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Jose Aldo of Brazil faces Merab Dvalishvili of Georgia in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 278 event at Vivint Arena on August 20, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
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José Aldo: A Homecoming Fit For A King

Former Champion José Aldo Is Enjoying Every Bit Of His Return To The Octagon At UFC 301: Pantoja vs Erceg

It’s hard for a pay-per-view fight week in Brazil to not feel like a sort of celebratory party when there is a Brazilian featured in each matchup on the card, including a Brazilian champion making the final walk of the evening. That energy increases tenfold when José Aldo is due to make the walk, which is the case for UFC 301: Pantoja vs Erceg. The former featherweight champion and UFC Hall of Fame member makes the jaunt to the Octagon in Rio de Janeiro for the first time since May 2019, and as much as he is going to enjoy the adulation he is sure to receive on May 4, he also knows he has business to handle, as well.

“It's a huge privilege to make my return in Rio, with friends, in the city I live in, where I became the fighter I am,” Aldo said in his interview with UFC.com. “I feel flattered by this nickname ‘The King of Rio.’ I will be thrilled before making the walk, but when I get in there, I need to focus on the victory, and I know I'm gonna win.”

Order UFC 301: Pantoja vs Erceg

The occasion feels all the more special because Aldo’s return was not necessarily expected. Although the 37-year-old had a fight remaining on his contract, he announced his retirement in 2022 following his loss to Merab Dvalishvili. A win in that fight would’ve given him four on the bounce and put him back in the bantamweight title picture, but getting knocked down a peg almost gave Aldo permission to step away from the sport for a moment.

In the interim, he made a long sought-after foray into professional boxing, but never saw himself as “out of the UFC.” However, as the calendar turned to 2024, he felt like this year would be his last as a combat sports athlete, so after speaking with his coaches, he got in touch with the UFC matchmakers to get something going.

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That’s when they came with Jonathan Martinez, a 30-year-old surging up the rankings and riding a four-fight winning streak. Of Martinez’s 19 professional wins, nine have come via knockout, and two of those stemmed from leg kicks. It’s a standup challenge for Aldo, but one that gets all the right juices flowing.

“My body needed this,” Aldo said. “MMA training is hard. It's very hard. You need to train all the areas, to dedicate to all of them. Boxing is different, because it's just the upper body, so, the training was not so... exhausting like it was for me and for my body. I think it was good.”

MORE UFC 301: Get To Know Steve Erceg | Get To Know Alexandre Pantoja | Fight By Fight Breakdown | On The Rise

Aldo believes the time he spent focusing on boxing—which he trained three times per day—is going to serve as the biggest difference compared with the last time UFC fans saw him in the Octagon, as his fight with Dvalishvili mostly featured his stellar defensive grappling.

Regardless of the stylistic matchup, Aldo is well-aware of the standing he has among his fellow Brazilians on the card. Fight week has included a lot of shaking hands, exchanging hugs and smiling for pictures with starry-eyed fans and fighters alike. That’s always the case when Aldo walks into a building, especially in Rio de Janeiro. But he is also here to pick up one more victory before perhaps definitely closing his MMA career. Aldo skates around calling the fight his “goodbye” to the UFC, but as legends age, it’s always something on everyone’s minds.

“I think everyone was thinking that I was doing my last fight, like a farewell match, but no, I'm very prepared. I've been training hard because of this… I'm ready to show the best version of José Aldo.”

José Aldo | Top Finishes
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José Aldo | Top Finishes
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Anyone familiar with the fight game knows retirements are always a fluid thing, but an Aldo fight in Rio de Janeiro is something that has only happened five times during his UFC tenure. The sixth might not have nearly the same stakes as the first quintet, but the excitement, energy and anticipation will undoubtedly be there when Jay-Z’s “Run This Town” hits the speakers.

It'll be a moment and fight to enjoy regardless of outcome, and Aldo will be soaking it up as much as the rest of us.

“I think I will always miss it,” Aldo said. “I'll miss the production staff, that's what I miss the most. The affection of everyone here and of the fans. That's what always motivates me to fight.”

 

 

Order UFC 301: Pantoja vs Hill

UFC 301: Pantoja vs Erceg took place live from Farmasi Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on May 4, 2024. See the Final Prelim and Main Card Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!