UFC 251: Petr Yan vs. José Aldo – The Breakdown

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Bottari – Zuffa LLC & Mike Roach – Zuffa LLC

Although the distinct merit of which former UFC featherweight titleholder, José Aldo has ‘earned’ his vacant bantamweight championship opportunity this weekend on Fight Island opposite Petr Yan is questionable at best, nevertheless, here we are.

The Brazilian icon made his first outing at 135-pounds last December at UFC 245 against compatriot and one-time title challenger, ‘Magic’ Marlon Moraes. In his second consecutive defeat following his final foray at featherweight against current kingpin, Alexander Volkanovski – Aldo dropped a close but split decision loss.

Aldo, 33, was then scheduled to meet with the recently retired, Henry ‘Triple C’ Cejudo at the original instalment of UFC 250 in Brazil, until the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced the event move to Florida, with VISA issues ruling Aldo out. Former titleholder, Dominick Cruz would fill-in on short-notice, dropping a second-round knockout at UFC 249 instead.

Cejudo’s shock retirement forced a vacant title, with the above-noted Yan earmarked as the first competitor for the throne. Who could he possibly face? Perennial contender, Aljamain Sterling? The aforementioned, Cruz who had a definite chip on his shoulder surrounding his stoppage against Cejudo? Rising challenger, Cory Sandhagen in an interesting stylistic matchup? Yan was originally scheduled to headline a UFC Fight Night Kazakhstan event against the previously mentioned, Moraes – so just book that fight with championship spoils? No – it’s none of the above; Aldo would be instated opposite Yan, and that brings us to Yas Island this weekend.

The merit in which Aldo has been drafted into this vacant championship clash seems to stem from his historic featherweight success, honour filled career, and overall name value in a division lacking a champion – similar to its flyweight counterpart. Denying the aforenoted, Sterling seems just so inherently wrong, especially following his timely, stunning rear-naked choke win over Sandhagen at UFC 250.

Yan’s installation in this clash is deserved, completely. The former ACB bantamweight best joined the UFC ranks back in June of 2018 – scoring six consecutive victories. As part of his undefeated run, the boxing based contender has picked up wins over two-time flyweight title challenger, John Dodson, longtime top ten contender, Jimmie Rivera, and veteran, former WEC featherweight champion, Urijah ‘The California Kid’ Faber.

The 27-year-old has shot up the rankings with his undefeated promotional record in tow, and like his compatriot, Khabib Nurmagomedov gives the organization the opportunity to crown another champion from Russia, and tap into a market – similarly to their recent switch to China given the ongoing successes of strawweight best, Zhang Weili.

So, how do Yan and Aldo matchup – on paper? We’ve seen a definite switch in approach from one-time Muay Thai ace, Aldo in recent outings. He’s become as skilled a boxer in the promotion, with lengthy combinations, lightening fast hand-speed and has somewhat transitioned from his kick-heavy approach in the past. One contender who can match, if not gazump Aldo’s boxing ability – it’s Yan.

The Brazilian would hold the trump card in any possible grappling scenarios, with his stern takedown defence hardly ever solved, and his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under the renowned, André Pederneiras – on hand should the unlikely scenario in which Yan engages in offensive wrestling occur.

There’s also a massive experience advantage on the side of Aldo as well. With twenty professional walks more than his bantamweight counterpart, and just two-years older somehow, Aldo has been on this stage countless times.

Even following his two knockout losses to former featherweight best, Max Holloway – whom he shares this weekend’s card with, Aldo who was somewhat written off, returned emphatically with stoppages over the explosive, Jeremy Stephens, and compatriot, Renato Moicano. The proof is in the proverbial pudding – write José Aldo off at your peril.

Another thing that has become more than evident in recent years, is the fact that the once elusive Aldo has become hittable – particularly opposite boxing based fighters. Conor McGregor and Max Holloway most famously finished the Brazilian, while Volkanovski comfortably outlanded the Manaus native. Against somebody as proficiently offensive with his hands as Yan – that’s quite the worrying trend.

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