Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight kingpin, Junior dos Santos, will look to recapture the strap from current roost-ruler, Stipe Miocic, this Saturday (May 13, 2017) at UFC 211 inside American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
It’s not usual that a fighter earns a title shot following just one win.
To dos Santos’ credit, it was a hell of a win. Opposite Ben Rothwell, dos Santos looked years younger and ages quicker than in his last couple fights, brutalizing the streaking contender and setting punch-count records in the process.
More important, however, is that dos Santos holds a relatively recent win over the current champion. It may be about 1.5 years old, but it’s only two fights back for “JDS.” That battle was an epic war, and it’s hard to imagine this one turning out any differently.
Let’s take a closer look at dos Santos’ skill set:
Dos Santos hits with a great deal of power, but it would be more difficult to find a relevant Heavyweight who does not. His speed definitely helps separate him from the pack, but more than anything else, dos Santos smart understanding and experience of boxing make him great.
Dos Santos is restricted to the same number of punches as any other man, but he creates openings for them better than most. One of the staples of his game is the body jab. In this week’s technique highlight, I took a look at the value of the body jab and how it can be used to set up other techniques.
In his last bout, dos Santos’ jab was incredibly important regardless of whether it was going to the head or body. Rothwell’s bizarrely square stance left him somewhat powerless to avoid the strike, which halted numerous of his trademark blitzes. As his foe pushed forward, dos Santos would either take small steps back and stab at him or plant his feet and stop Rothwell in his tracks (GIF).
Before long, Rothwell’s face was cut and bloodied from the jab. Once that happened, dos Santos’ set ups and feints worked wonderfully. Each time he showed a hint of a jab, Rothwell was forced to react, either freezing in place or reaching for the punch. Either way, dos Santos could time his favorite overhand (GIF) or slip a left hook around the guard.
Alternatively, dos Santos could feint, freeze his foe, and circle away from the cage.
It’s worth mentioning that dos Santos is dangerous on he counter. He’s usually adept at holding his foe at range with those long jabs and straights to the body, but he’ll often go on the aggressive if his opponent works past that distance. The left hook is key here, as he’ll slip down and fire back the hard counter punch (GIF).
Kicking has never been a main part of dos Santos’ arsenal, but his kicks do compliment his attacks. Opposite Rothwell, dos Santos did a decent job of returning kicks when Rothwell hung around at that range without advancing. Most notably, he jammed a side kick into Rothwell that sent him flying.
Aside from that, dos Santos’ kicks are aided by the element of surprise. He may not be a kickboxer, but dos Santos is a natural athlete, meaning that a sudden high kick will get to its target quicker than expected.
And it will hurt (GIF).
Perhaps the most promising sign from dos Santos’ victory over Rothwell was the improvement to his defensive footwork. Every since the Velasquez losses, the strategy for defeating “JDS” has been clear: back him into the fence and throw hard. Dos Santos would fall back into the cage without resisting much and try to trade anyway, and it rarely worked out for him.
It’s still not perfect, but dos Santos made clear efforts to remain in the center of the cage. Aside from feinting and resetting himself, dos Santos also used check hooks to circle around “Big Ben’s” charges.
If Stipe Miocic attempts the same game plan as last time, those small factors could be important.
Despite the losses to Velasquez, getting taken down and held down has never really been dos Santos’ weakness. He was and is a very hard man to control on the mat.
It's pretty rare for dos Santos to look for the takedown on his own, but that part of his game is effective. It relies in large part on his athleticism, which is well above average compared to most Heavyweights. Dos Santos does a nice job quickly changing levels and driving through his opponent for a strong blast double leg.
Defensively, "JDS" is among the division's best. His sprawl is very powerful, and his balance is more than enough to avoid most single legs. Plus, dos Santos' boxing is usually rangy enough to give him time to react to his opponent's shots. Even in Velasquez's pair of victories over the Brazilian, dos Santos was able to stuff a majority of Velasquez's shots.
In particular, dos Santos is excellent at springing back to his feet. After his opponent completes a takedown, dos Santos immediately turns away and stands. As he does this, he moves his hips out and fights the hands, which usually breaks his foe's grip. It's a risky tactic, but dos Santos is quick enough to get away without giving up his back.
While dos Santos does a very nice job of defending takedowns against the fence, he's too content to work with his back to the cage. This flaw ties in with the issues in his striking defense, as dos Santos doesn't show the urgency or technique needed to get out of such a terrible position.
Despite owning a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, dos Santos rarely is grappling inside the Octagon. Generally, he's either knocking out his opponents in violent fashion or trading along the fence, neither of which create many submission opportunities.
That said, dos Santos has showed some skill from his back, and he's not bad defensively. Even after getting dropped badly by Velasquez, dos Santos managed to prevent or quickly escape many dominant positions and work back to his feet, as well as escaping an arm bar from his opponent.
Velasquez has one of the most violent top games in the sport, so that's no small feat.
Dos Santos also showed a bit of his top game off against Mark Hunt. After opening Hunt up with elbows, he quickly capitalized on the "Super Samoan's" loose half guard by cutting through it with his knee. He then moved into the crucifix immediately, allowing him to land some nice elbow strikes.
The fact that dos Santos has worked himself back into the title picture following his decline is pretty remarkable. What’s more remarkable is that dos Santos has a real chance here. Both the Brazilian and Miocic like to box at range, but Miocic dramatically changed his approach opposite “JDS.” He could attempt a close-range war again or look to out-box dos Santos, and it could go either way in both situations.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.