Occupy The Throne – Edition #43
Jeremy Lambert: This Saturday night the “Baddest Man on The Planet” will be determined when Junior dos Santos defends his title against Cain Velasquez. The UFC heavyweight strap will also be on the line, but being the baddest dude on the planet earth is way more important.
These two men met just over a year ago in the inaugural UFC on FOX event. After much hype, the fight lasted just 64 seconds as Dos Santos finished Velasquez with punches to capture the title. The suddenness of the fight left a lot of fans disappointed, including UFC President Dana White, who went on a tirade against Velasquez on the air just mere moments after the bout.
The circumstances this time around are much different. The hype isn’t nearly the same (in fact, it’s been rather generic) and many fans have turned against Velasquez following his loss to JDS last year and feeling that one win against Antonio Silva isn’t good enough to warrant a rematch against the champion. Nevertheless, the rematch is upon us with JDS looking to continue his dominance of the heavyweight division and Velasquez looking to re-establish himself as the top guy.
Samer Kadi: Its status as MMA’s weakest and at times, most embarrassing division is well-earned. Its oxygen consumption equals that of every other weight class combined, and cardio is often thrown out the window before Bruce Buffer is done with his fighter introductions. However, there is something about heavyweights that captures people’s imagination like no other. When a heavyweight bout features Junior Dos Santos and Cain Velasquez, the heavyweight fascination becomes justified.
In large part, the lack of buzz among of the hardcores is related to the way in which Dos Santos’ initial encounter with Velasquez unfolded. And yet, however decisive the Brazilian’s victory might have been, Dos Santos and Velasquez remain the two best heavyweights on the planet, and witnessing them share the Octagon again should be considered a privilege.
It is hard to fault those who are unable to get up for a rematch of a 64 second fight that ended in decisive fashion. However, the same interesting stylistic match-up that made the build-up to their first encounter so fascinating is present in the rematch, and despite finding himself staring at the ceiling a year ago, Cain Velasquez presents a set of skills that is sure to catch the champion’s attention. In fact, the AKA standout remains the most well-equipped fighter to dethrone the “Cigano.”
Jeremy Lambert: We’ve all heard how you beat the current heavyweight champion. “You have to put him on his back and you have to test his cardio.” All of that is much easier said than done, but Velasquez is the fighter to do just those things. He didn’t get a chance to in the first bout, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the talent to do it.
Velasquez’s wrestling and pace should be the kryptonite for Dos Santos’s striking and questionable gas tank. Whether or not he’s able to exploit those potential weaknesses is a different story though. Velasquez had some those advantages just over a year ago and we all saw how far that got him. I highly doubt that we see a repeat of their first clash, meaning that I expect the fight to last longer than 64 seconds, but that doesn’t mean the challenger will be able to impose his game any better.
Dos Santos isn’t on the same striking level as say, Anderson Silva, but in the heavyweight division, you won’t find a better boxer. Everything he throws is with bad intentions and he has a variety of punches, all of them perfectly set up, that he can put you away with. Velasquez is a fast and accurate puncher, but he doesn’t pack the same kind of power and he’s far too hittable to withstand the heat that the Brazilian is bringing.
After their last bout, the former champion was criticized for “not sticking to the game plan.” While I highly doubt Dana White’s words are going to change how Velasquez fights, I do think we’ll see a smarter fighter who fights with more urgency in getting inside and trying to get the fight to the ground.
Samer Kadi: Velasquez’s Achilles heel has so far been his stiff head movement. Whenever Cain throws, he leaves himself vulnerable. His offensive striking is quite competent and he possesses some diverse kickboxing, but defensively, he leaves a lot to be desired. While he has obviously improved considerably since his three round win over Cheick Kongo, Velasquez was still tagged repeatedly by the Frenchman. Against Dos Santos, Velasquez’s sloppy defensive habits reared their ugly head, and he paid for it with his heavyweight title.
