Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez attempts to dethrone current champion Juniord dos Santos this upcoming Saturday (Dec. 29, 2012) at UFC 155 from the MGM Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Velasquez tore through his first eight opponents before thoroughly dominating then-division champion Brock Lesnar to win the strap. Next, he headlined the first-ever FOX event against the aforementioned dos Santos.
It was a disaster.
"Brown Pride" was knocked out in just 64 seconds. He took the loss in stride, however, coming out and mauling Antonio Silva, leaving "Bigfoot" with a hole in his face and another loss on his record. Now, Velasquez looks to avenge the only loss in his career and earn back his belt.
Does Velasquez have the skills to beat "Cigano," barely one year after his loss to the heavy-handed Brazilian?
Let's find out:
Velasquez has taken the right approach to striking. While many wrestlers transitioning to mixed martial arts (MMA) jump to advanced techniques, Cain has solidified his basics and become a formidable, if incomplete, striker.
Cain has some of the heaviest kicks in the UFC heavyweight division. Velasquez opens almost all of his fights by circling around his opponents, throwing a mix of leg and body kicks. In addition to doing damage, these kicks help him find his range, both for his boxing and wrestling.
Once Velasquez decides to engage with his boxing, he'll open up with a jab and follow up with a hard right straight. And once Velasquez starts landing, he'll follow it up with hooks and uppercuts. The more Velasquez lands, the more his confidence grows ... and the longer his combinations get.
Velasquez is savage from the clinch. His opponents often seek the clinch as a refuge from his constant assault, but it only gets worse for them. From the clinch, Cain doesn't rest, instead throwing a long combo before ending with a takedown.
Velasquez is not a technical counter puncher, merely an incredibly aggressive fighter. Whenever his opponent attempts to land a punch, Cain will always throw at least one punch in response. Velasquez doesn't let his opponents land without retaliation, and isn't afraid to stand in the pocket and trade.
One excellent example of Velasquez's counter punching, and only non-technical knockout, is his crushing left-right-left knockout of "Big Nog." Nogueira lands a jab, but before he throw another punch, Velasquez smashes him with a three punch combination.
Some quick ground and pound sealed the deal, earning Velasquez his title shot against Lesnar.
As I mentioned above, Velasquez's striking is not complete. He's in a hurry to hit his opponent, and gets caught in the middle of his combinations. Velasquez's aggression is both his greatest asset, and one of his biggest faults.
Velasquez lacks head movement and isn't that hard to hit. Ben Rothwell and Cheick Kongo landed most of the strikes they threw, but they were too busy getting dominated to capitalize on it. Even Lesnar, a horrible striker, bloodied Velasquez's nose with his jab.
Velasquez is a two-time Division I NCAA All-American wrestler and two-time Pac-10 conference champion at Arizona State University. Velasquez's wrestling is the best in the heavyweight division and the reason he's a top five Heavyweight.
While Velasquez has very good double leg takedowns, most of Velasquez's takedowns are single legs. Regardless of which takedown he attempts, Velasquez often finishes by pulling their leg(s) up and away, dropping them on their side and often landing in a dominant position. Velasquez chains his takedowns together very well and is excellent at turning corners in the middle of his shot.
According to Fightmetric, Velasquez has a 66 percent takedown accuracy.
In my opinion, Velasquez is currently the best at ground and pound in MMA. He absolutely savages his opponents from the top position. One of the hardest abilities to master in MMA is striking while in transition, and Velasquez is one of the best when it comes to striking while transitioning on the ground.
Velasquez begins his offense the second his opponent's back is on the ground, he never gives them a chance to settle. Since his opponents cannot settle, they can't attempt sweeps or submissions. Equally impressive is that Velasquez's opponents rarely get back to their feet. They may be able to stand up, but they are already in a takedown before they can attempt to break away and begin throwing punches.
Velasquez's ability to control his opponent while he beats them through the canvas is incredible, and solidifies his top game as one of the most ferocious in MMA.
The best, and most famous, example of Velasquez's ground and pound is his sanguinary domination of "Bigfoot" Silva. Silva is the best jiu-jitsu player who Velasquez has ever gone to the ground with, and although he wasn't able to pass Silva's guard for most of the fight, he was able to carve him up from half guard without being threatened.
Velasquez earned his brown belt in Guerilla Jiu-Jitsu, a form of jiu-jitsu modified for MMA, under jiu-jitsu ace Dave Camarillo. Velasquez has never submitted anyone, or been submitted, but his constant assault from top position has shown us a few things.
Velasquez is very good at positional jiu-jitsu. He passes the guard of every fighter he has fought, and constantly transitions between dominant positions. Moving between side control, mount, and knee on the belly, Velasquez doesn't allow his opponent a chance to rest and think of an escape plan.
We have never really seen Velasquez on his back. The only exception is in his fight with Lesnar, when the NCAA champion took down Velasquez, many thought the fight was over. Lesnar had proven that his top game was very suffocating, but Velasquez was able to stand up very quickly.
Immediately going the butterfly guard, Velasquez pushed Lesnar's head toward the mat, lifted with his legs and scrambled back to his feet.
Dos Santos claims that if Velasquez takes him down, he will submit him. Velasquez should hope that JDS believes that because attempting to submit Velasquez from the bottom will be the end of all but the very best submission specialists.
Savageness and Cardio
Velasquez is one of the most violent guys in MMA -- his ground and pound is downright ferocious, and he loves to attack his opponent. As cliche as it sounds, Velasquez does in fact throw with bad intentions, leaving most of his opponents sliced up and bleeding.
Velasquez's cardio is his best, and perhaps most unique, attribute. He can fight aggressively for at least three rounds, even after landing 261 strikes against Kongo, Velasquez didn't look fatigued. According to FightMetric, Velasquez has the highest SLpM (Strikes Landed per Minute), landing 7.47 strikes on average per minute.
This is an incredible feat for a heavyweight and it allows him to quickly sap his opponents' wills before finishing them off.
Best chance for success
Velasquez needs to go straight to his bread and butter, wrestling. First, open up with some leg kicks, and then circle to cut off the cage. Velasquez needs to resist the urge to box or counter -- dos Santos is very good at setting up his strikes and Velasquez will be unable to land without putting himself in danger.
Once Velasquez can get dos Santos's back against the cage -- or before if he fails to do that -- Velasquez needs to shoot in for a takedown. Frank Mir got pretty deep on a single leg against dos Santos, and if Velasquez can do that, he should be able to get a takedown. After he gets him down, Velasquez just needs to pound away, bloody up dos Santos and make him fear being on his back.
If he can accomplish this early in the fight, the takedowns will just come easier as it continues.
If Velasquez doesn't get his first takedown he should grind dos Santos into the fence and try again. The alternative to wrestling dos Santos is getting knocked out, so he needs to stick to him. Even if he fails to get a takedown in the first three rounds, dos Santos' cardio isn't on Velasquez's level and the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA)-trained standout can pour it on thick in the championship rounds.
Will Velasquez get his belt back, or will dos Santos remain the best heavyweight in MMA today?