The UFC featherweight championship will be officially defended on Saturday for the first time since 2015. Yes, you read that correctly.
With the Conor McGregor era behind us, at least as it pertains to the UFC's 145-pound division, the top two remaining featherweights in the world will face off Saturday in a unification bout at UFC 212 in Rio de Janeiro.
Jose Aldo (26-2), the former champion turned interim champion turned full titleholder (again), returns to his home country to face interim champ Max Holloway (17-3), who brings with him the prestige of a 10-fight win streak.
McGregor, who moved up to lightweight last November and captured Eddie Alvarez's title, will not be physically present in Saturday's bout. In fact, McGregor has yet to appear in any form with the UFC in 2017 while taking paternal leave (and presumably preparing for a boxing match against).
But the spirit of McGregor will still be felt on Saturday, at least that's what one might think, considering he was the last man to defeat both fighters in the main event. But Aldo has bounced back from his 13-second title loss to McGregor and put it behind him at an almost alarming rate.
Aldo, 30, the division's inaugural champion who recorded an almost mythical 10-year unbeaten run until the McGregor loss, has acted as if the knockout never took place each time he has been interviewed over the past year.
"To me, I never stopped being champion," Aldo said during the UFC 212 news conference to announce the fight. "I lost that fight because of an accident. I knew that I would win a rematch, that I would be champion again."
The rematch was ultimately never in the cards as McGregor was allowed to chase a pair of big-money welterweight fights against Nate Diaz. Aldo was so hurt by the UFC's decision that he initially attempted to get out of his contract and declared himself a free agent.
"After everything that I have done in this division and with the UFC, I think at that time that I deserved to have an immediate rematch," Aldo said. "I had the belt for many years, I was a champion for many years. So when I lost, I think I deserved that. That's what really made me upset.
"It's not my fault that [McGregor] is such a p----. He was never the champion. I don't see myself losing to anyone in this division or any other [division]."
Because he is unable to redeem himself in a rematch, Aldo's stance is an interesting one -- act as if the defeat never happened and it will go away. In one sense, it makes him an intriguing character study.
For most fighters, it wouldn't be that easy. But Aldo's clinical dissection of Frankie Edgar in his return last July, winning him an interim title that was later upgrade when McGregor vacated, would suggest the loss is firmly behind him.
For Holloway, 25, that hasn't been enough evidence.
"We're about to find out if his heart is still in it," Holloway said. "I'm excited to see, man. I'm excited to see. Make sure you tune in because I can't answer the question for the man, but all I know is we're about to find out.
"I respect the guy -- he's the greatest [featherweight] to do it. But it's time for a new era."
Holloway's shot at the division's legitimate title has been a long-time coming. The native of Hawaii was just 21 when he lost a three-round decision to McGregor in 2013 but immediately ran off an impressive win streak against just about every big name in the division, including Cub Swanson, Charles Oliveira, Jeremy Stephens and Ricardo Lamas.
The fact that it took him 10 victories to finally get a title shot doesn't sit well with him, however. In December, Holloway put forth his most emphatic victory of the bunch, dominantly stopping former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis to win an interim title.
Still, the idea that he hasn't been promoted to the level of his success is something that continues to fuel Holloway.
"I'm young, I'm 25 and just because I don't have a comb-over or some nice shoes, a nice pair of shades, they're not pushing me," Holloway said. "It's some bulls--- but it is what it is though. Everything comes in due time and my time is coming. You guys are gonna see."
Make no mistake, this fight offers different things for each competitor. Most importantly, for fans, however, it allows for true clarity within the division for the first time since the full title was defended 17 months ago.
For Aldo, it's an opportunity to continue building his unmatched 145-pound legacy (the McGregor blemish apparently notwithstanding) before entertaining ideas of moving up in weight for superfights, which he originally talked about back when Pettis was the 155-pound champ.
"I think [Holloway] has great fights in the past and he has built himself up to title challenger, but it really doesn't matter to me," Aldo said. "I think right now, once I get through this title fight, I can start thinking of some of the other things I want to do. I think there are other challenges - maybe other divisions or other guys I haven't fought before – so I think there is plenty left for me to challenge myself."
And for Holloway, it's an opportunity to secure a level of respect and recognition that has, up to this point, eluded him.
"Everything is going to be clear -- the water is going to be clear after [Saturday], I tell you that much," Holloway said. "I'm getting ready. I was getting ready for the best Jose Aldo, so I hope he's getting ready for the best version of me and we're about to find out. The questions and everything is almost done and we're about to find out what's about to happen."