Two-time Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight champion, Cain Velasquez, looks to take the rubber match against his fierce rival, Junior dos Santos, this Saturday (Oct. 19, 2013) at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
Velasquez had a quick start to his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career, winning just two fights before being invited to challenge himself in the Octagon. The American Kickboxing Academy (AKA)-trained product leveled his first six opponents, finishing five of them to earn a title shot against Brock Lesnar, the behemoth who had made it to UFC in a similar amount of time.
The Californian dominated Lesnar, sending him cartwheeling across the cage after a hard combination before finishing with ground strikes. Velasquez, an undefeated champion who had finished all but one of his opponents, had many wondering if he would be the next fighter to reign over the Heavyweight division for a decade.
Dos Santos put an end to that thought with one big overhand right ... in little more than one minute.
However, Velasquez didn't rest on his laurels after his title loss. Instead, he carved a hole in Antonio Silva's forehead, once again earning a title shot. This time, he pressured "Cigano" early with takedowns and big punches, brutalizing the Brazilian for 25 minutes. A perplexing rematch with "Bigfoot" was next for Velasquez, who he quickly knocked out ... again.
Now, Velasquez has to take on the only man to ever defeat him in his professional career. Does he have the skills to defeat dos Santos once more?
Let's take a closer look:
Velasquez quickly transitioned from dominating wrestler to well-rounded mixed martial artist. His striking is quick and powerful, as he primarily uses basic boxing combinations and volume to overwhelm his opponents.
More often than not, Velasquez will begin fights by circling around his opponents and finding his range with kicks. He'll occasionally fire off a kick to the head or body but primarily works on his opponent's legs. Velasquez delivers his kicks with an effective thud and does a good job getting his hips into the kick.
However, he doesn't always set up his leg kicks very well, which leaves him open to counter punches.
Velasquez is a very aggressive fighter in every aspect, so he spends a majority of his time on the feet pressing his opponent with his boxing. He commonly opens with a jab, which looked quite sharp in his most recent fight against "Bigfoot," and often follows with a hard straight right hand. If his opponent is pinned against the cage or hurt, Velasquez will open up with uppercuts and hooks, throwing long combinations.
Velasquez's straight right hand is most certainly his best punch. It's crisp, accurate and he doesn't need a ton of space for it to inflict damage. Against "Bigfoot," Velasquez capitalized on the Brazilian's wide punches with his straight shots. At first he was simply landing jabs, but he finished the fight with a powerful straight right.
Against Silva, Velasquez looked incredibly sharp on his feet. He threw the jab plentifully and accurately, landing several nice kicks and then finishing the fight with his straight right. Velasquez did a very good job moving his head throughout the fight, even while throwing combinations, which has historically plagued him. Look at the above .gif, Velasquez moves his head off to the side as he throws the right, causing Silva's uppercut to completely miss.
Throughout the admittedly short fight, Velasquez also appeared much faster than Silva.
Velasquez actively seeks to counter most of his opponent's strikes. This goes back to his aforementioned aggression -- he can't let his opponent hit him freely without getting back at him. In addition, his counter punching further helps him overwhelm his opponent.
The best example of Velasqez's counter punching is his violent knockout of the legendary Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Nogueira was pressing Velasquez and threw a jab, but was met with a hard three-punch combination from the Californian.
His left hooks may have been a bit wild, but his straight right was more than enough to finish "Minotauro."
Barring Velasquez himself, few heavyweights are known for their exceptional conditioning. Velasquez recognizes this and sets a pace few can handle, both with his boxing and wrestling. Some fighters try to slow him down by clinching with the AKA-trained mauler, but this plays right into his hands. Velasquez is nasty from the clinch, where he'll throw short punches, knees, and even kicks, before stepping away to tee off with power shots.
Despite my attempts to organize a fighter's abilities into categories, mixed martial arts has its name for a reason. Velasquez blends together his striking and wrestling beautifully, making it incredibly difficult for his opponent to predict which attack is coming. Even more impressive is that his failures in one aspect can set up his success in the other, as is seen in his second fight with dos Santos.
Against "Cigano," Velasquez came out quickly with multiple takedown attempts. Despite utterly failing to drag dos Santos to the mat, Velasquez kept pursuing the takedown. Then, he began mixing in more punches. Dos Santos, intent on defending the takedown, never did anything to defend Velasquez's big right hand in the first round. After that punch, dos Santos was never truly in the fight, lasting to the final bell solely because of willpower.
Velasquez's biggest weakness has always been his striking defense. He generally does an okay job moving his head but can leave himself open as he hunts his opponent with strikes. Velasquez's aggression is not solely a benefit and can get him hurt, as it did against Cheick Kongo. However, when Velasquez fought with a more measured aggression against Silva, his defense did not appear to be as much of an issue, as his head movement looked much improved.
Velasquez, a two-time Division I NCAA All-American wrestler and two-time Pac-10 conference champion at Arizona State University, is arguably the best wrestler in the world at heavyweight. After his longtime training partner Daniel Cormier, who fights Frank Mir on the same card, drops to light heavyweight, there will be no argument.
Velasquez posses a solid double leg takedown, especially when he gets in deep on his opponent's hips. In addition to driving through his opponent, Velasquez will yank his opponent's legs out from under him.
