Decoding Aldo: The champion shows the power of patience against Ricardo Lamas
In the build up to UFC 194, we're going to take a look at some of Jose Aldo's past fights to get a better sense of the champion's brilliance. First up, we analyse his defensive masterclass against Ricardo Lamas.
The co-main event at UFC 169 was not without its critics. Many described Aldo's dominant win against Ricardo Lamas as one of the more boring title defenses of his career, but this is an unfair assessment.
When you take a closer look at the tactics Aldo implemented to shut down "the Bully", you realise that how he retained his title in New Jersey was nothing short of exceptional.
Half the battle
As soon as the opening bell sounded, Aldo made the centre of the Octagon an almost impenetrable fortress.
This heaped pressure on Lamas, forcing him to continuously circle in the area of the Octagon between the centre and the cage that shall henceforth be referred to as the "red zone" (see figure below).
Both fighters stayed standing and traded blows for the first three rounds, and Aldo kept Lamas on the outside with his intimidating stance for most of these exchanges on the feet.
Aldo's coach Andre Pederneiras told his fighter during one of the intervals, "if you keep pressuring him, he's going to walk backwards," and being on the back foot isn't going to win a fighter the championship.
The red zone isn't where you want to be against someone like Aldo, who can cut off the exit routes and tee-off with heavy combinations with his opponent's back against the cage.
Aldo the analyst
Aldo didn't start firing on all cylinders in the opening stanza. He bided his time, allowing Lamas to strike freely. While Lamas was trying to find his range and get his own striking game going, Aldo studied everything his opponent threw at him until he noticed a pattern.
Aldo recognised that Lamas was throwing a lot of kicks early, and this knowledge prompted him to consistently check his opponent's leg kicks and dodge the ones up top.
Lamas managed to connect with one firm foot to the body towards the end of the first round. However, Aldo's analysis in the opening minutes meant he was prepared to cope with blow, and he caught Lamas' leg on the way down.
Hello shit, meet fan.
Lamas was able to get the hell out of Dodge on that occasion, but the scare served as a reminder of Aldo's killer instinct in pursuit of the finish. If he didn't quite get the message, then Aldo's flying knee attempt in the final seconds of the round hammered that point home.
The King stay the King
A checked leg kick, a blocked head kick and a whiffed wheel kick at the beginning of the second showed that Aldo had deciphered Lamas' striking game. Then came the time for the champion to put on a clinic.
Aldo continued to negate Lamas' kicking game with his defensive prowess, but also began to showcase why his striking game is one of the most revered in MMA.
He landed flush with thudding leg kicks and heavy combinations, and although he landed less kicks than his opponent, virtually none of his were checked, meaning Lamas felt the full force of each speeding shin.
He utilised his control of the centre of the Octagon to corner Lamas into the red zone and let fly with his vicious strikes.
Out-bullying the bully
As the fight headed into the third frame, there was no question over who was ahead on the judges' scorecards. Lamas needed a finish to usurp King Aldo's throne. However, he had never shown any signs that he had the ability to do so during the course of the fight.
After being consistently outclassed by Aldo on the feet, Lamas decided to go back to his bread-and-butter, his wrestling. Roughly 30 seconds into the third round, he attempted to take the champion down.
This backfired completely as Aldo reversed a clinch at the cage, tripped his opponent down to the canvas, eventually took his back and almost locked in a rear-naked choke.
The chink in the armour
While Aldo has dominated the featherweight division since its inception, some members of the MMA cognoscenti view him as a beatable champion. These folk cite his apparent fading in the championship rounds as a perceived weakness, which they claim is the result of his huge weight cut to make 145 lbs.
Some view Aldo's performance in the final round at UFC 169 as evidence of his supposed Achilles heel, as the champion was dominated on the ground by Lamas.
However, his corner warned him going into the fifth, "He's gonna come desperate. He's going to try to take you down. He's gonna go for everything."
Knowing that the takedown was coming, Aldo decided to beat his opponent to the punch and take the game down to the mat.
From the top position, he did a phenomenal job of frustrating his opponent by tying up his arms, posturing up, keeping Lamas' hips glued to the canvas and using wrist control to stay out of harm's way.
Lamas eventually turned the tide and took up the top position, where he unloaded some vicious ground and pound, but really this surge came way too late. Aldo again flaunted his BJJ black belt and reduced the amount of pain Lamas could inflict.
The Bully did get in some good shots, but by then it was too late.
Whether Aldo was gassed or not in the final round is irrelevant, he implemented a gameplan that was designed to conserve his own energy while sapping his opponent's. In layman's terms, he took his foot off the pedal.
Aldo fought perfectly for four rounds, and had essentially already won the fight going into the final round. His decision to defend that lead and not take risks in the 11th hour is a testament to how great a champion he is.
We'll look at Aldo's bouts with Chad Mendes and Frankie Edgar later this week as we continue our build up to UFC 194.