A global star of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and the reigning Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweight title holder, Jose Aldo da Silva Oliveira Junior is feted wherever he goes, be it in Brazil or elsewhere. Also known as Ze Aldo, Jose is nothing short of a hero in his hometown of Manaus.
Reliving old times in the city of his birth, the 27-year-old football-loving fighter attended the opening of the Arena Amazonia at the beginning of March. Breaking off from an impromptu photoshoot with his loyal army of fans, Jose spoke to FIFA.com about Manaus’ gleaming new stadium and the upcoming FIFA World Cup™.
FIFA.com: What does it mean to Manaus to have a modern stadium like the Arena Amazonia?
Jose Aldo: I was born in the neighbourhood right next to the stadium and I used to go to the old Vivaldao. It’s an honour for me to come here to such a lovely stadium. I’ve seen a few of the others and I can safely say that the Arena Amazonia is one of the nicest stadiums in Brazil, if not the nicest.
Are you planning to watch the World Cup games in Manaus?
I’d really like to see the England-Italy match here. I think it’s a milestone for Manaus and the state of Amazonas to be hosting the World Cup. This stadium is going to put Amazonas on the Brazilian footballing map, and I hope the city’s football clubs will be able to make the most of the Arena Amazonia as well.
The World Cup stadiums have been designed to host other events apart from football matches. Can you see yourself fighting in them?
There’s not a single Brazilian fighter who’s not thinking of that, and with stadiums like this it’s a lot closer to happening. We’re in negotiations right now to bring UFC to Manaus. God willing we’ll be able to organise an event here.
I’ve seen a few of the others and I can safely say that the Arena Amazonia is one of the nicest stadiums in Brazil, if not the nicest.
The Arena Amazonia stands in the neighbourhood where you were brought up, doesn’t it?
Yes, it’s in Alvorada, and we are very happy and proud about it. We’ve been joking about Cristiano Ronaldo coming to play in our neighbourhood.
Do you think its construction can lead to the development of Alvorada and the surrounding area? Can you see the benefits of having a new stadium in this part of the city?
I think the Arena Amazonia has been built in Alvorada precisely with the idea of developing the local area. I believe it’s already brought property prices up here, and the general infrastructures and improvements that have been made, like the road renovations, will really help the region grow.
Now that clubs here will have use of a modern stadium, can you see football making a resurgence across the state?
Local clubs need some kind of incentive, and there’s nothing better for them than to have a nice, decent place where they can play. Obviously, football here is not as strong as it used to be, but the people of Amazonas love the game. I really believe that the Arena Amazonia will inspire the fans and clubs to get back into the elite of Brazilian football, which is where they were in the 1970s and 80s.
Talking of football, which team do you support?
Here in Manaus my team is Nacional, though my heart is rubro-negro. I just can’t help it. I’ve been a Flamengo fan since I was a kid.
Are you excited about the World Cup getting closer?
Yes, of course. The World Cup a hugely important event for Brazil and the people of Brazil will drop everything to watch the games. That’s the way it’s always been. It’s going to be one big party. A lot of people will be going to the stadiums to support the team and others will get totally carried away, paint themselves green and yellow and do their supporting in the streets. That’s all part of the culture of the Brazilian people.
Were you passionate about football when you were young?
I’ve always played football, and I still play today. It’s a passion I’ve had ever since I was a kid.
Can you see Brazil doing well? Is a sixth world title on the cards?
Of course I can. Brazil are at home and the fans are going to have a big impact on how the players perform. We’ve got a good side and though we don’t have a lot of stars, it’s a strong side. Unity is what makes A Seleção strong and I think that’s what’s going to help Brazil win the title.