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UFC 251 — Jose Aldo’s ups and downs from the Conor McGregor KO to Fight Island

When Jose Aldo steps inside the “Fight Island” Octagon on Saturday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to face Petr Yan for the vacant UFC bantamweight championship, the Brazil native will be attempting to become just the eighth fighter in UFC history to reign in more than one division.

Aldo was the inaugural UFC featherweight champ, bringing the belt with him in 2010 when the Zuffa-owned WEC merged with its sister promotion. Between the two fight companies, Aldo made nine title defenses in a reign that extended until Dec. 12, 2015.

Aldo’s run ended stunningly and abruptly that night, when Conor McGregor clipped him with a counter left hand for a 13-second TKO. It was just the second defeat for Aldo. In that moment, Aldo’s long run at the top of the sport was over.

Since then, it has been an up-and-down road for Aldo, who regained his 145-pound title seven months later but enters this weekend’s UFC 251 title bout riding a two-fight losing streak, including a defeat in his bantamweight debut in December.

Still, Aldo was the one then-champ Henry Cejudo pointed to when he was looking to defend his belt. That title fight was booked for May 9 but then canceled after the coronavirus pandemic halted the sports world. But when the UFC got back underway and needed to book a fight for a 135-pound title vacated by Cejudo upon his unexpected retirement, the promotion once again looked in Aldo’s direction.

How did the 33-year-old get to this point? Here are some of the touchpoints that have shaped Aldo’s journey between the McGregor debacle and today:

Dec. 12, 2015: Thirteen seconds into his UFC 194 title defense, Aldo is knocked out by a McGregor counter left hand. It is Aldo’s first defeat in 10 years, ending an 18-fight winning streak that included nine defenses of the UFC/WEC men’s featherweight title.

Dec. 17, 2015: Despite the loss, Aldo receives a hero’s welcome upon his arrival home in Rio de Janeiro. MMA Fighting’s Brazil-based reporter Guilherme Cruz posts on Twitter a video of Aldo being carried on a fan’s shoulders at the airport.

Jan. 27, 2016: Aldo tweets: “I was quiet until now, but I’ve decided to talk. This is my message @ufc @danawhite @lorenzofertitta @TheNotoriousMMA” The message reads, in part: “So I wanted to make something clear to the UFC: For everything that I’ve done, everything I’ve accepted, and mostly how the fight ended, I will not accept any other fight other than a title fight. My only exception would be fighting Conor McGregor. At any time, anywhere, and since he is scared and knows that I’m gonna win… It doesn’t even have to be a title fight against him. You can keep your belt. What I want is to whoop your ass. Again: any time, anywhere. Dana White Lorenzo Fertitta keep ur word. I still believe in the company I work for. #rematch”

March 6, 2016: Rather than grant Aldo a rematch, McGregor instead pursues the lightweight title. But because of an injury to champion Rafael dos Anjos, McGregor ends up instead in a late-replacement welterweight bout with Nate Diaz, and loses by second-round submission. Afterward, Aldo weighs in on Twitter: “See ya at #UFC200, @TheNotoriousMMA. Your fairytale is over. You got nowhere to run now. Time to a rematch, p—y.”

March 21, 2016: Aldo tweets a photo of himself holding a playing card, a joker (his nickname for McGregor), that has been set on fire. The caption: “I want it. You want it. Your coach wants it. One battle took place but the war is not over! #UFC200”

July 9, 2016: Aldo fights at UFC 200 — but not against McGregor. With the Irishman focused on a Diaz rematch, the UFC creates an interim featherweight title and puts it up for grabs between Aldo and former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. In a rematch of a 2013 bout, Aldo defeats Edgar by unanimous decision to earn the belt.

July 10, 2016: Aldo tweets a photo of him and his team, postfight, with his belt. The caption: “I told you, Brazil. This belt is coming home. Focused on the linear now. See you in NY, @TheNotoriousMMA? #ufc200”

Aug. 21, 2016: Aldo tweets to McGregor: “Where you at @TheNotoriousMMA? Come back down and I’ll see you at UFC 205 or drop the belt! #hitandrun”

Nov. 26, 2016: Aldo is elevated to featherweight champion by the UFC, which strips McGregor of that title two weeks after he won a second belt with a knockout of lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez. The promotion announces that Aldo will defend his title against the winner of a Dec. 10 Max Holloway vs. Anthony Pettis bout.

Jan. 30, 2017: Aldo tells the Brazilian outlet Combate that he wants to box. “I want to make a career in boxing,” he says. “And that was my biggest dream, one day to be able to boast both MMA champion and boxing champion.”

June 3, 2017: Aldo is dethroned by Holloway via third-round TKO. Aldo starts strong and has his opponent hurt early, but Holloway takes over and hands the Brazilian legend the third loss of his career, finishing the fight with ground-and-pound.

Aug. 3, 2017: Aldo posts a photo of himself alongside boxing trainer Robert Garcia in a gym, a boxing ring behind them. Garcia has trained multiple world champions, including his son, four-division world champion Mikey Garcia.

Sept. 18, 2017: Aldo agrees to a December fight against Ricardo Lamas, according to Combate. There is no specific date or signed contract, according to the report, but both fighters have agreed to the rematch of a 2014 title defense won by Aldo.

Oct. 13, 2017: Aldo vs. Lamas 2 is set for Dec. 16.

Nov. 8, 2017: Frankie Edgar withdraws from his scheduled Dec. 2 challenge of Max Holloway because of injury.

