One year ago, Urijah Faber entered the Octagon to defend his WEC Featherweight Championship for what would have been a record-breaking sixth time.
An ill-advised back elbow from Urijah Faber highlighted just how confident the champ had become, having reigned over the division for more than two and a half years. That confidence was dashed. Then largely unknown, Mike Brown capitalized and finished the best Featherweight in the world. A new champion had earned his place atop the division. The stunned audience had learned who Mike Brown was.
On that same event one year ago, the audience was learning another name as well. Jose Aldo was fighting for just the second time in WEC. One year later, Aldo would emerge, five fights deep into his WEC career, ready to challenge the greatest fighter the division had to offer. With the resume to fully justify his title shot, many believed Brown would embarrass the young upstart. After re-affirming his status as the best in the world by outclassing Leonard Garcia and besting Faber in their rematch, it seemed as though Brown was without an equal. That turned out to be true, in a manner of speaking.
The winds of change blew through the division as the hurricane that is Jose Aldo's offense left Brown overwhelmed. Fast, destructive, and unrepentant, Aldo proved he was not just Brown's equal, but his superior. As high as Brown raised the bar for Featherweights, Aldo's second round TKO victory now puts the bar seemingly out of reach. Despite the lofty goal, a healthy list of challengers already awaits the newly crowned champion.
The happiest person to see Aldo win the title, next to Aldo himself, must have been former champion Urijah Faber. A successful defense by Brown, to whom Faber had already lost twice, would have left "The California Kid" on the outside looking in. With a new face atop the division, the biggest star in WEC is once again in title contention. Faber will first have to get past Rafael Assuncao (of the fighting Assuncao brothers) on January 10, 2010.
Manny Gamburyan, having earned a unanimous decision victory over former title contender Leonard Garcia, also appears to be in title contention. The alumnus of season five of The Ultimate Fighter has successfully transitioned from the UFC's Lightweight division to the WEC's Featherweight division, having won his first two fights. Coming off a victory on the same event in which Aldo won the title, both fighters should be on the same schedule, making a match up between the two a logical consideration.
The wildcard is newcomer Mackens Semerzier. A training partner of former WEC Bantamweight Champion Miguel Torres, Semerzier shocked the world in his WEC debut by defeating Aldo's Nova Uniao teammate, Wagnney Fabiano. Stunningly, Semerzier beat Fabiano at his own game, earning a submission via triangle choke midway through the first round. While there would be a measure of intrigue in watching Aldo seek retribution for his fallen teammate, Semerzier remains a largely unknown commodity. He'll have the chance to prove that his victory was no fluke when he fights Deividas Taurosevicius on January 10.
Talented though each contender may be, each will face a tremendous struggle in the new champion. In beating Mike Brown, Aldo displayed the familiar skill set that earned him his title shot. He brings other-worldly striking to the table, backing it up with the promise of a superb ground game. As a Nova Uniao black belt, Aldo's Brazilian Jiu Jitsu pedigree is fantastic, but it has yet to be truly put on display in WEC. There's been no need thus far.
Aldo's striking, a bevy of punches, kicks and knees, is made all the more effective and frightening an unparalleled killer instinct. Aldo's vision and fighter's intellect allow him to recognize the moment at which he must strike; moments a lesser fighter allow to pass, having never seen coming. When Aldo recognizes those moments, he capitalizes with incredible precision, and his opponents lose. It's as simple as that.
Still, as dominant as Aldo has been thus far, the hard part has only just begun. Facing Faber, Gamburyan, and perhaps Semerzier would be a challenge for any Featherweight, especially when fueled by title aspirations. Add to the mix a potential rematch with Brown and any other Featherweights that may separate themselves from the pack and future becomes less hazy. Aldo will be vigorously tested for as long as he holds the WEC Featherweight Championship.
While great changes have taken place in the Featherweight division each of the past two Novembers, there's only one change to expect one year from now: Jose Aldo will be 24.
One year from now, Jose Aldo's best days will still be ahead of him. The only question is, will any challengers still be?