Road to Vancouver: Junior dos Santos finishes off Stefan Struve and Mirko Cro Cop in 2009

Photo via UFC

Junior dos Santos made quite an impact when he made his debut at UFC 90: "Silva vs. Cote." In less than 90 seconds he knocked out potential title contender Fabricio Werdum and sent him packing out the company.

"Cigano" had paid his dues in the Brazilian regional circuit and it seems all that hard work had paid off when he made it to the big show.

Leading up to the UFC 131: "Dos Santos vs. Carwin" main event where the young knockout kid meets Shane Carwin, we've been taking a look at the path "Cigano" took that led him to this point.

The first three installments can be found herehere, and here and tell the story of his rise to prominence in his home country of Brazil. The latest History in the Making highlights his fight with Werdum while an edition of Hey man, nice shot provided a more technical look at the knockout.

Today we'll look at dos Santos run throughout 2009, a year that found him fighting a fellow young prospect and standing opposite a legend in the sport.

Let's go!

 Why are these fights significant?

A lot of people thought dos Santos' win over Werdum was a fluke. That will happen when an unknown fighter gets a one-punch knockout over a guy with a lot more experience. Sometimes it turns out to be true, as in the case of Matt Serra, but after the shellackings "Cigano" gave Stefan Struve and Mirko Filipovic, the same couldn't be said for him.

He took out another young prospect in Struve and did so in quick fashion. He systematically picked apart a living legend in Filipovic.

Both of these fighters were tried and tested kickboxers but "Cigano" was able to best them both in the stand-up. He proved his now vaunted striking abilities weren't the product of hype ... they were the real deal, Holyfield.

What happened in the fights?

Not much to report in the fight with "Skyscraper." Dos Santos was able to clinch up early and landed a monster left that was followed up by an even more devastating right.

The lanky Dutchman dropped to the canvas and was only saved from further harm by a quick to react referee. He seemed a bit upset at the stoppage but he was clearly in bad form.

This fight, combined with his debut, gave "Cigano" a total Octagon time of just over two minutes. His bout with "Cro Cop" took significantly longer but dos Santos was equally as punishing to the Croatian kickboxer.

That fight took place at UFC 103: "Franklin vs. Belfort," the company's debut event in Dallas, Texas. The first round started with "Cro Cop" defending against an immediate flurry from his opponent before landing a pair of his patented kicks to the body.

Combinations from the Brazilian kept missing their mark but he finally landed a punch during an exchange that produced a nice-sized lump over Filipovic's eye. Then, oddly enough, the kickboxer dove in for a takedown that was easily stuffed.

It seemed he got a taste of the power "Cigano" was packing and may have been wanting a reprieve from the pain.

But dos Santos didn't escape unscathed either. Cuts over each eye were "Cro Cop's" going away gift after the last exchange. A straight from the Croatian snapped his opponent's head back as he showed there was still some fight left in the old dog.

The second round was all dos Santos. He pressured Filipovic immediately and unloaded flurry after flurry. The Croatian didn't respond in the slightest and seemed content only to defend.

Landing punches, kicks, and knees to his opponent's body, "Cigano" began to pick him apart. You can almost see "Cro Cop" mentally break in this round as he realized that he is facing himself but from five years in the past.

What seems almost more disheartening for the former Pride star is the pair of straights he landed at the beginning of the third round that dos Santos simply walked through.

A handful of solid knees crushed Filiopvic's internal organs with the last one nearly forcing him down to the mat. Trying to back away, "Cro Cop" ate another knee. And then another. And another.

A punch from the Brazilian that landed perfectly in Filipovic's socket made the Croatian decide enough is enough.

A verbal submission gave "Cigano" his third UFC win.

What do we learn?

The bout with Struve continued the theme of good gameplanning from the Brazilian. Clearly, Struve's reach would pose a problem so dos Santos was quick -- almost immediate -- to close the distance and get in close.

In the case of his fight with Filipovic, dos Santos was able to weather the early storm and slowly pick "Cro Cop" apart. The former Pride fighter has always been somewhat of a front-runner and seems to mentally collapse as the minutes tick away and control of the action slips from his grasp.

"Cro Cop" was an dangerous as any fighter on the planet in the first round but dos Santos knew as the fight dragged on, that danger would wane and defeating the feared striker would become easier.

He also implemented a gameplan of attacking the body instead of headhunting. As any good boxer will tell you: destroy the body and you will kill the head.

In all the fights we've looked at, there has only be one instance that dos Santos brawled. Every other fight has been a perfect execution of the gameplan he set out with.

A heavy hitter who keeps his cool?

Shane Carwin might be in trouble.

Tomorrow: Dos Santos rolls into 2010 with another pair of stoppages

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