Jose Aldo delivered a none-too-subtle reminder Saturday that despite three recent losses, he remains one of the elite fighters in the world.
Aldo had lost three of his last four, including his last two, and was given up for dead by many. But in a toe-to-toe slugfest Saturday with Jeremy Stephens at the Saddledome in Calgary, Aldo delivered a reminder of his historic championship run atop the UFC’s featherweight division from 2010 through 2015, stopping Stephens with a pair of pulverizing body shots at 4:19 of the first round.
It was vintage Aldo exchanging concussive punches with Stephens for the first four minutes before catching Stephens with a pair of shots to the body. Aldo landed a right and followed with a left hook he turned into, and Stephens turned, winced and fell to the canvas in a fetal position.
Aldo joined Zuffa, the company that owns the UFC, and fought for its World Extreme Cagefighting company because the UFC didn’t have featherweights. He won his first 15 fights in the WEC and UFC, and was rarely challenged.
In his last three, he was knocked out at UFC 194 in just 13 seconds by Conor McGregor on Dec. 12, 2015. He scored a five-round decision over Frankie Edgar at UFC 200, then lost a pair of championship fights, at UFC 212 and UFC 218, to Max Holloway.
Stephens entered the fight on a roll, having won three in a row, and believing he’d finish Aldo to make a statement and earn a title shot.
“Conor took his head, Max took his heart and I’m going to take his soul,” Stephens told Yahoo Sports before the fight. “Look at his face: It’s drooping. He’s been in a lot of wars. He’s been in a lot of fights. He’s got a lot of damage [from fights] but not only that, it’s also from the training camps that he’s had. I’ll get my chance to expose him and I’ll do exactly what I said.”
It wasn’t to be, though. Aldo didn’t look diminished a bit, and survived a brief moment of concern midway through the round when Stephens landed a pair of uppercuts that rocked him.
He’s been fighting since 2004 and the poise and patience he’s gained in those 14 years paid off. He slipped out of danger and went back to firing big shots at Stephens. It was the body shots, however, that did Stephens in.
Stephens wasn’t happy with the finish, but he was clearly in trouble and Aldo was in a dominant position.
It was reminiscent of his heyday, when he made nine consecutive successful defenses of his WEC/UFC featherweight crown. He alluded to that in the cage following the win.
“The champion is back,” Aldo said.
He has plenty of work yet to do, but on this night, at least, it was vintage Aldo. And that was not only more than enough to beat Stephens, it is likely enough to beat just about everyone at featherweight.
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