If statistics are anything to go by, then Junior dos Santos the UFC Heavyweight champion may be doomed. In the past decade, no heavyweight champion’s reign has gone on longer than two fights. But then again some may argue that there’s lies, damned lies and statistics.
Back in 2011, for anyone who needs reminding, before anyone had time to settle in and get comfortable to watch the debut of the UFC on Fox, dos Santos landed an overhand right to the back of Velasquez’s ear. As easy as that punch landed, down went the champion even easier. After a few more flurries and a mere 64 seconds of the first round elapsed a new champion emerged. Velasquez’s 14 month reign had come to an end and the rule of Junior dos Santos had begun. Now little over a year later, both fighters will be at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday fighting in one of the year’s most anticipated bouts.
While the concise nature of the first fight would normally result in little clamor for a rematch, dos Santos has always had to fight accusations that the Velasquez he fought on that November night in Anaheim was nothing more than 250 pounds of damaged goods. Indeed the shoulder surgery that put Velasquez out for close to 10 months immediately after the bout is testament to how injured he was. Had the reigning champion wanted to take the fight to ground he would have been unable to do so regardless.
But dos Santos has always believed he would have annihilated a healthy Velasquez with equal ease something that he’ll hope to prove this weekend with both fighters speaking loudly of clean bills of health.
“Cain is an excellent wrestler, and he puts pressure on his opponents all the time,” dos Santos explained to Sherdog.com. “That’s what he’s going to try to do to me.. but I’m very confident I’m going to win this.”
And how does dos Santos think he’s going to do this?
“I think I’m going to knock him out again.”
As for Velasquez, he has rarely used the injury as an excuse either, and has always took time to acknowledge that dos Santos that night was simply better. Every fighter eventually comes across somebody who’s better than them and every fighter gets hurt even if it’s the guy who beats you.
“Junior was hurt as well” noted Velasquez during a media call for UFC 155. “Guys get injured before the fight, so it was just me being a fighter and not backing out. I did it, and it’s in the past.”
As for the punch that ended his reign as heavyweight champion?
“Junior’s quick, and he’s got power in his hands. He timed it perfectly, came out on top. He’s got good boxing. I’ve just got to fight my style of fight, which means a lot of pressure and a lot of offense. I just want to go out there and fight my fight.”
Traditionalists argue that Velasquez’s ground game and all-time great athleticism for the heavyweight division should ensure him victory against dos Santos’ upright striker mentality. But many in UFC circles are now claiming that dos Santos not only has the power to dispatch Velasquez again, but with even greater ease than last time. With one of the best takedown artists (Velasquez), facing one of the cleanest strikers in the sport (dos Santos), fans can expect two things. Firstly, fireworks and secondly perhaps a much longer reign for the winner than history has seen otherwise.
Igor Guryashkin is a freelance journalist whose extensive work on combat sports has been featured in ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He splits his time between New York and Louisville. Follow him on Twitter @IGuryashkinESPN.