The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight title will be on the line this Saturday night (Oct. 19, 2013) when Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos square off in the pay-per-view (PPV) main event of UFC 166 from Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
By now, the storied rivalry between these two fighters is well documented. Velasquez holds the upper hand right now, a status he gained by soundly throttling Dos Santos in a one-sided unanimous decision win at last December's UFC 155. He'll look to put his ongoing feud with "Cigano" to rest at UFC 166.
At least for the time being.
Both fighters will enjoy the momentum of having finished their last opponent. Velasquez took out Antonio Silva via technical knockout at UFC 160. It was an odd pairing considering Velasquez turned Silva into a bloody mess at UFC 146; however, it opened the door for a trilogy-ending rematch with Dos Santos and that's great news for mixed martial arts (MMA) fans.
To get back to number one contender status, "Cigano" knocked out tough competitor Mark Hunt at UFC 160. He did so with an impressive spinning head kick, showing a new dimension of his game that may not prove to be as effective against a wrestler of Velasquez's caliber. Regardless, Dos Santos claims to be back at the top of his game after a serious over-training injury and divorce put a damper on his last title fight.
This fight promises to be one of the most emotionally charged UFC bouts of the entire year. Rarely do we get to see a trilogy bout featuring two champions with such high stakes on the line.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos:
Record: 12-1 overall, 10-1 UFC
Key Losses: Junior dos Santos (UFC on FOX 1)
Keys to Victory: Velasquez put on an absolute clinic in his rematch against Dos Santos at UFC 155. Silencing the doubters who believed he'd be knocked out again, Velasquez did the unthinkable and actually outstruck "Cigano," but that won't be a feat that's easily repeated.
Deceptively mixing up his strikes and transitioning into takedowns, Velasquez showed why he deserves to be UFC heavyweight champ. His wrestling pedigree was on full display at UFC 155.
It may have to be at an even higher level to win at UFC 166.
Dos Santos is reportedly past the issues that plagued him last year, so this fight could definitely prove to be a tougher match for Velasquez. Dos Santos and his camp like to point out that even though "Cigano" lost the belt, he was still able to take Velasquez's best shots and survive until the final bell. That may be searching for a positive in a wholly negative situation, or it could have some serious weight in Houston.
Aside from how good he was in their second fight, Velasquez needs to show up better this weekend. If Dos Santos is truly back to full heath, expect his striking to be sharper and his takedown defense to be more effective. If Velasquez rocks him with a big shot similar to last time, he'll need to stay on him and put him away.
With revenge on Dos Santos' mind, that won't be an easy task.
Velasquez was also recently awarded his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and "Cigano" has tapped out before. But there's not much evidence that leads to this fight ending with a submission from either side. Velasquez will use his polished kickboxing to set up an opening for his top-flight wrestling pedigree to take over.
With former Olympian Daniel Cormier as his wrestling coach, Velasquez has a skill set that can be used to manhandle almost any fighter in the Octagon. He's shown that he can even neutralize Dos Santos.
But to do it again this Saturday, he'll probably have to show us something we haven't seen before. Just exactly what that is, remains to be seen.
Junior dos Santos
Record: 16-2 overall, 10-1 UFC
Key Losses: Cain Velasquez (UFC 155)
Keys to Victory: Dos Santos possesses some of the best pure striking skills inside the Octagon, with seven knockout victories in 11 UFC fights. That's an alarming finishing rate. He was even able to put Velasquez's lights out with a looping overhand right at the very first UFC on FOX event two years ago.
While that fight showed little of what Dos Santos could do over the course of a full five-round title fight, it proved he has the knockout power to defeat the champ with just one punch.
And he could definitely prove that to us once again at UFC 166.
At this point in time, however, Velasquez's confidence has to be soaring at an all-time high. He beat Dos Santos at his own game last year and looked almost flawless in doing so. For that reason, Dos Santos will obviously have to be sharp in his mental focus and conditioning.
It's true that "Cigano" was worn down physically before UFC 155, but he also had emotional problems troubling him. That's not something you want to be going through when you're scheduled to take on one of the most dominant heavyweights in UFC history. From the look of things, Dos Santos has gotten past his troubles and appears fully focused on regaining the belt.
That's a frightening prospect for any fighter, including Velasquez.
To win in Houston, Dos Santos will have to avoid the inevitable takedown attempts that will be coming his way. He's shown an incredible knack for instantly popping up to his feet after getting taken down and that skill will pay endless dividends here. His strategy will be to stay on his feet long enough to implement his lethal mix of power and speed.
Dos Santos also has a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but a serious attempt at submitting Velasquez would be surprising. The champ has never tapped out and Dos Santos already knows he can knock him out.
This fight could end instantly. If it does, it'll most likely be in Dos Santos' favor. A long, grinding match will begin to tip the scales in Velasquez's favor. "Cigano" looks beyond motivated for this fight.
If he shows us the best version of himself, he's going to walk out of Toyota Center with the belt around his waist.
Bottom Line from Houston: The bottom line here is that this bout may signify the end of one of MMA's best-ever trilogies, if not the best. In terms of styles, it's Velasquez's power wrestling game versus the polished boxing of Dos Santos.
But there's so much more to this fight than just that.
This epic title fight has such a backstory, such a buildup, that it's going to be hard to see either one of these battle-tested combatants lose the biggest fight of their lives. Velasquez will be looking to prove that his convincing win over "Cigano" was no fluke.
Although he was coming off of several injuries heading into their first bout, he never used that as an excuse.
This time around, Velasquez may be facing the best version of "JDS" we've ever seen. Dos Santos has the edge standing, but his advantage on the feet is smaller than the one Velasquez possesses in the wrestling game. Velasquez can potentially negate Dos Santos' striking prowess by mixing up his combinations and takedowns with elusiveness; that will be paramount to a win in Houston.
A hidden X-factor of this bout could be the cut "Cigano" recently suffered over his right eye during training. While he promptly got stitches and claims that he is completely 100 percent, the truth remains to be seen. If this injury is re-opened by a big shot from Velasquez, it could cause some problems for the challenger very quickly.
Beyond that, just who emerges with the title belt is going to rest on Dos Santos' mental preparedness. All signs point to him being in a much better spot right now than he was last year, and that's nothing but good news for his supporters. On the other hand, Velasquez is a cold, calculated killing machine who never seems to let emotions get in the way of the task at hand. He won't start doing that this weekend, so only the clearest mindset will prevail for Dos Santos.
It's going to be a true fight for the ages when the cage door gets locked in Houston. Enjoy watching history in the making.
Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos will lock horns in the main event of UFC 166 from Houston. Let us know your predictions for their trilogy-ending grudge match below!