‘He still lives a normal life, takes the subway, sits in the cheap seats at Maracana’

CONOR McGREGOR AND Jose Aldo have plenty in common as fighters, but outside the octagon they’re polar opposites.

While McGregor has embraced the media duties that are required to maximise the profitability of a relatively short career as a professional athlete, Aldo’s approach has been very different.

As the only undisputed champion in the history of the UFC’s featherweight division, there can be no denying that Aldo is the top dog in the 145lbs weight class — at least until he faces McGregor next weekend at UFC 194 in Las Vegas.

However, the Irish fighter has garnered the interest of casual fans and the mainstream media in a way that Aldo never has. McGregor still has to provide evidence of his claims to be the best featherweight in the world, but his status as the biggest male star currently competing in MMA is already set in stone.

It’s not something Aldo loses much sleep over, however. In spite of his current ranking as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC, the 29-year-old from Manaus still trails veterans like Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort, as well as retired heavyweight Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, in Brazil’s pecking order of sporting icons.

“Aldo is a well-known athlete, especially in cities like Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Manaus. Outside of those places, he’s more known by MMA fans in general,” explained Guilherme Cruz, a Brazilian journalist with MMAFighting.com.

“However, even in Rio, he can’t be compared to other sports names. Outside of the MMA bubble, fighters like Anderson Silva, Vitor Belfort, and ‘Minotauro’ Nogueira can be considered more celebrities than Aldo right now.”

And that’s fine with ‘Scarface’ too. In spite of the detrimental impact it has probably had on his bank balance, avoiding the spotlight whenever possible is a conscious decision he has made.

That won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the protracted build-up to next weekend’s clash with McGregor. The Dubliner thrived on the many press conferences and staredowns, while Aldo did his utmost to grin and bear the additional obligations involved in fighting the Crumlin cash cow.

The benefits for Aldo are that he’s been able to invest more time in his family and sitting among his fellow Flamengo supporters when watching his beloved club in action at the Maracana Stadium.

Guilherme Cruz: “Aldo is completely different from fighters like Anderson and Belfort. Vitor was already a celebrity a decade ago, and Anderson became one after kicking him in the face.

“Aldo doesn’t like to be on TV shows or doing interviews and he pays the price for it. He still lives a normal life, takes the subway, goes to Maracana to watch a soccer game and sits in the cheap seats.”

Having grown up in the favelas of Manaus, Aldo is a hero to many in his hometown as a result of his achievements as a world champion mixed martial artist. But his rags-to-riches story, during which he lived in the gym he was training at in Rio de Janeiro at one point, isn’t a unique Brazilian tale.

“People from Manaus, where he was born, and fellow fighters see him that way [as a hero],” said Guilherme Cruz. “He’s not seen by the general public like that because the majority of Brazilian athletes come from the same humble background as Aldo.

“Trying to live a better life through sports is the first goal of hundreds of thousands of poor kids in Brazil, so Aldo wasn’t the only athlete to overcome poverty through sports.”

As for his meeting with Conor McGregor at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in seven days’ time, many in Brazil see McGregor as little more than “the joker” that Aldo has portrayed the Dubliner to be.

This will be Aldo’s 10th world title defence. The best featherweight fighters on the planet have all failed to take him out. The only loss of his career so far came over 10 years ago — when he was just 19 years old.

However, Cruz says Brazilians who follow the sport closely recognise that McGregor poses a real threat to Aldo’s dominance: “I know fans who believe Aldo is going to lose, others are confident that he stays on top.

“I believe that all the hype surrounding this fight for over a year makes you believe McGregor could be the one, even though he’s as dangerous as Chad Mendes and Frankie Edgar — with different fight styles, obviously — in my opinion.

“Hardcore fans know how good and dangerous McGregor is. Casual MMA fans that just see headlines on mainstream media might think he doesn’t deserve to be there, that he’s an easy win for Aldo, but those who understand the sport know it’s not the case.”

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