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The King of Rio Returns: 3 Signature Techniques That Show Aldo is Still Ahead of the Curve

Nearly two years after his UFC retirement, Jose Aldo is back, and in some ways the 37 year old is still ahead of the curve

UFC 301 is almost upon us and it may not be the greatest pay-per-view card, but alongside what will surely be an entertaining flyweight scrap in the main event, it marks the return of mixed martial arts legend Jose Aldo.

Alongside Justin Gaethje, Aldo is and has been for many years my favourite fighter - a technical marvel with a violent streak, a clear love for fighting, a champion's heart and in his prime he sported arguably the most well-rounded skillset in the sport's history.

Though he wasn't fully appreciated by many fans during his decade of dominance atop the featherweight division, his ability to stay near the top of the game even after his dominance faded along with his success down at bantamweight brought him a new level of appreciation by more casual fans.

Even nearing a full two decades of fighting the highest level in combat sports, Aldo is still a treat to watch and before his retirement he remained highly competitive with the best the stacked 135-pound division had to offer.

Prior to his uneventful decision loss against now-top contender Merab Dvalishvili back in August 2022 (in which Aldo stuffed all 16 of Merab's takedown attempts, with Merab forced to hug him against the cage in order to eeke out win; for reference, Merab went on to take down former Olympic gold medalist wrestler Henry Cejudo five times in their fight and literally carried the Olympian across the Octagon), Aldo was on a three-fight winning streak having beaten Marlon Vera, Pedro Munhoz, and Rob Font, the last of which he knocked down repeatedly and battered over five rounds.

Like many of the greats before and since his rise to glory, the "King of Rio" was ahead of his time in many ways.

His accurate and educated jab, his famously powerful and crippling low kicks, his sublime defensive layers, his almost-supernatural ability to stop takedowns - Jose Aldo in his prime was an absolute technical magician in the cage and remains so to this day.

Though he may not be remembered for it as much as say Georges St. Pierre thanks to his fight-dominating stepping jab, Aldo was one of the first fighters to effectively use a versatile and educated jab worthy of a boxer in MMA. Before calf-kicks became all the rage, Aldo was absolutely skewering people with his devastating leg kicks thanks to his athleticism, speed, superb timing, and ability to mix his kicks in well with his boxing.

To this day, despite not having a wrestling background whatsoever, he sports some of the best takedown defense in MMA history and pioneered the tactic of feeding wrestlers the single leg before shrimping out, a strategy many have since copied yet still none have mastered quite like Aldo has.

Few can come close to rivaling Aldo's technical prowess even today, but the game of mixed martial arts has certainly evolved thanks to him and other greats of eras past - the jab has become a much-more utilized aspect of striking in the sport, low kicks (albeit now typically to the calf, whereas Jose's fight-changing low kicks were virtually all thrown to the thigh a la traditional Muay Thai) are now a fixture in almost any fight, and many strikers have copied elements of Aldo's legendary takedown defense to keep themselves upright against grapplers.

Likely due to injuries he's sustained over his lengthy career, the Aldo of more recent times is far more boxing-focused, his legendary low kicks now very few and far between.

His extremely quick reactions and reflexes make him almost superhuman in the early-goings of a fight even now, but as he's aged how long he can keep that up has drastically been reduced, with the veteran instead opting to wisely choose his times to explode and utilize his overlooked grappling to ride out rounds if he doesn't feel a finish coming.

Despite this decline, even the Jose Aldo that retired in Salt Lake City remains a top-five bantamweight as he nears a full two decades of professional competition - to compete at truly the highest levels for so long in such a tough sport is an achievement worthy of praise in itself, to say nothing of his dominant run as a champion.

Yet even in his last few fights, he not only showed that he can still compete with the best the UFC has to offer, but in many ways he's still ahead of the game even in his twilight years.

Much of the techniques he helped introduce to the MMA world earlier in his run have become far more prominent in the years since, but here are three signature techniques he continues to use in the latter stages of his career that younger fighters should certainly take note of and incorporate into their own game.

The Left Hook to the Body

Easily the flashiest technique on this list and one that Aldo became pretty well-known for in 2018-19 thanks to it leading to finishes over the extremely durable Jeremy Stephens and Renato Moicano, the left hook to the liver and body punches in general are still criminally underutilized in MMA.

