Jose Aldo has breezed through the World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight division, drawing comparisons to fellow Brazilian Anderson Silva's ownership of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's 185-pound class.
Now Aldo is being counted on to help redeem mixed martial arts' reputation, which has taken a hit in the last two weeks. Silva's clownish performance at UFC 112 on April 10, as well as a brawl at the end of a Strikeforce card broadcast on CBS on April 17, has left the sport open to widespread criticism.
In WEC 48 tonight at Sacramento, Calif., Aldo and Urijah Faber have a chance to help restore MMA's image. Aldo defends his belt against former champion Faber in what is billed as the biggest featherweight bout in MMA history.
The WEC is owned by the UFC, whose president Dana White has personally taken over the promotion of the WEC's first pay-per-view card.
While the Strikeforce debacle had nothing to do with his organizations, White says the WEC card has the potential to erase the recent black marks.
"Listen, it's been a bad couple of weeks for MMA. And I'm one of these guys that always wants to get right back on the horse," White said on a conference call.
"We couldn't have a better fight following all this crap. Aldo-Faber is going to be a sick fight. The co-main event is awesome, the place is going to be sold out, packed, great energy, and believe me, thank God this fight is happening."
White said the company felt this was the right time to make the jump to pay per view, mostly because of the strength of the card and the popularity of fights being aired mostly on Versus the last three years.
"When you start like we started the WEC, you build a fan base on television,'' White said. ''You get these guys some exposure, people know them and then you make the leap to pay per view."
Aldo, 6-0 with six knockouts in the WEC, said through an interpreter that the historic element of the card doesn't matter.
"I don't feel any extra pressure. I'm here to defend my belt," he said. "I'm an employee of Zuffa and the WEC and this is the fight they put in front of me. My goal is to ... give everybody the show that I'm sure everyone wants to see."
The fight headlines the deepest WEC card to date. A lightweight title bout between Ben Henderson and Donald Cerrone is the co-main event. The first time they met, Henderson won a narrow decision last year in one of the fights of the year.
Mike Brown, another former featherweight champion, will meet former "The Ultimate Fighter" castmate Manny Gamburyan. Lightweights Anthony Njokuani and Shane Roller, who train in Las Vegas, will square off with the winner likely getting a shot at the Henderson-Cerrone winner.
At least two preliminary fights will be shown on Spike (Cable 29) at 6 p.m, and the pay-per-view portion begins at 7.
Contact sports reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509.