Nov. 8, 2017: Aldo tweets not to his opponent, Lamas, but to the champ, Holloway: “Hey @BlessedMMA, I want my title back. I deserve the rematch. Let’s make this happen @ufc”

Nov. 11, 2017: Aldo is pulled from the Lamas matchup by the UFC and booked for a title fight rematch with Holloway at UFC 218 on Dec. 2.

Dec. 2, 2017: Aldo loses to Holloway again, also by third-round TKO.

April 27, 2018: Aldo is booked to fight Jeremy Stephens on July 28 in Calgary, Alberta.

July 25, 2018: Aldo, speaking to Brazilian media three days before he is scheduled to fight Stephens, says he plans to retire from MMA after completing the four fights (including the Stephens bout) remaining on his current deal. “I dream of being champion,” he says, “and dream [of] going out as champion.”

July 28, 2018: Aldo defeats Stephens by TKO in the first round. It is Aldo’s first non-title fight since 2009. The victory ends a two-fight losing streak.

Oct. 8, 2018: Aldo tweets a photo of himself facing off with McGregor, with “It’s time!” and “#Joker” on the photo. There’s a caption that includes the words “Não tem pra onde correr!” which translates to “There’s nowhere to run!”

Dec. 14, 2018: Aldo is booked to fight countryman Renato Moicano on Feb. 2 in Fortaleza, Brazil.

Jan. 30, 2019: Aldo reiterates his intention to retire soon from MMA, telling ESPN his stance is not intended as a contract negotiation. “I had already planned to stop when I was 30 years old and begin something else,” he says through an interpreter. “I’m at a point where I have to make a decision, and nothing is going to change my mind.”

Feb. 2, 2019: Aldo wins again, defeating Moicano by second-round TKO.

March 5, 2019: Aldo is booked to fight Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 237 on May 11 in Rio de Janeiro.

May 11, 2019: Aldo’s winning streak comes to an end in front of his countrymen at UFC 237 in Rio. He loses a unanimous decision to Volkanovski.

June 24, 2019: UFC president Dana White tells ESPN that Aldo has changed retirement plans and signed a contract to remain with the promotion.

Oct. 23, 2019: Aldo will move to bantamweight and fight Marlon Moraes at UFC 245 on Dec. 14, the UFC confirms after an MMA Junkie report.

Dec. 14, 2019: Aldo loses his 135-pound debut to Moraes by split decision. While Aldo had his supporters who felt he did enough to win the fight, MMA media members polled on the result were split down the middle, 9-9, in their scores for the fight. Despite the loss, the seeds for a title fight for Aldo are planted immediately thereafter. During White’s post-show news conference, White says, “[Henry] Cejudo hit me up tonight and said, ‘Jose Aldo absolutely won that fight and I think that you should treat him like he won that fight. He said, ‘I want Jose Aldo.'”

Dec. 15, 2019: Cejudo, then the reigning UFC bantamweight champion, posts a video on Twitter in which he calls out Aldo. “I want to fight him in my city, Rio de Janeiro,” Cejudo says. “Daddy’s coming home.”

Dec. 17, 2019: In his first tweet since April, Aldo posts a video of himself shooting guns at a firing range and addressing Cejudo in Portuguese. Then Aldo finishes shooting and says, “Hasta la vista, baby,” and a photo of Cejudo appears, riddled by bullet holes. The caption: “I am the King of Rio and you are Snow White’s Security Guard! Sign the Contract and let’s get it right. @HenryCejudo @danawhite”

Jan. 3, 2020: Aldo tweets a photo of a fist crumpling the face of Cejudo, with the caption: “I’ll send you back to the snow-white world! @HenryCejudo”

Jan. 23, 2020: Aldo tweets a photo of himself alongside a woman dressed as Snow White, with Cejudo depicted as a child, with the caption: “Now, the family is complete. Dad, mom and our child. I think he’s angry! @danawhite @henrycejudo”

Feb. 24, 2020: Aldo is booked to challenge Cejudo at UFC 250 on May 19 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

March 16, 2020: Although no announcement has yet been made about whether his title fight will go ahead, Aldo tweets about the coronavirus and its impact on MMA. Translated from Portuguese, his post reads, in part: “For the sport, guys, we have direct contact, we will act responsibly and take the necessary care with the cleaning of training equipment, hands and prevention!”

April 8, 2020: Aldo withdraws from the title fight, according to a Combate report, because his work visa for the United States has expired. This becomes an issue after the coronavirus pandemic spoils the UFC’s plan to hold the fight in Brazil.

May 9, 2020: Cejudo successfully defends his bantamweight belt with a second-round TKO of Dominick Cruz, then announces his retirement while inside the Octagon.

May 24, 2020: The UFC removes Cejudo’s name from its rankings and confirms with ESPN that he has vacated the 135-pound belt.

May 27, 2020: White tells SportsCenter that the UFC is targeting Aldo vs. Petr Yan for the vacant bantamweight title. The promotion president adds that no date or location is set.

June 9, 2020: Aldo vs. Yan is official for UFC 251, which will take place July 11 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. According to White, it will be one of three title bouts on a card headlined by Kamaru Usman defending his welterweight belt against Jorge Masvidal, with Volkanovski putting his featherweight strap on the line against ex-champ Holloway in the co-main event.

June 9, 2020: During an appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast, Cejudo says it should be Aljamain Sterling, not Aldo, in the fight for the vacant title. “It’s my fault that Jose Aldo is fighting for the belt because that’s who I was originally supposed to fight [before] Dominick, but this whole COVID thing happened. So Aldo was gonna fight for the title. Then it’s like you can’t [take back the title shot], so the UFC, they stuck to their word.”

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