Kicks to the midsection have become a rather regular sight in MMA, whether they be round kicks or stabbing front kicks up the middle and to the gut, yet when it comes to boxing technique the vast majority of MMA fighters throw almost exclusively to the head (outside of a select few fighters such as John Lineker and Jack Della Madalena).

Targeting the body has slowly become more common as more and more fighters seem to awaken to the benefits of bodywork, but still very few are willing to commit to it for more than the occasional dip to the body before going back to head-hunting.

In terms of Aldo's lead hook downstairs, he has turned it into a full-power fight finisher, which combined with his crisp left hook upstairs that he regularly utilizes, instills a sense of anxiety in his opponents as they are forced to question what's coming next.

Aldo delivers his unlike anyone I've ever seen in MMA, often faking a shot upstairs only to lunge in with the left under his opponent's guard, which he swings from behind his waist and fully turns his hips into to deliver brutal power right to his victim's liver.

Frankly, imagining Jose's left hand hitting your liver is downright terrifying.

Aldo is well-known for being an expert at dissecting wrestlers, and his committment to body work, particularly later in his career, should certainly serve as inspiration to others, yet as of this writing it's still almost never used by strikers trying to stave off a grappling-oriented opponent.

Because of the level-change required to target the body, a punch to an opponent's midsection - whether it be a dipping jab, rear straight, or a sweeping hook - is actually a highly effective strike to utilize if one is wary of being taken down.

Even if an opponent shoots while you're mid-punch, you've already lowered your center of gravity and thus are in a better position to stop a wrestler's shot; not only that, but your attacking arm is in a much better position to push off of your foe or fight for an underhook in order to stave off the takedown.

The lower target also makes it easier to land, even if not cleanly, against an opponent who is changing levels; despite its advantages, you still see virtually no fighter that's clearly worried about being taken down by a wrestler utilize them.

Instead, you're far more likely to see a striker throw a telegraphed overhand that sails several feet above their opponent's head as the wrestler simply ducks under and drives through a double-leg.

The Pivot

Unlike his devastating hook to the body, the pivot has actually been a highly effective staple of Aldo's game since the very early days of his title reign, yet you'll still almost never see any other fighter utilize it even all these years later.

The pivot, which comes from boxing boxing and is prominent in high-level Muay Thai, is essentially when a fighter twists their hips to plant their weight on one foot as they shift their stance to a new angle.

Typically, a fighter will shift their hips to the "closed" or lead side of their stance, with their rear leg then swinging back to complete the transition back into their stance, although it can also be done in the reverse, with the weight being planted on the rear leg.

In a striking art, it's a highly effective technique that serves as both a potent defensive tactic as well as an offensive one.

It allows a fighter to cut to a new angle against their opponent to avoid incoming fire, while also putting them in great position to fire off a counter before their opponent can adjust to the new angle of engagement.

Jose has been an absolute master of the pivot for many years, regularly adding in a left hook as he pivots out from an opponent's attack.

Though many observers may not have picked up on it, that technique alone was largely responsible for making former lightweight champ and perennial top contender Frankie Edgar look absolutely helpless back at UFC 200, and it's particularly effective against fighters who run in on a straight line (as a majority of fighters do even today).

Hell, Aldo loves the pivot so much he even used it while in midair to crack poor Frankie upside the head.

Aldo gets a lot of credit for his head movement and overall boxing ability, but people tend to overlook his footwork and just how much it plays into his success.

In general, many fans only notice footwork when it's hyperactive (like Dominick Cruz or to a lesser extent TJ Dillashaw's erratic movement, or Holly Holm's incessant circling) or when it's glaringly bad (ie. when a fighter has no awareness or ability to cut off a retreating opponent, such as Geoff Neal's recent performance against Ian Garry, or when they repeatedly run past their opponent who is circling out, such as Ronda Rousey's embarassing charges against the afforementioned Holly Holm) - but for more subtle technicians, like Aldo or Alex Pereira, those skills are often overlooked.

