The two most dangerous heavyweights on the planet will look to settle a year-old score tomorrow night (Dec. 29, 2012) as Heavyweight Champion Junior dos Santos looks to defend his title against the man he dethroned, Cain Velasquez, in the main event of UFC 155 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Dos Santos has been a wrecking machine since joining the UFC, crushing everyone in his path either via TKO, knockout or the occasional extremely one-sided decision. He fought Velasquez a year ago in the UFC's debut on Fox, crushing the Mexican American with a right hand and ground and pound to take his title in emphatic fashion. Now, with hopefully no injuries in the way, he can truly make his mark in the division.
Velasquez was a symbol of pride for the UFC's growing latino fanbase, exploding into popularity when he took the title from Brock Lesnar in 2010. He failed to defend the title against dos Santos after suffering a pretty bad knee injury in the lead-up to the bout but bounced back in a big way by absolutely thrashing Antonio Silva earlier this year to earn another crack at the belt. He's got an extremely large amount of pressure on him to win.
Will dos Santos prove himself the true champion by removing all doubt and stopping Velasquez again? Can a healthy Velasquez put on a significantly better performance and turn this into a true rivalry? What's the key to victory for both men?
How he got here: Junior dos Santos made one hell of a first impression in his Octagon debut with a tremendous first round uppercut knockout over Fabricio Werdum at UFC 90 back in Oct. 2008. The Brazilian proceeded to run the gauntlet of heavyweights from Stefan Struve, Mirko "Cro Cop", Gilbert Yvel and Gabriel Gonzaga, scoring stoppage victories in each fight.
"Cigano" was finally awarded a number one contender's match against Roy Nelson at UFC 117. Dos Santos laid into "Big Country" with everything he had for three consecutive rounds and he would go on to win a lopsided unanimous decision.
Dos Santos was all set to face Velasquez for the title, but the champ went down with a shoulder injury. Instead of waiting on the sidelines while the AKA standout recovered from surgery, he signed on to coach The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 13 against former champion Brock Lesnar with the intent on facing Lesnar in another number one contender's match.
However, when Lesnar pulled out of his fight with a relapse of diverticulitis, former title challenger Shane Carwin stepped up to face dos Santos in the main event. Dos Santos nearly finished "The Engineer" with strikes in the first round, but instead went on to win another lopsided decision.
Dos Santos captured the UFC title in his next bout, knocking the champion Cain Velasquez out in just 64 seconds on national television. After defending his belt against former champ Frank Mir earlier this year, he's ready for a second go around against Velasquez.
How he gets it done: We've all heard that he's got an underrated ground game, but this is not, I repeat not the platform to be debuting it. It doesn't matter if he recently received a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. "Cigano" has some of the heaviest hands in the heavyweight division and his technical boxing is elite. It won him the title originally and has won him every bout in the UFC thus far. Unlike many other heavyweights, he doesn't throw his entire body into his punches so he should be safe standing and trading with Velasquez without fear of overcommitting to a big strike and getting taken down.
Dos Santos needs to keep his hands high and be prepared to sprawl early and sprawl often. He's been quick and athletic enough to defend everyone who's tried to take him down in the past and he'll need every ounce of strength he's got to keep Velasquez at bay.
The champion needs to strike while the iron is hot. While he's never truly gassed in a fight, he's slowed down a bit against Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin and if that happens against Velasquez, he's going to get punished. Look for "Cigano" to try and counter Velasquez's pressure with heavy shots because all it takes is one clean blow and he could be swarming Cain once more and putting a stamp on his title reign.
Record: 10-1 overall, 8-1 in the UFC
Key Wins: Brock Lesnar (UFC 121), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (UFC 110), Antonio Silva (UFC 146
Key Losses: Junior dos Santos
How he got here: Velasquez, despite being undersized throughout his wrestling career, was able to become a two-time NCAA Division I All-American while competing at Arizona State University. When he was done with college, he immediately transitioned into mixed martial arts (MMA).
Trainers and other MMA fighters immediately began raving about his potential and he was signed by the UFC after just his second professional fight. He was built up slowly, earning victories over the likes of Brad Morris, Jake O'Brien and Denis Stojnić in his first year with the promotion
But, after a spirited effort against Ben Rothwell, it was time for the big dogs.
Velasquez battled Pride FC legend "Minotauro" Nogueira in the main event of UFC 110 for the UFC's debut in Australia, knocking out the former interim UFC champion before the midway point of the first round. This earned him a fight against Lesnar for the title. When they finally met, Velasquez weathered the early storm and then destroyed Lesnar with punches and knees standing, following it up with precise ground and pound to become the new UFC heavyweight champion.
He was injured in the bout but returned a year later in the promotion's network debut on Fox, but was defeated via first round knockout by Junior dos Santos. After healing a knee injury, he made mince meat out of Antonio Silva's face in one of the most violent and bloody fights of 2012 to earn another shot at the title.
How he gets it done: Velasquez is incredibly athletic and has cardio for days. As long as his knee is 100 percent, he has the best speed, agility and conditioning in the heavyweight division.
The key for Velasquez is to be dangerous enough in the stand up department to have his Brazilian foe respect him there. It didn't work out last time because he was slow and a bit plodding, not even getting to the point where he could shoot in and force dos Santos to have the takedown in the back of his mind. Expect him to be much lighter on his feet this time around and to really try to neutralize dos Santos' weapons either with clinch or takedown attempts.
Another key for the champion is to push a relentless pace. "Cigano" is very powerful early in a fight, but he's faded in the third round a bit against Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin. If Velasquez can wear on him either in the clinch or on the ground, he'll be setting himself up for a big payoff in the later rounds. Time is definitely on Velasquez's side.
The most important part of the American Kickboxing Academy's gameplan is to close the distance while avoiding getting popped with a heavy shot on the way in. Angles, pressure and timing are going to be a huge part in him winning back his belt. .
Fight X-Factor: The first major X-Factor for this fight has to be how healthy both men are compared to their first bout. They were both nursing knee injuries, although it seemed Velasquez's was worse heading in. He looked a step or two slow and it cost him big time. If Velasquez is back to 100 percent and has that explosiveness back, he'll be in significantly better shape. He can't afford to slow down against dos Santos this time around.
The other factor is dos Santos' power. You can have all the technical skill in the world with wrestling, clinching, speed, explosiveness and conditioning, but as we saw in the last fight, all it takes is one big shot. Cain needs to neutralize dos Santos' weapons for up to five full rounds while "Cigano" only needs to land that one big punch to completely turn the tides in his favor. Avoiding that heavy blow will be huge for Velasquez.
Bottom line: The first bout, while entertaining with a quick knockout, was underwhelming after a significant build-up. This time around, both men appear healthy and ready to deliver that epic heavyweight war that most fight fans only dream of. Both fighters are in great shape, hit hard and have incredibly well-rounded skill-sets. As long as they fight to their potential, this could be one of the most entertaining heavyweight contests in UFC history. It all just depends on whether or not both men can rise to the occasion. We'll find out tomorrow night.
Who will come out on top at UFC 155? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!