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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 142’s Junior dos Santos, Tai Tuivasa

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight roost-ruler, Junior dos Santos, will square off with up-and-coming knockout artist, Tai Tuivasa, TONIGHT (Sat., Dec. 1, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 142 inside Adelaide Entertainment Centre in Adelaide, Australia.

“JDS” is no longer the “Cigano” of old, the man who captured the Heavyweight crown back in 2011. He’s a bit slower, a bit more fragile. At the same time, dos Santos’ boxing is still leagues ahead of many of his peers, enough so that he remains a highly-ranked contender. Standing opposite him will be Australian prospect Tai Tuivasa, who has quickly racked up a trio of victories inside the Octagon. It is very likely too soon for the 25-year-old, but it only takes a single big punch to change all that.

Let’s take a closer look at the skills of each man:


Dos Santos’ remains one of his division’s sharper boxers, making use of a long jab and body shot to set up power shots. Tuivasa, meanwhile, doesn’t bother to set up his power punches much of time, instead relying on sudden bursts of speed to cover distance and land big.

Dos Santos’ success usually begins with the jab. Aside from being very useful to draw his opponent’s hands lower and set up his power shots when thrown to the body, it’s dos Santos’ range finder. The body jab lets him know just how far away his opponent is, as well as providing a nice barrier to negate forward movement and haymakers.

In his last two wins, dos Santos’ jab was incredibly important regardless of whether it was going to the head or body. Ben Rothwell’s bizarrely square stance left him somewhat powerless to avoid the strike, which halted many 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). Blagoi Ivanov, meanwhile, has no real range weapons, and was forced to try to walk through the jab or hang back and counter.

Once dos Santos’ jab is established, his game works 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. Defensively, “JDS” could do with more feinting and circling, as he has a long established and terrible habit of backing up until he hits the fence and then dropping his hands.

That’s the Brazilian in a nutshell. As for Tuivasa, we have a pretty classic Heavyweight prospect on our hands: young and powerful, fast and dangerous, with some tricks up his sleeve but not exactly a technician.

At range, Tuivasa does not work the jab like his Brazilian foe. Instead, he hangs out at the edge of his range, waiting to either counter or explode forward. To pass the time, Tuivasa will slam home an absurdly powerful low kick, though he does not set it up or throw it too frequently.

If Tuivasa’s foe reaches for him, he generally does a nice job of slipping and returning, often with the left hook. Tuivasa is not the most patient fighter though, so if left waiting for too long, he’ll soon explode himself. Generally, it’s either a lunge with the right hand or leaping hook forward, but Tuivasa does do a nice job of disguising one punch for the other.

One of Tuivasa’s most effective strategies is to run straight at his opponent with a punch, collide with him, and jam him into the fence. Once there, Tuivasa’s size helps him keep his foe trapped, at which point he’ll begin jamming uppercuts up the middle. Before long though, Tuivasa will slam an elbow over the top, a technique that is definitely his go-to move (GIF).


Let’s get Tuivasa’s wrestling history out of the way first, because it’s very short. Opposite Arlovski, Tuivasa ducked a right hand and secured a body lock. From there, some combination of his forward pressure and Arlovski’s loss of balance granted the Australian the mount position. What did the knockout artist do with this gifted position? Well, he failed to free his arms of Arlovski’s overhooks for a full minute before getting rolled over.

In short, “JDS” doesn’t have to worry about the takedown.

While it’s pretty rare for dos Santos to look for the takedown on his own, 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.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

I don’t want to waste anyone’s time here: there really isn’t much to talk about. “JDS” is a jiu-jitsu black belt who has shown both solid defense and positional offense, but nothing stands out to the point where it would be worthy of real analysis. Tuivasa, meanwhile, couldn’t punch a man he controlled from the full mount for a full minute, which probably tells you something about his current grappling prowess.


This is such a Heavyweight fight. On one hand, we have the aging veteran, who far outstrips his opponent skill-wise in every area. On the other, the green up-and-comer being thrown to the top too quickly, though there’s a very real chance he flattens his foe with little effort regardless of the skill differential. It’s not complicated, but it should be entertaining while it lasts.

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional 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.

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