Since the fall of the great Fedor Emelianenko, UFC has been the only mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion to provide the best of what the sport has to offer north of Light Heavyweight (205 pounds). And right now, the organization is home to two men who will most likely go down as among the best Heavyweight MMA fighters of all time.
It is hard to find Heavyweights with more complete games than Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, who will hook 'em up later tonight (Sat., Oct. 19, 2013) in the main event of UFC 166, which takes place from Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. In fact, it's unlikely that any other Heavyweight -- sans a Jon Jones divisional introduction -- will disrupt these two men as the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked fighters in their weight class for a very long time.
"Brown Pride" and "Cigano" are just that good.
That said, I think dos Santos is better. Sure, their first meeting was decided in little more than one minute by a "lucky" punch, which was actually a brilliantly set-up and well executed punch, and their second bout was a one-sided affair in favor of Velasquez. But, call me crazy, I just don't think we've seen the best out of dos Santos, especially not in their last encounter at UFC 155 in Dec. 2012.
His cardio looked awful, so much worse than it ever had, and he allowed Velasquez to take over the fight early. If he wants to get his title back later this evening, the method is not necessarily easy, but it is rather simple:
Stay away from the cage.
For starters, I must say that dos Santos' fear of Velasquez's takedowns in their second fight was very noticeable. His movement was very different than usual, pressing his back against the cage way too often. This is a ridiculous gameplan for taking on a pressure fighter like Velasquez because it invites him to dish out flurries of punishment against the fence, which is exactly what happened.
In short, Velasquez's style is very simple, but very effective. He is often sloppy, but he pushes forward at such a rate that he minimizes his opponent's willingness to go on offense. Simply put, he is probably one of the best pressure fighters the sport has ever seen. Because he poses a two-dimensional threat, with solid striking and wrestling, opponents simply can't deal with him as he comes forward because he can change up his game so quickly.
But, when you take an honest look at his game, he isn't an amazing boxer, and despite everything UFC media will tell you, he isn't a world-beating MMA wrestler, either. His sloppy, telegraphed shots should pose no threat to dos Santos, and if the Brazilian can recognize that, I expect him to be more willing to initiate striking exchanges.
The key to beating Velasquez is what dos Santos does best, hitting him in the head very, very hard. For all you could say about Velasquez's striking abilities, he's shown to be very hittable and doesn't have the type of chin that allows for much punishment from Heavyweight sluggers. Dos Santos has to keep this fight centered in the middle of the Octagon, and he has to be the one to apply pressure.
I'm not trying to say that I expect dos Santos to beat Velasquez handily at UFC 166, but I do think he possesses the tools to do so. His gameplan for their last fight was so terribly bad that he looked like the drastically inferior fighter, which I don't believe he is.
If dos Santos comes into this bout ready to go through hard rounds and press the action himself, I think we'll be seeing him with a belt around his waist once again. However, if he is going to allow Velasquez to dictate the action of the fight, for fear of being taken down, this fight will look exactly like their last. Dos Santos proved that it would take nothing short of a monstrous beat down to finish him, but all he has to land is one punch on Velasquez to get his belt back.
This trilogy match fight is dos Santos' fight to lose. And it really comes down to how he chooses to approach Velasquez. If he is the aggressor, which he has shown he can be, he will reign supreme; however, if he comes in with a gameplan that resembles anything like the one he used in their last bout, he will surely go to the back of the line for a Heavyweight title shot.
And for this reason dos Santos is the "Fighter to Watch" later tonight in "The Lone Star State" on pay-per-view (PPV).