Jose Aldo is the only featherweight champion the UFC has known. His reign as top Zuffa featherweight extends back to a November 2009 win over Mike Brown. He hasn’t lost a fight in ten years. Zuffa has paid him nearly a quarter of a million dollars in knockout and fight of the night bonuses, which includes his rematch with Chad Mendes this past October that various media outlets awarded their “Fight of the Year” award. He’s as decorated and dominant as any champion in the promotion’s history.
So, why has the UFC done him so dirty?
Word of Aldo’s now-infamous rib injury started trickling out on June 23. On June 24th, the UFC released the following statement:
In light of recent reports regarding the status of UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, UFC has received official medical confirmation from several doctors that Aldo did not suffer a broken rib. Following a review of the scans, it has been determined that the champion suffered a bone bruise to his rib and cartilage injury during training.
With this news, Aldo has expressed that he has every intention of facing Conor McGregor at UFC 189.
On June 30th, Aldo officially pulled out of the event. The following day, he cited a “broken rib” as the reason for his decision and provided medical scans of the injury.
On the 30th, Dana White and Conor McGregor appeared on ESPN to announce the news. White made sure to note that Aldo had “pulled out of five title fights.” McGregor added that “[t]he doctors have cleared him to fight – it’s a bruise.” We should expect McGregor to downplay the injury in order to draw some more heat, but you’d expect White to step in to protect his champion’s image. He, instead, remained silent.
Flash forward to the pre-fight press conference two days before the event. MMA Junkie’s John Morgan asks UFC Vice President of Public Relations Dave Sholler to clarify the conflicting reports on Aldo’s injury diagnosis and whether the UFC was trying to coerce Aldo into fighting. Sholler responds:
Let’s start here. Jose’s health and safety was always number one. And it always is with all of our athletes. So any rumors or social media that you see that we’re forcing Jose to fight is categorically false. The bottom line is there were difference of opinions in the actual X-rays and scans that were looked at. But the bottom line was it was a significant injury, and Jose decided that he couldn’t fight. And that’s understandable. Obviously, again, his health and safety is first and foremost. He had a serious rib and cartilage injury. And I know he’s going to be watching Saturday night.
Sholler and the UFC can deny that they tried to “force” Aldo to fight in large part because they can’t force him to fight. Ultimately, Aldo has the final say in whether or not he steps into the cage. But they can put pressure on him to do so, and releasing the statement that they did would do that. Aldo pulling out with “bruised ribs” makes him look especially weak to UFC fans, and that exact sentiment could be seen in real time on Twitter following the news.
But Sholler never addresses the diagnosis issues outside of acknowledging that there were “difference of opinions.” Two doctors have gone on the record in defending the fractured rib diagnosis: Rickson Moraes, who was the first doctor to confirm a fractured rib, and David Chao, a former team doctor for the San Diego Chargers who was asked to evaluate the scans by Aldo’s camp.
The Chao article, written by Bleacher Report’s Jeremy Botter, also notes that the fractured rib diagnosis was confirmed by “three separate doctors in Brazil” (one assumes that Moraes was one of them). At the end of the article, Botter notes that “[t]he UFC has not responded to a request for information regarding the doctors they used to verify Aldo’s injury.”
So, who are these doctors and why did their diagnoses differ? Fractured or not, and assuming the UFC knew of Aldo’s intentions to test out the injury over the course of the next week (this seems like a reasonable assumption to make given the stakes), why were they in a rush to declare the injury a bruise? The UFC could just have easily released a statement acknowledging the injury and Aldo’s plans to evaluate his body’s response over the next week, but they chose not to. That certainly raises questions as to the UFC’s intentions, and I’m not sure Sholler’s statement properly addresses those questions.
But the UFC’s disrespect to Aldo doesn’t end with the injury. On Tuesday, White appeared on Ryen Russillo’s ESPN Radio show. Russillo asked White how much Aldo was expected to make at UFC 189, and White said, “Millions of dollars. Yeah, he probably would’ve made close to $4 million.”
This is the same man who said the following about releasing fighter’s financials in 2011:
[Fans and media] want to know what [the amounts are] so bad. It drives them crazy. It kills them. It’s all they want to know. It’s crazy how bad they want to know it. But this is the way I look at it – some of you might understand, and some of you might not – money changes a lot of things. When you’re the guy that gets – and I’m just using this as an example, when you get a million-dollar bonus – let’s say you get a million-dollar bonus. People come crawling out of the [expletive] woodwork, man. Every uncle, cousin, nephew, people you didn’t know you were related to need money. Everybody comes asking you.
But one thing you will never see, you’ll never see these guys come out and start talking about their money or their bonuses or what they got paid. None of you have ever done a story where guys come out and say, ‘Yeah, here’s what happened: I fought a great fight, I came out, and this was my bonus.’ You know why? Because they don’t want you to [expletive] know, and they don’t want anyone else to know, either. That’s their business, just like you guys wouldn’t want what you make every year reported in the paper. It’s the same thing.
It’s their business. Except when it interferes with the UFC’s business, then it becomes everybody’s business.