Two of the most dangerous heavyweights in the world will collide this Saturday night (May 25, 2013) as former UFC champion Junior dos Santos takes on kickboxing veteran Mark Hunt in the co-main event of UFC 160 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Junior dos Santos
Record: 15-2 overall, 9-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Cain Velasquez (UFC 155)
How he got here: Junior dos Santos made one hell of a first impression in his Octagon debut with a tremendous first round uppercut knockout over Fabricio Werdum at UFC 90 back in Oct. 2008. The Brazilian proceeded to run the gauntlet of heavyweights from Stefan Struve, Mirko "Cro Cop", Gilbert Yvel and Gabriel Gonzaga, scoring stoppage victories in each fight.
"Cigano" was finally awarded a number one contender's match against Roy Nelson at UFC 117. Dos Santos laid into "Big Country" with everything he had for three consecutive rounds and he would go on to win a lopsided unanimous decision.
Dos Santos was all set to face Velasquez for the title, but the champ went down with a shoulder injury. Instead of waiting on the sidelines while the AKA standout recovered from surgery, he signed on to coach The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 13 against former champion Brock Lesnar with the intent on facing Lesnar in another number one contender's match.
However, when Lesnar pulled out of his fight with a relapse of diverticulitis, former title challenger Shane Carwin stepped up to face dos Santos in the main event. Dos Santos nearly finished "The Engineer" with strikes in the first round, but instead went on to win another lopsided decision.
Dos Santos captured the UFC title in his next bout, knocking the champion Cain Velasquez out in just 64 seconds on national television. After defending his belt against former champ Frank Mir a year ago, he's had a second go-around against Velasquez.
The rematch did not go as planned for "Cigano" as the champ was battered and bruised for five straight rounds, eventually losing a dominant decision to Velasquez. Now fully healed up, he's hoping a victory over Mark Hunt will propel him to another shot at the title.
How he gets it done: We've all heard that he's got an underrated ground game, and perhaps this could finally be the platform for debuting it. Dos Santos received a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the last year and anything resembling a black belt would put him light years ahead of Hunt in terms of ground skills.
"Cigano" has some of the heaviest hands in the heavyweight division and his technical boxing is elite. It won him the title originally and has won him every bout in the UFC thus far. While I think he can still hold his own with Hunt on the feet, he's definitely taking a risk there considering Hunt's history as a K-1 Grand Prix world champion on the feet.
Dos Santos needs to keep his hands high while standing and if that's going well, then stick with it, but if Hunt starts to land some counter shots and begins to gain some confidence, it will be time to change levels, take "The Super Samoan" down with authority and either beat him senseless with ground and pound, or potentially work for a submission.
Record: 9-7 overall, 4-1 in the UFC
How he got here: Mark Hunt got into fighting after impressing promoters at a night club. "The Super Samoan" didn't get an easy start in kickboxing, forced to fight tough top opponents early in his career when promoters were trying to use him as a stepping stone for their other stars. Instead, Hunt gained valuable experience against top opposition and came through with a respectable 15-4 record.
Hunt got his big break in kickboxing in 2001. He had won the qualifier tournament in both 2000 and 2001 to advance to the K-1 World Grand Prix and he shocked the world by winning three fights in one night to win the K-1 World Grand Prix Championship.
After a few more kickboxing matches, Hunt would transition to mixed martial arts. He would lose his debut in Pride via armbar but would go on an impressive five fight win streak that included wins against Dan Bobish, Mirko "Cro Cop" and Wanderlei Silva which would earn him fights against some of the toughest heavyweights in the world.
He would lose every bout from 2006-2010, stepping into the squared circle against the likes of Josh Barnett, Fedor Emelianenko (for the Pride Heavyweight championship), Alistair Overeem and Gegard Mousasi, losing each fight via submission of the arm.
Due to some leftover contract obligations from Pride after the buyout, Hunt was granted a pair of fights in the UFC. He would lose to Sean McCorkle via Kimura in barely a minute but would rebound against Chris Tuchscherer in one of 2011's most memorable walk-off knockouts. His victory earned him another fight against a top heavyweight in Ben Rothwell and he capitalized on Rothwell's conditioning, earning a unanimous decision and continuing one of MMA's best surprise stories.
Hunt's Cinderella story continued against Cheick Kongo in Japan when he crushed the Frenchman via first round knockout to continue his incredible run. A knee injury sidelined him nearly a year, but he returned earlier this year and knocked out Stefan Struve with authority to continue his improbable run to the top of the heavyweight division.
Now, the biggest fight of his life looms against former champion dos Santos
How he gets it done: This one is pretty simple. Mark Hunt has a tremendous chin, the ability to check kicks and big time knockout power in his hands. It's time to see if he can not only hang with dos Santos' top notch striking, but actually get the better of him.
Hunt showed improved takedown defense and ground game against Rothwell but that doesn't mean he should screw around on the canvas against dos Santos, who has an underrated ground game we've been hearing about for years. What he needs to do is stay on his feet, take control of the center of the cage and try to force dos Santos to be first to act.
"The Super Samoan" has some very powerful counter punches and if dos Santos lets his guard down, he is sneaky fast and can get inside with a big right or left hook/cross. Dos Santos showed vulnerability to a big shot in the first round of his last fight so it's not out of the realm of possibility that Hunt could hurt him considering his power.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be how dos Santos responds to losing his title. We all know how Velasquez reacted to losing the belt, he proceeded to put on one of the goriest and most one-sided shellackings of his career on Antonio Silva. Can dos Santos do the same thing?
It all depends on his mentality. He was a fighter with an almost alien confidence in himself, had this aura of invincibility whenever he stepped into the Octagon and pointed at the cage center during introductions. Will he have that same swagger? Some fighters aren't the same after a big loss. If dos Santos comes out motivated as all hell, this could be one hell of a beating he lays on Hunt. We'll have to wait and see how he responds.
Who will come out on top at UFC 160? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!