If an aspiring fighter is wanting to learn how to use proper footwork not only for striking but for MMA, Aldo is perhaps the best example to show them - he not only uses it extremely well to aid in his offense as well as his defense in terms of striking, but he has also learned to utilize it to aid in defending takedowns as well, a skill that has certainly served him well against the many elite wrestlers he has faced over the years.

This extends of course to his use of the pivot as well, as he can use it to force wrestlers into taking a single-leg instead of being able to get in on his other hip; he's even used the pivot while an opponent is grabbing his legs in order to turn out of the takedown entirely.

If you pay close enough attention, you'll notice that Aldo's legendary takedown defense isn't simply a strong sprawl or ridiculous balance, but constant adjustment of his feet and a frequent use of pivots to manipulate his opponent's momentum and use it to his advantage.

It's something that has played a large part in Aldo's success throughout his career and yet to this day it's very rarely seen at all even by top-tier fighters.

Calf Kick Defense

Now we come to something that is genuinely shocking no other fighters seem to have learned after Jose Aldo put on a masterclass over two years ago.

The calf kick has become a devastating and fight-changing weapon that many fighters seem completely unable to defend against. Joe Rogan even infamously said it's "nearly impossible" to defend.

Despite it only becoming prominent in MMA in the last few years, it has certainly taken over and has become a staple in many fighter's reportoire due to its effectiveness and the fact that it's relatively safe to throw.

Rather than targeting the meaty upper thigh like a traditional Muay Thai leg kick, the calf kick instead targets below the knee, ideally landing on the side of the calf; when it lands, there's a good chance of it hurting the peritoneal nerve, which is not only painful but can cause a victim's foot to become dead weight, severely compromising their ability to stand let alone fight.

It also can cause this kind of damage in just a few solid connections.

Because it's targeting the lower part of the leg which is the closest part of a fighter's body to their opponent, it can be thrown from rather far away, leaving the kicker relatively safe from counters so long as they don't misjudge the distance or severely mis-time their kick.

This makes it a very low-risk, high-reward technique and though not impossible to defend, the options certainly are more limited than a kick targeting the thigh.

For a traditional low kick, the typical defense consists of 1) "checking" the kick, which involves lifting your leg and pointing your knee toward the kicker's shin/foot, 2) timing the kick so that you can land a punch while the opponent is on one leg, even if it means absorbing the kick's full power, or 3) "catching" the kick and either going for a takedown/trip or throwing a punch while the opponent is forced into balancing on one leg.

The former is the ideal defense as doing so not only prevents you from taking any meaningful damage from the kick, but it serves as a deterrent for the kicker as if they connect with their foot or shin bone directly against your knee, it's going to hurt. In rare cases, it can even end the fight, just ask Anderson Silva...or, ironically, Chris Weidman...

The second and third options go all in on the "deterrence" factor even if it means sacrificing a bit of safety, as the defender will typically be absorbing the full impact of the kick. In doing so however, the kicker puts themselves in relatively close range and limits their ability to move their upper body in order to avoid a counter, which combined with the fact most fighters drop their hands when they kick, this method of dealing with leg kicks can be an extremely effective and viable option.

Anderson Silva famously opted to absorb James Irvin's leg kick, catching the kick to keep Irvin awkwardly balancing on one leg as Silva fired a stiff right hand to drop him to the canvas.

Even one of kickboxing's greats, Gokhan Saki, was knocked out cold by Khalil Roundtree after Khalil opted to trade landing his left hand in exchange for taking a low kick.

When it comes to the calf kick, those traditional leg kick defenses don't hold up so well.

Checking them, while possible, becomes far less effective and much more difficult, as the defender needs to lift their leg and be able to turn their knee along with their shin to face the kick before it lands - more often, those attempting this form of defense against a calf kick merely lift their leg and take the kick on their defenseless calf before they have the time to rotate it into its proper defensive position, and as we've seen in many fights, even a glancing kick to a calf in midair can still do surprising damage.

The other two common forms of defense are both effectively nullified when the target is the calf - catching a kick that low becomes virtually impossible, even with a freakishly long frame like that of Jon Jones'.

Due to the extended range the calf kick is thrown from, simply absorbing it and pushing forward with a strike upstairs is also largely futile; though it can occasionally work, almost invariably the fighter attempting to do this will fall short with their counter and end up merely eating the kick without anything to show for it.

