Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos takes on former champ Cain Velasquez in the main event of UFC 155 this night Saturday (Dec. 29, 2012) at the MGM Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
"Cigano" entered the UFC in style, knocking out title contender Fabricio Werdum in little more than one minute. Then, he smashed six more top fighters, finishing four of them with strikes. A win over former title challenger Shane Carwin earned him a title shot against Cain Velasquez, who he promptly knocked out in just 64 seconds at UFC on FOX 1 in Nov. 2011.
The Brazilian bomber was then booked to battle former Strikeforce / K-1 champion Alistair Overeem, but a failed drug test derailed that, and perennial contender Frank Mir was matched up as his replacement. Dos Santos easily dispatched of Mir, knocking him out in the second round.
Now, dos Santos is set to rematch Velasquez, this time as the champion. Does have the mixed martial arts (MMA) skills to knockout Velasquez ... again?
Let's take a closer look:
Dos Santos' rise to the top is mostly because of his excellent boxing. Trained by Luis Carlos Dorea, the same man who taught Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, "Cigano" is one of the most feared strikers in MMA today.
Before I break down dos Santos' boxing, it's worth mentioning that he has other tools. Dos Santos has a solid arsenal of thudding kicks, some solid knees from the clinch, and a particularly cruel stepping knee to the belly. He doesn't utilize these attacks very often, but they complement his boxing nicely.
On to his boxing, dos Santos likes to open up with long range strikes. He begins every fight pretty much the same way, with an assortment of jabs and straight right hands to the body. The jab sets up his left hook, while the right to the body lowers his opponents hands, leaving their chins vulnerable.
Dos Santos has three main finishing techniques: the overhand right, left hook and, of course, his thunderous uppercut.
"Cigano's" overhand right is a very accurate punch, and he sets it up very well with his right hand to the body and constant feints. As their hands lower to defend the body blow, dos Santos will switch to his overhand and crush his opponents.
The best example of this is his first fight Velasquez.
Dos Santos' lead left hook is a very tricky punch that he often sneaks into combinations. Similar to the relationship between his right to the body and overhand, "Cigano" lands his left hook by mixing it in with his jabs, catching his opponents off guard. The Brazilian also uses his left hook as a counter, ducking his opponents' punches before coming back with a nasty left hook.
One example of this is his knockout of Gilbert Yvel (also notice the right hand to the body):
Another example is when he dropped Carwin with several counter left hooks:
The last, and most devastating, of dos Santos' finishing techniques is his brutal uppercut. He loves to lead with his uppercut, relying on it heavily if he notices his opponent is ducking down when he attacks. In addition to being a valuable weapon to get past an opponent's guard, uppercuts are also a great takedown deterrent.
Dos Santos is also very good at countering kicks. Many fighters leave their hands down when they kick, making it a perfect time to counter with punches. This is an especially valuable skill for dos Santos since he is primarily a boxer, making him dangerous from the kicking range, too.
Examples include his finish of Gabriel Gonzaga (another left hook) and his finish of Mir (another right hand set up by the right hand to the body):
The one flaw in dos Santos' striking game is his head movement, or lack thereof. Frankly, he's just easy to hit. Luckily for him, he has the chin and offense to make it a non-factor ... at least so far.
Whenever an explosive striker burst onto the MMA scene, the first question that arises is whether he has the wrestling chops to keep it standing.
So far, "Cigano" has proven that he does.
Thanks to his powerful boxing, dos Santos rarely bothers taking the fight to the ground. The only fight he has bothered taking down his opponent was against Carwin. Dos Santos feinted with strikes before springing forward with a powerful double leg.
Dos Santos did this twice and his shot was pretty quick. However, it should be noted that at this point in the fight Carwin was pretty beat up and far too tired to defend takedowns.
Much more important, dos Santos' takedown defense is excellent. He has a very good sprawl and has excellent balance, which helps him bounce until his back is on the fence. From there, he will pummel for under hooks and then circle off of the fence.
"Cigano's" real talent is getting back to his feet after he is taken down. He will turn his back, jump up to his feet and flee.
While this does leave him open to having his back taken, dos Santos is very quick and hard to hold onto.
Dos Santos earned his black belt in Braziian jiu-jitsu under "Minotauro" Nogueira about two weeks ago. Unfortunately, we have never seen dos Santos fight on the ground for more than a few seconds inside the Octagon. The only video of his ground game we have is his 2007 fight against Joaquim Ferreira.
In the fight, Ferreira takes down dos Santos with a double leg and then passes to half guard. "JDS" quickly hits a bump sweep from half guard, more a muscle move than a technical sweep, and then gets caught in an armbar just a few seconds later.
Dos Santos' offensive half guard is not really a surprise -- every fighter at Nogueira's gym specializes in half guard sweeps.
Honestly, this doesn't tell us much. All is does is confirm that his jiu-jitsu is very much a question mark heading into his fight this Saturday, black belt or not.
Dos Santos is a very dangerous guy, capable of ending the fight with a single punch. This makes his opponents hesitant and much easier to land strikes on. Since his takedown defense is so superb, his opponents basically have to stand and trade with him.
And trading strikes with a guy who can end your night with one punch is simply no fun.
Unlike many heavyweight powerhouses, dos Santos actually sets up his knockout strikes. He is constantly using his jab and right to the body to open up his left hook and overhand respectively. We often see brawlers with knockout power getting picked apart by a more technical striker, but that won't work against "Cigano."
Best chance for success
This is a prime "striker vs grappler" match up. Dos Santos needs to circle and keep his back off the cage, while opening up with his rangier strikes. Once he finds his range, he should start to attack with both the uppercut and the overhand right, which finished Velasquez in their last fight.
His gameplan worked perfectly last time, and there's no evidence that Velasquez has evolved enough to stop it from happening again.
Another excellent idea for "Cigano" would be to explode forward whenever Velasquez tries to kick him. "Brown Pride" keeps his hands pretty low when he kicks and doesn't set them up very well; therefore, dos Santos should be able to capitalize. An added benefit of striking while Velasquez kicks is that he can't try to takedown dos Santos while one of his feet are in the air.
Should the fight last longer than one minute this time, there's a pretty good chance Velasquez will actually attempt a takedown ... or several. If he does, dos Santos needs to fight as hard as he can to stay off his back. Dos Santos says he wants to submit Velasquez, but that's a stupid idea against someone as vicious at ground and pound as the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) standout.
If dos Santos can stay on his feet and throw punches, he will win the fight.
Will "Cigano" successfully defend his title a second time, or will Velasquez get his title back?
For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Velasquez be sure to click here.