UFC featherweight champ stops by Burbank

BURBANK — Having grown up playing soccer in his native Brazil before becoming one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the mixed-martial-arts world, Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight champion Jose Aldo might surprise a few people when asked his opinion on American football.

“American football, for me, is the best sport,” said Aldo, who proclaimed the New England Patriots as his favorite team and quarterback Tom Brady as his favorite player, through an interpreter. “I watch everything.”

Thus, the magnitude of headlining the UFC’s annual Super Bowl weekend card in Las Vegas was not lost on the ultra-talented and always-devastating Brazilian.

“Not only Vegas, but the whole U.S.; I know how the whole country stops to watch the Super Bowl,” said Aldo, who will defend his UFC featherweight strap against Frankie Edgar on Feb. 2 at UFC 156 from the Mandalay Bay. “That’s why we have a great responsibility to put on a great show for the fans.”

With tickets going on sale Friday for the UFC’s blockbuster card — which also features heavyweights Alistair Overeem and Antonio Silva locking up, as well as light heavyweights Rashad Evans and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and welterweights Jon Fitch and Demian Maia — Aldo touched down in Los Angeles Tuesday morning after a flight in from Brazil before settling in for a media luncheon at Morton’s The Steakhouse in Burbank.

“You cannot blink or you can lose,” Aldo said. “It’s a fight between two very explosive guys — anything can [happen].”

With a scar across the left side of his face that earned him the moniker “Scarface,” Aldo, 26, has rarely been touched up during his current tour de force, as he’s run off 14 straight victories during a 21-1 career that’s seen him finish 15 fights, with 13 coming via knockout.

Edgar, 31, meanwhile, sits at 14-3-1 as a former UFC lightweight champion. Noted for his boxing skills and wrestling background, he’s fought legendary battles against Gray Maynard, Benson Henderson and Tyson Griffin, among others, and has won UFC Fight of the Night honors on five occasions.

“I see it as a challenge. Frankie already proved that he’s a champion. He will battle all five rounds and he will never give up, but this is the fight I wanted,” said Aldo, who added he wanted the fight because Edgar is a former lightweight champion in the higher 155-pound class. “[I predict] he will do the wrestling. He might not do it [and stay standing] to try to trick me, but I believe in the end he will try to do the wrestling as his technique.”

Aldo and Edgar were originally set to square off at October’s UFC 153 in Brazil, but a motorcycle accident postponed the bout. The postponement came after Aldo did his best to train through the pain, before eventually finding out he had suffered a crack in his leg.

“I was still convinced I would be able to fight,” said Aldo, whose fight in February will come roughly 13 months after his previous bout, a first-round knockout over Chad Mendes. “I kept training regardless until the pain was so bad I couldn’t touch the ground with my foot.”
Along with the postponement, came a venue change.

For Aldo, whose win over Mendes saw him sprint into the crowd to celebrate with his countrymen and women, there is nothing quite like fighting in his native land. Especially now considering the likes of him and fellow champions Anderson Silva and Junior dos Santos have become huge celebrities in their country.

“The Brazilian fans are different from any other fans,” said Aldo, who still lives and trains in Brazil, the latter at the renowned Nova Uniao gym. “They sing from beginning to end.

“Today, wherever I go in Brazil, everybody knows me.

“I would never [have] imagined that I would reach this level.”

But Super Bowl weekend and the appeal of fighting in Las Vegas, where he won the World Extreme Cagefighting title (which became the UFC title after the company was absorbed) in November of 2009, is also special.

“Growing up I would watch Mike Tyson fight there. It has a special charm for me,” said Aldo, who has now defended his belt five straight times and holds his title win as his career highlight. “I love Las Vegas. I like the excitement of the fights in Las Vegas.”

Thus, it’s clear to see Aldo is very much loyal to his native Brazil, but has grown fond of the U.S. and much that it entails, such as football, the Patriots, fights in Las Vegas and a big steak in Burbank — though he remained diplomatic in comparing his Morton’s cut to that of an offering from a Brazilian steakhouse.

But when Super Bowl weekend rolls in, Aldo will very much be the same fighter he’s always been.

“I was born to win,” he said, “and that’s my motivation.”

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