Those of you who read my mixed martial arts writing—the use of the plural there might be overly optimistic—know that I lean toward the larger fighters. There's a bit of a personal bias at work because I'd be a light heavyweight or a big middleweight, but it's also an issue of drama.
For all the action the smaller guys pack into their five-minute rounds, most lightweights and smaller seem to lack that knockout power that can end a bout in a painful nanosecond.
Additionally, as much as I appreciate grappling and submission experts, it's the fist of Damocles hanging over clashes between the bigger brawlers that really sucks the air out of the arena and creates that euphoric tension of a memorable fight.
Two elite Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners can put on an absurd show of dexterity and technical nuance, but nothing brings a crowd to its feet like an unexpected thunderbolt and stiff toes. I'm in that crowd.
Consequently, I was woefully, woefully unaware of Jose "Junior" Aldo.
If you happened to miss his bout with Urijah "The California Kid" Faber at World Extreme Cagefighting 48, shame on you.
The relatively obscure WEC Featherweight Champion brutally dominated the Sacramento crowd favorite at ARCO Arena and retained his belt via unanimous decision. Along the way, yet another Brazilian champ added his name to the pound-for-pound discussion.
At this point, I'd have to go Anderson "The Spider" Silva, Fedor "The Last Emperor" Emelianenko, Georges "Rush" St. Pierre, B.J. "The Prodigy" Penn, and then Aldo.
Only my non-sexual male crush keeps Baby J above the 23-year-old 145-pounder (and the fact he got screwed in his unanimous decision loss to Frankie "The Answer" Edgar).
Regardless of exactly where he lands in the debate, he's certainly in the top five or six.
This is one of those special gladiators who possesses uncanny abilities that don't appear teachable to my novice eyes. His mixture of devastating power and surgical accuracy combine to make him a scary striker. Meanwhile, his long and lean frame should afford him a nice bubble of safety from which to fire those daunting hands, knees, and feet against most featherweights.
In this regard, he is very much reminiscent of the Spider—a superlative marksman with a range advantage on most of his middleweight adversaries.
If you need visual convincing, I direct you to Cub Swanson and the video at the bottom.
Anyone who ends a meeting of brawn with a double flying knee eight seconds into the action should take a little feeling out of your wickets, especially if you have the misfortune of standing opposite this individual in a cage.
Of course, there are lots of terrifying snipers who never get a whiff of pound-for-pound honors. What defines those greatest of greats is a well-rounded excellence and Aldo clearly has that.
If Faber's insistence on facing the featherweight king's meat-grinder of hands and feet is any indication, overcoming the young champion's ground game might be the taller task. Urijah is an accomplished wrestler, a BJJ purple belt, and owns 10 submissions of the non-pummel-until-he-taps variety so he's not ill-equipped on the canvas.
Furthermore, the pride of the Golden State was getting hopelessly blasted on his feet.
Not only was he eating all the power shots, he was eating all the shots, period.
Junior kept the shorter fighter at bay with his longer reach and a constant assault of excruciating leg kicks that had the 30-year-old challenger visibly limping by the second round. The tenderizing of Faber's lower left extremity got so ugly he had to be basically carried back to his corner after the third stanza.
At several points, the man brave enough to rock cornrows was spun completely around by Aldo's thwacking blows and looked as if he wanted to call a timeout. In fairness to the vanquished, most mortals wouldn't have come out for the fourth or fifth rounds with a left thigh that looked like it had elephantiasis so you can hardly blame him.
Finally, just to keep things from getting boring, the younger warrior would blister the California Kid's torso with savage hooks and his patented flying knees. It was a start-to-finish clinic—only the Californian's granite constitution carried him the full 25 minutes.
Yet despite the futility and the abuse, Urijah Faber never once tried to shoot in for the takedown until the dead weight hanging from his left hip socket left him no other choice.
Granted, the almost two minutes he spent in an Aldo crucifix absorbing fists and elbows at the end of Round Four hinted that the challenger's strategy might've been correct.
There are two lessons to be drawn from these observations: (A) Faber might be tiny, but every inch of that body is densely packed with toughness/heart; and (B) if that pulping is the lesser of two evils, the alternative must be sinister indeed.
In other words, WEC 48 might've been many MMA fans first glimpse of Jose Aldo, but it certainly won't be their last.
Which is good news...unless you're a contending featherweight.