Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos showed why he's the world's eminent big man at UFC 146 last night (Sat., May 26, 2012) in Las Vegas, Nevada, with a laser-sharp performance. Dispatching Frank Mir in two rounds, dos Santos' accuracy and timing, along with an unerring ability to control range on the feet, are a vexing package for future heavyweight challengers.
With Alistair Overeem out of the picture for the rest of the year (he may reapply for a license in Nevada in December), dos Santos faces the curious proposition of one marketable challenger at the moment, Cain Velasquez, who he has already starched in 64 seconds. The rematch will almost certainly be more competitive, but if Velasquez can't get the fight to the mat, it may not be that way for long.
That's because dos Santos has jarring power on every shot, along with deceptive speed. It's reminiscent of a prime Fedor Emelianenko, who was outstanding at whipping together vicious combinations that hit with equal effect. Mir's one attempt at a takedown in the opening moments of the bout was a kind of preview for how the rest of the fight would go -- he wasn't particularly close to getting it, and dos Santos simply hopped out, then slipped away as Mir transitioned into a leg lock attempt.
Outside of Velasquez, dos Santos' pool of potential challengers for the rest of 2012 will require some adept matchmaking by the UFC, because theirs isn't a lot to draw from, at least in terms of getting anyone to go off as less than a 4-1 underdog at the betting window.
He's already beaten five of the UFC's best heavyweights in Velasquez, Shane Carwin, Fabricio Werdum, Mir and Roy Nelson. Until Overeem returns in for a mega-heavyweight showdown, it may well expedite Daniel Cormier's move to the UFC.
Cormier looked fantastic in dominating Josh Barnett, with a broken hand, no less, in last weekend's five-round clinic. Cormier's outstanding wrestling might be the level required to really force dos Santos to be more reserved with his hands.
Cormier's quick striking also make him potentially viable on the feet, as well, though that may be a bit of a stretch at this point.
The UFC is already facing perceived "dominant champ" issues with Jose Aldo and Anderson Silva (Chael Sonnen notwithstanding) and Jon Jones is right behind them. It's important that competitive matchups and viable challengers be created to sell fights, lest title defenses devolve into the Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao model, where fans have few illusions about a competitive match, and instead fork over cash for the right to see a dominant champ perform a kind of recital, reminding us how much better he is than those who would challenge him with their primitive skills.
Cormier isn't long for Strikeforce, especially if dos Santos wins in another one-sided match against Velasquez.
Jason Probst can be reached at email@example.com or twitter.com/jasonprobst.