The only effective defense we've really seen for it has been either A) applying tons of pressure so the opponent can't kick since kicking while backing up is extremely hard, or B) withdrawing the leg entirely so the kick misses.

The former is a tactic that has always been used against good kickers for as long as kickboxing has existed - crowd the kicker. This isn't a strategy specific to calf kicks, but it certainly can work, but is only going to be really effective if a fighter is already an effective pressure-fighter - against a calf-kicker who is also a counter-striker, this strategy could prove downright disastrous, and applying constant pressure is both damaging and taxing.

The latter strategy is far more common, but the problem is that it can only be done when you are at an extended range - it also offers no deterrence and leaves the defender outside of range and in no position to counter, which keeps the defender away from them and means they feel safe to simply try the kick again when they choose to.

Neither of these options are ideal and yet it is largely the best that fighters lately have come up with.

Except, of course, for Jose Aldo.

The old master of leg kicks may not throw them much anymore himself, yet his defensive prowess has proven him to be nigh-unkickable throughout his career and back in August 2021, now nearly three years ago, Aldo put on an absolute masterclass on how to deal with calf kicks.

Facing off against perennial top-10 bantamweight Pedro Munhoz, Aldo was confronted by a stocky brawler whose primary form of offense was leg kicks, particularly to the calf.

Even current bantamweight champion Sean O'Malley had plenty of problems facing off against Pedro and his calf kicks before eye pokes forced a no-contest when he faced Munhoz in 2022.

Against Aldo however, Munhoz's kicks were completely nullified.

Technically, Aldo uses two different methods to defend against the calf kick, neither of which have been replicated by seemingly anyone despite Aldo showcasing their effectiveness to the world nearly three years ago.

The technique he used the most against Munhoz was surprisingly simple yet extremely effective.

Similar to a traditional check, he points his knee toward the kick. Rather than lift his leg however, which is the time-consuming problem with attempting to traditionally check calf kicks, he hinges his leg at the knee and pulls his foot back behind him or even across toward his other leg.

This simple movement allows the knee to flare toward the opponent and potentially cause damage if the kicker's aim is a bit high, while at the same time swinging the vulnerable lower leg completely out of danger.

It has the added bonus of not compromising one's stance in the way that lifting the leg up does, forcing someone to balance on one foot before planting their lifted leg again.

With Aldo's method, you're almost immediately back in stance without being off-balance, leaving you fully defended without forcing you out of range, and it allows for the defender to go on the offensive while the kicker is still returning to their own stance.

Unfortunately for many fighters who opt for a wider, lead-leg heavy stance, such a defense isn't really possible unless they stand more upright - one would think that a fighter would be willing to do so in order to avoid getting their leg chewed up and severely compromised, especially if they've already taken a few kicks, but most fighters seem either incapable or too stubborn to be willing to leave their preferred fighting stance.

This may be the primary reason we don't see this method being used by other fighters, yet even from more upright fighters I have bizarrely yet to see anyone utilizing Aldo's technique, even when they find themselves opposite an opponent spamming low kicks to great effect.

The second way Aldo demonstrated an effective defense against calf kicks comes courtesy of another thing that Jose has always loved - the pivot.

As explained here by Jack Slack, Jose showed off a quick pivot from his rear leg in order to turn his knees and shins toward the incoming kick - with the knee again pointed at the kicker's foot, it serves as an effective deterrent that can cause the attacker pain while once again preventing damage from befalling the defender in a quick, simple movement.

It again doesn't cost the defender much at all in range, and they can simply pivot back toward the opponent to regain their original stance and move forward, a simple yet highly effective way to defend against the dreaded calf kick.

Even in the twilight of his career, Aldo was continuously honing his craft and putting on technical displays against the best fighters in his division.

As far as MMA has come since he exploded onto the scene and tore apart the featherweight division back in the WEC days, Aldo is still pioneering new techniques for future generations to pick up on and implement.

Regardless of what happens at UFC 301, Aldo's legacy is already set in stone as being one of the greatest and most skilled fighters in MMA history, and even at 37 years old, I'm sure he still has a few things to teach the young lions hungry to make their careers off of his legendary name.


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