Velasquez's most effective takedown is likely his single leg. He'll either finish it with the same technique as his double, kick out the remaining leg, or run the pipe. Additionally, Velasquez is excellent at chaining his takedown attempts together and suddenly turning a corner in the midst of a takedown.
Unlike many fighters, a majority of Velasquez's takedowns come in the center of the Octagon, rather than against the cage. This was especially apparent against dos Santos, who stuffed many of Velasquez's takedowns using the fence but was slammed when in the middle of the Octagon.
Velasquez might just have the best ground striking in MMA. From the top position, he terrorizes his opponents. Not only does Velasquez exhibit excellent control on the ground, he advances position and does serious damage.
Whenever a heavyweight gets gravity on his side, his punches are going to hurt. What makes Velasquez unique is his ability to attack while transitioning between positions. Whether he's moving from mount to back mount or from turtle to side control, Velasquez is constantly landing shots. They may not always be knockout punches, but his strikes will eventually wear his opponent down. Another excellent thing about Velasquez's ground striking is that he never allows his opponent to relax, as he's always landing shots or passing guard.
For a fighter as aggressive with strikes as Velasquez, his ability to control his opponent is quite oppressive. Many fighters aren't able to control their opponents when throwing heavy ground and pound, but Velasquez is able to control and damage. While his size helps -- its harder to move a two hundred and forty pound heavyweight than a welterweight -- it's mostly due to the fact that he doesn't let his opponent slow the fight down, choose their plan, and begin working. Never letting his opponent settle is vital to Velasquez's ground striking, and its importance cannot be understated.
The premier example of Velasquez's ground dominance is his first victory over "Bigfoot" Silva. It exemplifies every positive thing about Velasquez's ground striking. Not only does Velasquez land devastating punches and elbows that eventually finish Silva, he completely controls the much larger man. While he wasn't able to pass Silva's guard fully, he did force his way to half guard, which allowed him to land harder shots and easily shut down Silva's bottom game. Look in the below gif just how quickly Velasquez goes to work with ground and pound; Silva doesn't even know he's on the mat, yet he's already eaten three punches.
Velasquez very recently earned his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Leandro Vieira. He also studied Guerilla Jiu-Jitsu, a form of jiu-jitsu mixed with judo and modified for MMA, under Dave Camarillo for a long time at AKA. While Velasquez rarely seeks submissions, the large time he's spent on the mat with skilled grapplers shows his grappling ability.
Vlasquez has demonstrated an excellent positional game. He quickly transitions between side control, mount, and turtle, all while working in punches. Additionally, his guard passing is quite effective. Aside from "Bigfoot," Velasquez has passed the guard of every fighter he has taken to the mat. This is mostly due to his smothering ground and pound, but it still shows solid fundamentals.
In his entire UFC career, Velasquez has wound up on his back just once. Against Lesnar, an NCAA champion who had made a career of punishing his opponents from top position, Velasquez used the butterfly guard to escape to his feet. Using both hooks to create space, Velasquez pushed Lesnar's face down to the mat and placed his other hand on the mat, before standing up. This is a known as standing up in guard, a technique almost every beginner grappler knows, and is a perfectly example of a basic technique being applied at the highest level of the sport.
Other than "Bigfoot," the only jiu-jitsu black belt Velasquez spent a significant amount of time on the ground with is dos Santos. The second fight revealed a few interesting things about Velasquez's submission wrestling, some positive and others less so.
At one point in the second round, dos Santos rolled Velasquez over from half guard. Velasquez dove on his arm as he did, then hooked his leg and swept him while maintaining the arm bar. Velasquez at first controlled the leg while he tried to break dos Santos' grip but then let go, which allowed dos Santos to spin in and avoid the submission. This was an impressive example of jiu-jitsu by the champion, and he may have finished if he held onto the leg.
Until his fight with "Cigano," I had no complaints about Velasquez's jiu-jitsu. However, I was disappointed when he absolutely refused to take dos Santos' back, which is undoubtedly one of the best positions in MMA, both to control and finish.
After the first round, dos Santos was seriously hurt, half conscious, and running on will power alone. During this time, dos Santos repeatedly turtled up and essentially gave Velasquez his back while trying to stand back up. Instead of trying to place himself in the best position for a finish, Velasquez opted for a single wrist ride and continued to work small punches. This allowed dos Santos to stand up multiple times. Instead of winding up in the worst possible position, dos Santos was back where he wanted to be.
Best Chance For Success
Velasquez, despite being an incredible fighter, does not have an incredibly complex game, he just does things very well. Whenever a fighter loses, it's up to him to make adjustments for the rematch, not the winner. These two factors combined mean that Velasquez should not change up his game plan from his first win over dos Santos, only adjust to whatever new elements dos Santos brings to the cage.
Velasquez had a stunning amount of success by forcing dos Santos to fear his wrestling with constant pressure and attempts. He should do the same thing in this fight, especially since it taxes dos Santos cardio. However, a nice trick may be to fake the takedown first and come with his right hand before going all out for takedowns, since dos Santos will expect an aggressive rush early.
If he has the option, Velasquez should try to wrestle dos Santos in the center of the Octagon, rather than against the cage. That may not be his choice, considering his aggression and dos Santos lateral movement, or lack thereof. But if he initiates his takedowns before dos Santos is against the cage, his chances of finishing the shot go up.
Will Velasquez defend his title for the second time, or will dos Santos regain his throne?
For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of dos Santos be sure to click here.