Simon Says: Who’s got the Championship Mindset? Aldo, Holloway?

 

Few athletes have ever suffered a setback quite as monumental as Jose Aldo. Everything about his loss at UFC 194 was spectacular; the knockout, the duration, the opponent, the stage, all contributed to what can only be called a disastrous showing. Rarely do we see fighters return to form after losses like these, but Aldo did just that at UFC 200 when he handily defeated former Champion Frankie Edgar. Now though, he faces his toughest test since the Notorious One: Interim Featherweight Champion Max Holloway at UFC 212.

 

Jose Aldo is known as two distinct fighters in the minds of fans. Casual viewers only know of Aldo as the man who got knocked out by Conor McGregor. He is a bum, a loser, and for all intents and purposes, irrelevant. Hardcore fans however acknowledge Aldo’s bitter loss, while still recognizing his achievements and continued pedigree as an elite fighter.

 

UFC 212 is not the type of card that attracts casual attention. For that reason the narrative going into this matchup will not be bombarded by ignorance and trolling (at least no more than any other event).

 

For fans in the know, Aldo’s performance against Edgar was a testament to his status and continued relevancy at Featherweight. To many, his win at UFC 200 proved that his loss to McGregor was a one off. After all, Aldo was able to return from a devastating knockout loss to beat a former Champion who to this day continues to occupy elite status.

 

Although there are many positive lessons to glean from his UFC 200 win, it seems prudent to take them with a grain of salt. There are certain instances in combat sports in which an athlete simply has another athletes number. When these combatants meet again and again, one comes out on top. That is not to diminish Aldo’s performance nor is it to say he was gifted an easy fight. What should be pondered however is how the 2nd Edgar fight relates to his bout against Holloway.

 

Aldo was able to rebound from his loss at UFC 194 in part because he faced a familiar opponent. Holloway, not unlike McGregor, is an enigma. For that reason, one has to decide roughly between these two narratives: Is Aldo as good as he has ever been (proven by his win over Edgar)? Or was he bound to win that fight and we therefore don’t really know if he is the same fighter he once was?

 

Max Holloway doesn’t concern himself with such questions. The longtime Featherweight prospect is riding a 10-fight win streak. The Hawaiian attributes his win streak not only to his physical gifts, training, and skill but his mental fortitude. He envisions each fight as existing independently of any others. Every time he steps into the octagon his record is 0-0. This thought process mitigates the pressure an athlete puts upon himself. They no longer have to worry about extending a win streak or about all the consequences of a win or a loss. Each fight is a new experience though it takes place in a familiar setting.

Holloway will be fighting in front of a Brazilian crowd in a hostile atmosphere that could shake the likes of anyone. But his mindset allows him to simply fight in the octagon (his friends could be there, his family, there could be people screaming and crying but the inside of the cage will always be the same) something he has done successfully for over 5 years.

 

Aldo too is no stranger to mental fortitude. A fighter who is plagued by fears and mental weakness does not easily accomplish success at the elite level, let alone a nearly 10-year unbeaten streak as Champion in the UFC and WEC. The Nova Uniao fighter has displayed a pedigree of mental fortitude that only a select few have ever matched. It is up to the individual to decide whether his loss at UFC 194 was simply a momentary lapse/ a fluke or indicative of a breaking point.

 

The undisputed Featherweight Champion will once again find himself facing an exceptional southpaw under the bright lights of the Octagon. He was able to return to the scene of the crime at UFC 200 and emerge unscathed but now he travels home to meet an entirely different challenge.

 

In a literal sense the most apt analysis of this matchup would be a study contrasting the Muay-Thai and takedown defense of Aldo with the unorthodox striking and groundwork of Holloway. We could make endless comparisons between common opponents and speculate at length regarding how one could shut down the game of another. On the face of things this is the most prudent way of understanding a fight.

 

However, when a competitor gives into his doubts their skill level and ability becomes largely irrelevant. They may have resigned themselves to loss before ever stepping into the cage. Aldo and Holloway have shown themselves to be among the most consistent and mentally strong fighters in the UFC. Only recently has Aldo shown a chink in that armor and on June 3rd, 2017 we would be wise to focus on a part of the game so many forget to acknowledge.

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