USA TODAY Sports
Prior to UFC 155, Junior dos Santos was seen as an unstoppable punching machine. In his fight against Cain Velasquez last night (Dec. 29, 2012) in Las Vegas, Nevada, "Cigano" was visibly slower than we'd ever seen him and faded faster than ever before, too. What the hell happened?
Despite the almost smarmy nature of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight title, I really do wonder if something that Junior dos Santos did different to prepare for Cain Velasquez at UFC 155 last night (Dec. 29, 2012) negatively affected him to the point where it severely contributed to his loss.
I'll get to that in a second.
Let me first get several things out of the way that I will surely be accused of -- and not unfairly either, given what I'm writing about. I am not a huge "Cigano" fanboy, nuthugging and crying over the death of my mixed martial arts (MMA) hero. I like the guy a lot, however, because he's an incredibly nice, respectful face-puncher, but that's outside the cage.
Side rant #1: The crowd last night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, was goddamn terrible. In the words of Bill Walton, TERRRRRRRRRRRRRIBLE. In the words of Charles Barkley, turbl. I can understand booing Derek Brunson vs. Chris Leben, as well as the awful rematch between Yushin Okami vs. Alan Belcher. But, booing Jamie Varner vs. Melvin Guillard because the action slowed a bit? Booing dos Santos after a 25-minute brutal heavyweight war? Wow. Where's Pat Barry when you need him? "Why they do this?" was close to heartbreaking, and you should go read Joben's fanpost on the topic right here. "Sin City" needs to stop getting so many events -- fans there are spoiled rotten and it shows. It has had seven events this year, including two this month. Let some of the other places in the world with better fans get some of the action.
Second, I'm not one of the people who went around proclaiming dos Santos was an unstoppable wrecking machine and Velasquez was a weak-chinned chump who was going to get annihilated again. Feel free to look at my comment history here or any other MMA site -- it didn't happen. I did think dos Santos was going to win, but Velasquez certainly had a chance ... and a pretty good one. Fight fans love to go "OH 64 SECONDS, MAN, HE HAS NOTHING!" Well, clearly, 64 seconds isn't really a great gauge for anything, especially in such an unpredictable sport.
Side rant #2: Many of y'all like to talk in absolutes. Plain black and white with no grey matter between. It isn't just around here, either, it's one of the most aggravating things many sports fans in general do. Couching statements such as "this will happen" with "I think" and words like "should" and "probably" also make for better discussion because it allows for middle ground. Otherwise it's just people yelling at walls. Kind of like politics these days, too.
I'm not looking for an excuse, I'm looking for explanations other than the elementary "Velasquez is better" answer.
If you're into baseball or poker, you've probably heard the term thrown about called "small sample size." What it means, in a nutshell, is that until you get a really large amount of examples to the point where you know that random chance isn't a factor, you don't really know how something will go. Coin flips are the easiest example, and completely replicable at home. Flipping a coin twice, 10 or even a 100 times isn't enough to really take away the random chance element. Flip a coin often enough and you'll land on heads 15 times in a row. If you're flipping it one million times, that 15 won't really change the very close to 50 percent you'll achieve for either side.
If you're flipping it 20, then it's a huge skew.
MMA often relies on small sample size to get results. Hell, it's cliche in this sport -- "puncher's chance", "this fight can turn on a dime, Joe!" One or two small events, sometimes dictated by chance (he zigged when he should have zagged), completely change the course of fights. And dos Santos' punch to Velasquez's temple at UFC on FOX 1 in Nov. 2011 was certainly a game-changer.
Rematches aren't all that common in MMA. There were 341 UFC fights this year, according to Wikipedia. And no more than a dozen or two were rematches -- less than one percent. In the National Football League (NFL), each team will have three rematches during their regular seasons alone within their respective divisions -- almost 20 percent of their schedules. Major League Baseball (MLB) has 162 games a year and only 30 teams. Division rivals will play each other 19 times in 2013. The sample size of 19 is much more accurate than the sample of one or two.
So while there's a chance -- and possibly a really good chance that dos Santos or another tremendously hard striker is able to pop Velasquez's button again -- we need to realize it's a chance and the coin goes both ways.
Let's get to the point already, I know.
Dos Santos had a noticeably different physique in the rematch against Velasquez. Now, dos Santos was never small -- he is 6'4" and always hovered around a solid (never flabby) 240 pounds. In fact, here's a picture of him flexing at the weigh-in for his first fight with Velasquez little more than one year ago:
There's definition and certainly some cut. Again, it's a flex, but he's certainly not small. Now look at a similar angle just a few days prior to his rematch last night. Dos Santos might need to declare these guns at U.S. Customs:
Here's a larger version. Now, check out this picture from Junior's own instagram four days ago as he worked out in preparation for the rematch:
There is a big, noticeable difference from May to December.
If you haven't put two and two together yet, I'm wondering if dos Santos' suddenly awful cardio last night wasn't caused or worsened by the amount of muscle he packed on in the past few months. In an interview with Ariel Helwani before the fight, they discussed his new physique and dos Santos noted it was only one or two kilos. This is true, as he weighed in at roughly the same weight as he had before.
The thing is, if he shed fat for muscle, then he also lost part of his gas tank.
Fat is a storage for sugar, which the body needs to run. If it doesn't have sugar, it turns toward other sources for energy, the next on the list being muscle tissue, which is much less efficient (not as much sugar) and also has the side effect of producing lactic acid (that burning from workouts). Muscles require a lot of oxygen, too -- more than fat. People have joked about Phil Baroni and beach muscles for years, but there's truth behind it.
There's probably no coincidence that Velasquez has one of the best motors in the sport, but still has a little paunch.
Seeing as how I ranted earlier about not talking in absolutes and small sample sizes, I'm perfectly willing to concede that perhaps dos Santos looking drunk last night had quite a bit to do with Velasquez landing that enormous overhand right two minutes into the fight and not just turning some fat into muscle. I'd still be willing to bet that him not having that extra reserve played a part in his loss that lasted 25 grueling minutes.
Would it have mattered? I guess we need more matches -- one at a minimum -- to find out.
And that's where the inevitable trilogy will attempt to define this epic small sample size once and for all.