It is apt that Junior "Cigano" Dos Santos will make his return to the Octagon in Phoenix, Ariz., later tonight (Sat., Dec. 13, 2014) as the former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight champion will need to rise from the ashes to recapture his former glory.
Before fully understanding the magnitude of tonight's UFC on FOX 13 main event bout, let us take a trip back to "Cigano's" Octagon debut in 2008. The highly touted Brazilian striker came into UFC with an impressive 6-1 record, but he had yet to earn a marquee victory in smaller promotions.
That quickly changed as dos Santos made his presence felt with a thunderous knockout victory over Fabricio Werdum, who ironically now holds UFC gold as the interim champion. That fateful night, at UFC 90, marked the beginning of a sensational run that saw dos Santos destroy and dismantle top heavyweight after top heavyweight.
It was evident early on that dos Santos was a special striker, and his vicious knockouts over Werdum, Stefan Struve, Gilbert Yvel and Gabriel Gonzaga quickly silenced any of the Brazilian's doubters. In fact, dos Santos would have started his UFC career with an unheralded five straight knockouts had Mirko Cro Cop not submitted verbally because of punches back in "Cigano's" third UFC fight.
After decisive victories over iron-chinned Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin, the date was set for dos Santos to take on UFC Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez in the first-ever UFC on FOX show.
The stakes were as high as we had ever seen in a UFC heavyweight fight, and predictions for the outcome were across the board.
Coming into the fight, both Velasquez and dos Santos were undefeated inside the Octagon, and the Heavyweight champion was coming off a demolition of former champ Brock Lesnar a year earlier. Even though UFC could have broke the bank with the fight on pay-per-view (PPV), they opted to have arguably the biggest Heavyweight title fight in history take center stage for their debut on FOX.
Ultimately, after nearly an hour of analysts breaking down the fight, dos Santos threw an atomic bomb at Velasquez, knocking out the champion in just 64 seconds in the most stunning of fashions. As "Cigano" celebrated wildly across the cage, millions of viewers across the world watched their television sets in a haze as to what just occurred.
Velasquez was indomitable up to that point, but so was Dos Santos. For "Cigano" to simply run through Velasquez like that was absolutely shocking, and even more so in hindsight.
Dos Santos went on to defend his title once, at UFC 146 against a clearly outmatched Frank Mir, before rematching Velasquez in one of the most highly anticipated fights in history. With Velasquez supporters noting the former champ was injured for their first encounter, and Dos Santos' supporters expecting another violent finish, this fight had all the makings of a huge PPV at UFC 155.
After five rounds, it was painfully evident how much better Velasquez was against one of the truly great fighters in UFC. It was a one-sided beatdown, and for the first time Dos Santos was not the one swinging the hammer.
When dos Santos returned to the cage against fan favorite Mark Hunt, "Cigano" once again proved why he is arguably the most dangerous striker in UFC today, as he took out the former K-1 champion via a spinning heel kick knockout. Yes, really.
With another marquee win in his back pocket, dos Santos was set to meet Velasquez for the third time at UFC 166. With the series split, this bout was set to be the decisive once and for all answer as to who is the undisputed UFC Heavyweight champion.
In the end, Velasquez once again proved to be too much for "Cigano", battering the former champion badly over the span of five rounds before finally finishing the job in the fifth via technical knockout. The fight was easily one of the toughest to watch in UFC history, as dos Santos' mettle was too much for his own good.
Fight fans have yet to see dos Santos return to the cage since that fateful evening last October, but that will change later tonight when he takes on No. 4-ranked Stipe Miocic in the main event of UFC on FOX 13.
With dos Santos by far and away the clear No. 2 best Heavyweight in the world, he will need an outstanding performance for UFC to give him another crack at Velasquez once he and Werdum settle their score in 2015.
On the other hand, if Velasquez once again can not make the trek to the Octagon because of injury, "Cigano" will likely be tabbed as his replacement, and rematch Werdum for UFC gold.
First things first, dos Santos must take out Miocic on the biggest programming platform. It's must-watch.