UFC 179 Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes
Fistic Dialectics: Aldo, Mendes and Unknowable Ceilings
by Ryan Johann Perry
The overarching narrative for the rematch between Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes is making its rounds on the internet. The points mentioned are: Brazil's slow relinquishing of a MMA dominance to American fighters, Renan Barao's loss to TJ Dillashaw as some signifier of Team Alpha Male's overtaking Novia Uniao's fighters and the fence grabbing by Jose Aldo in the first match as a gesturing towards another possible world where Mendes won the fight.
Problematic in all these postulates is the inherent reliance on a sort of MMA math. That Brazilian fighters do not occupy the championships in their division as they once did is an undeniable fact, but a fact that means nothing in the larger picture.
Anderson Silva's dominance for nearly a decade should not be negated because of the last two years. The idea that a champion can never lose their belt is antithetical to the sport of mixed martial arts, and more so antithetical to life. It is MMA's proximity to life and the espoused values of discipline, intellect and testing of one's physical and mental limitations that makes the purity of combat arts something significantly metaphorical. Equating Renan Barao with Jose Aldo is patently false, but is appealing as it builds upon the previously mentioned narrative, and we, as sports fans are continually seeking a narrative – confirmation bias be damned.
Then there is the last example, that of the 'seminal' fence grabbing by Aldo. While this argument can not be logically denied, one can “call bullshit” on it. The fence grab, while Mendes had Aldo's back and attempted to lift him in the air looks important out of context, but in context with the other seven failed or second-long successful attempts, does not seem like it would have been any different. If we, for the sake of the argument, allow that Mendes could have taken him down without the fence grab, then we must surely allow that Aldo may have popped up immediately or altered his balance in such a way as to land on his feet, negating the takedown like a wild, squirming animal as he did moments prior. We can't know for certain, but that is the fun, that is what makes the fight, this Saturday's outcome supervene upon their previous contest, and through this supervenience we can come to a reasonable prediction of what will happen.
Has Chad Mendes adapted and improved enough to stand with Jose Aldo? That seems unlikely. His reliance on his right hand for his significant strikes requires that his power be planted to land a shot. Because of this, his striking will be relegated to Frankie Edgar-esque effectiveness, albeit with slightly slower hand speed. When you watch the fight with Edgar, Aldo shows that so long as he has the gas tank necessary, you are not gonna hit him. Aldo also possesses a jab that Mendes has not dealt with. Where Mendes can paste opponents who spam lazy jabs, Aldo does not throw them; his jab, as evidenced in both the Chan Sung Jung and the Edgar fight, is a significant strike, both in the damage inflicted and the noticeable shift in the gameplan of his opponents. For a fighter who requires the closing of the distance, such as Edgar and Mendes, Aldo's ability to jab and strike whenever his opponent attempts to enforce their will, over the course of a five round fight, leaves the opponent at a loss, so much so that by the time the fight enters the championship rounds, their confidence has waned equally with Aldo's gas tank.
For Mendes to have any effective striking, he will have to persist over the course of five rounds and maintain the confidence of the first round at the last bell, or at least have a game plan that does exactly that.
Problematic with such a game plan is that it assumes that by the fourth and fifth round Mendes will have made it with legs and limbs intact. Chan Sung Jung's, (Aldo's opponent in UFC 163) valiant effort is important. His lasting power stemmed from Aldo's inability to throw a leg kick after the first minute of the match. Had Aldo not broken his foot, would the fight have been different in any variable but time elapsed? Had that fight made it to the fifth round, we have to wonder, which will have taken the bigger toll – Aldo's cardio, or Chan Sung Jung's body?
Mendes has made noticeable improvements over the course of his last five fights, and pointing towards the improvements in TJ Dillashaw has led some to believe that it will be the same with Mendes. However, the Dillashaw fight to me showed that Dominick Cruz would have won that once scheduled bout with Barao, it also showed that like Mendes, Barao has a visible ceiling, a ceiling that we have yet to see in an Aldo fight.
It is this intangible that will be where the fight is won. The game planning of Ludwig cannot account for Aldo's ceiling as Aldo continually shows just enough to win, just enough to gesture towards an absolute mastery of combat sports.
Has Aldo been tested? Can Mendes test him? We can't know until Saturday. Mendes has never gone more than three rounds, Aldo has never looked less than stellar within three rounds. This fight will either be tested in those championship rounds (as a good championship fight should) or it will be another Occams Razor clinic by Aldo, using the least amount of tools to cause the most damage in the shortest amount of time.
When facing a master, when facing the highest level, ones past is irrelevant, the challenge will always be novel. Mendes beating Clay Guida, Cody Mckenzie, Nik Lentz, etc, all show nothing. They are as relevant as his first fights. That we use a dominant victory over Mckenzie as some key to predicting a fight with Aldo is ridiculous. Sure, it shows his evolution of a fighter, but it is not an evolution that is Darwinian. It is evolution untested. But it builds hubris, and it builds excitement. Chad Mendes 2.0 is a prototype at best. His beta testing has been successful, now it is time for his crash test and our fans crash course in the unknowable's of mixed martial arts.