Despite getting drubbed in a decision loss to the overwhelming Cain Velasquez at UFC 155 last night (Dec. 29, 2012), losing his heavyweight title belt in the process, Junior dos Santos showed many things previously unseen in absorbing his first loss in 10 Octagon performances:
A granite chin, resilience and an amazing ability to keep battling despite being completely exhausted and possibly out on his feet.
Looking back on the bout -- and I'll have to watch it again to confirm my theory -- but I'm pretty sure I've never seen a guy look so exhausted, so early, and absorb so much punishment while battling over five rounds. If you had to take odds in the first round whether or not dos Santos could survive for more, you would've gotten some long ones.
He simply looked spent three minutes in.
Perhaps it was the shock of Velasquez's opening-moments assault, where he simply jumped on the Brazilian and never relented, getting the better of exchanges and making him work at a fast rate. Whatever the issue, almost every other heavyweight would've broken.
But, dos Santos didn't.
Even terribly gassed by the third, he still managed to display amazingly good takedown defense, wresting himself free time and again as Velasquez uncorked an endless series of attempts to get him down, eventually getting them through sheer attrition. It's scary to think of how good dos Santos might have been last night, if he'd had the kind of conditioning he's shown in previous fights.
He was exhausted and unable to even hold his hands up in defense, his sole method of defense was either pulling away or eating shots as they bounced off his head.
It's to Velasquez's credit that he was able to implement and stick with a gameplan that seemed almost foolhardy in the opening moments -- I was sure dos Santos was going to catch him with something, given how aggressively Velasquez was pressing forward, particularly when he left gaping holes in his defense, but perhaps "Brown Pride" knew something we didn't.
Dos Santos might have a bit of front-runner in him offensively, and be the kind of guy who doesn't necessarily adjust well once he's taken out of his groove, but he's one hell of a tough guy to finish, and last night, ironically enough, showed the kind of mettle we always wondered whether or not he had.
It's just too bad his cardio and offensive weren't in the fight long enough for it to matter outside of a moral victory.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst