To anyone who doesn’t keep up with Jiu-Jitsu, or is immune to MMA fever, it could seem like José Aldo became famous overnight, with his big win over Chad Mendes at UFC 142 last night.
However, as GRACIEMAG.com readers know so well, the Nova União black belt has been toiling hard for years to make it to the top and the tip of everyone’s tongue—and he’s worn out many a gi too. Which happens to be what he’s still doing, usually in the weeks that follow a fight.
At GRACIEMAG.com’s request, the UFC featherweight champion’s team dug deep into their collective memory to point out the five most memorable matches of José Aldo’s Jiu-Jitsu career, prior to reaching stardom. The fighter from the Brazilian state of Amazonas first appeared on the pages of GRACIEMAG back in 2004, for a performance he put in at a No-Gi tournament in the town of São João da Barra. There, Aldo brought the crowd to a frenzy with a barnburner of a match against Rodrigo Damm, in a frenetic footlock exchange.
Despite having been around the competition block, especially at purple and brown belt, Aldo’s teachers don’t have too many of his matches fresh in their memory. For one simple reason:
“It’s getting harder and harder to remember,” replied Dedé Pederneiras fighting off sleep one day before UFC 142. “That’s because back then he was just another guy on the team. Now he’s our UFC champion,” smiled the coach.
The one who ends up solving the issue is Professor Vitor “Shaolin”, who himself has a knack for journalism.
“He competed against Cobrinha, Bruno Frazatto and Wilson Reis. And he had an awesome match against Celso Venícius in a lightweight absolute tournament in Buzios. It was a great match,” recalls the teacher at NYC BJJ academy.
1. AGAINST RUBENS COBRINHA
Still at brown, José Aldo crossed paths with four-time featherweight world champion-winning black belt Rubens Charles Cobrinha (Alliance). They had two matches and both were won by Aldo, as remembered by Dedé Pederneiras. GRACIEMAG.com has been hunting down videos of the encounters as though lost treasure. Anyone with the video, please get in touch!
2. AGAINST CELSO VENÍCIUS
In 2004, the beachgoers who strolled past the mats at Arena Búzios got the chance to see one of José Aldo’s greatest matches, for free. Celso (Gordo Jiu-Jitsu) is the one who recalls it: “We were brown belts, and we came up against each other in the first match of the under-75 kg absolute. We scowled at each other and the mood was one of altercation immediately but it wasn’t personal—fight stuff. He pulled guard on me, I got my leg out, stayed in half-guard and won. In the end I sunk a Kimura lock; I don’t remember if I finished with it but it was along those lines. He was already a really tough fighter; if he hadn’t concentrated on MMA he’d have certainly made more of a name for himself in Jiu-Jitsu.”
3. AGAINST WILSON REIS
At the 2003 IBJJF Worlds, at the Tijuca Tennis Club in Rio de Janeiro, two MMA aces crossed paths as purple belts before reaching stardom. “We made it to the light featherweight quarterfinals and it was a tough, fast-paced fight from start to finish. I already knew Aldo from prior championships but a lot of folks didn’t know him yet,” recalls Wilson (BJJ United), a onetime Bellator champion.
“Even so he surprised me with his accelerated game, good conditioning and great stamina. He took the lead on advantages, but I managed to land a double-leg takedown and win by 4 to 2. It was a tough match, one of the Jiu-Jitsu wins I’m proudest of, since I always saw him as being one of the top guys.”
4. AGAINST BRUNO FRAZATTO
An ace from Atos Jiu-Jitsu team and a student of Roberto Tozi, Bruno Frazatto was another to Aldo’s worth in the gi, as a brown belt. “Of course I remember,” says Frazatto. “I lost, and the loser never forgets. I’m still carrying bile for him (laughs)! It was in 2004 in Niterói. It was a war, 4-4 on the scoreboard and he won on advantage points, if I remember it correctly. We swapped a bunch of sweeps and ended up in a tangle that seemed like the 50/50 guard. He was already the stalwart fighter he is today. You can tell him I want a rematch—but only in the gi (laughs)!”
5. AGAINST LEANDRO MARTINS
To get a sense of what José Aldo’s style in the gi, check out this match against Leandro Martins, who at the time represented TT Jiu-Jitsu and is now on team CheckMat.