Aldo was still expected to fall to the up and coming Brazilian star Renato Moicano. Moicano was the perfect pick for UFC matchmakers to face off against the style of Aldo. Moicano is smart, lanky, and held wins over Jeremy Stephens and number seven ranked contender Cub Swanson, with his only loss out of 14 professional fights coming by way of split decision to number one ranked featherweight Brian Ortega. Moicano had six submission victories leading into the fight with Aldo, all by rear naked choke. Aldo had an uphill battle to come out on top in a fight in which he was a -130 betting underdog.
The fight started off slow, with Moicano searching for an opening to land a left high kick and Aldo utilizing his patented head movement and leg kicks to keep the pace of the fight slow. Aldo seemed to have trouble closing the distance in the first round as Moicano popped his jab steadily in the face of Aldo.
The second round was just 29 seconds in when Aldo landed a looping left hook that stunned Moicano, and followed up with a vicious knee and upper cut which caused the referee to stop the fight and Aldo, per usual, ran into the stands to be with his countrymen.
The King of Rio had made his triumphant return, even amidst rumors of his retirement looming. Aldo has stated that he wants to fight three times in 2019 before hanging up his gloves for good.
Saturday night was a great night for the natives of Brazil, as veteran grappling specialists Charles Oliveira and Demian Maia won by second and first round submissions, but the real surprise came in the main event, a rematch between the two top bantamweight contenders, the winner of which would likely receive the next title shot.
Moraes wasted no time as he came out swinging and floored Assuncao with a brutal series of overhand rights before finishing the fight by guillotine choke at 3:17 of round one.
Moraes has established himself as the clear number one contender, calling out champion T.J Dillashaw in his post-fight speech.
A Dillashaw-Moraes will most likely be in the works for a fight between the middle and end of this year, if Dillashaw chooses not to rematch 125 pound champion Henry “The Messenger” Cejudo.
The next UFC event will be a pay-per-view event for the middleweight(185 lbs.) championship at UFC 234: Whittaker vs. Gastelum