Velasquez went for an extremely lazy left hook after miscalculating his range instead of simply choosing to walk back and reset, and Dos Santos capitalized brilliantly. To avoid a similar scenario, Cain needs to be far more prudent, and throw with less volume on his feet. Despite Dos Santos’ relatively flat-footed stance, Velasquez should abandon leg kicks this time around, as he looks particularly prone for counters off of them. Moreover, most of Velasquez’s offense on the feet comes from close-quarters, where he likes to use a bread-and-butter left hook-right hook combination after leading with a short distance jab. That of course, comes with its perils, as Dos Santos’ counter-punching, as Velasquez once learned, is nothing to test your luck with.
That, in large part, is what makes Dos Santos so special. When he first burst onto the scene, he was an explosive striker who overwhelmed his opponents with aggression by putting together combinations in a way that was quite unique for a heavyweight. With time however, like his compatriots Anderson Silva and Jose Aldo, Dos Santos became more technical, more patient, and adopted a more measured approach. He improved his jab tremendously, and without giving up his signature aggression, developed his counter-striking in truly remarkable fashion. At heavyweight, Dos Santos’ boxing became the complete package.
What makes fighting Dos Santos so fearsome is that every single punch he throws has the potential to be a fight-ender. His overhand right is just as lethal as his left hook, and it matters little whether he’s throwing them as counters or as part of a combination. And of course, there is that infamous right uppercut, which at the moment, is among MMA’s greatest weapons.
As such, Velasquez has to fight safer on the feet, throw with less volume in order not to give Dos Santos the chance to pick up his patterns and dissect him, while choosing the perfect moment to close the distance. As good and as versatile as Cain’s wrestling is, he doesn’t really possess an unstoppable power double that can just cover distance the way Georges St-Pierre or Chael Sonnen do, and he is therefore forced to get on the inside. If he does so, the entire complexion of the fight will alter.
Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of Velasquez’s game is his dirty boxing. While Dos Santos has shown he is more than capable of holding his own in the clinch, where his patience, balance and technical proficiency are nothing short of astounding, he does not want Velasquez to be landing short uppercuts on him from the inside, and set up his brilliant single legs. Dos Santos’ takedown defense has largely been untested – a testament to his dominance inside the cage – but he’s shown to have terrific hips and was able to completely shut down Shane Carwin’s game. Stopping Velasquez’s wrestling however, is a different proposition altogether.
While Dos Santos will hardly be taken down at will, the deeper the fight goes, the more his chances of staying upright decrease, provided of course Velasquez is able to implement his relentless pace and push for that vital takedown. What sets Cain apart from anyone in the division, is the fact that once he’s on top, he is almost certain to beat his opponent up. Velasquez has a tremendous ability to immediately land in dominant positions off of his takedowns, and he does not waste any time to utilize his ground-and-pound.
The drawback however, is that Cain’s top control lends itself into creating scrambling opportunities for the man on the bottom. Velasquez will often opt to stand up above his opponent and drop down some punches, or land punches from the side with his foe turtling up, instead of getting overhooks and dragging him back down. Likewise, Velasquez likes to go for the knee-on-belly position and drop further hammers. While this maximizes the damage and limits any submission, it will provide someone as good as Dos Santos with some openings to push off and escape.
Over time however, accumulated takedowns and ground-and-pound will affect Dos Santos, who despite having decent cardio, can ill afford to spend too much time on the bottom with someone like Velasquez raining down punches. If Dos Santos starts to tire, the tide will certainly be in the challenger’s favor, whose cardio prevails over anyone in the division.
Jeremy Lambert: This misconception leading into this fight is that Velasquez really isn’t all that great because he’s already lost to Dos Santos. That has nothing to do with the former champ’s skills and everything to do with the current champ. Cain may get knocked out again on Saturday, but who else in the heavyweight division would you favor to beat him outside of maybe Alistair Overeem?
Take the first fight out of the equation for a second and ask yourself: aren’t you excited to see two of the best and most well-rounded heavyweights fight this weekend?
Despite all the advantages that Velasquez may have, and make no mistake, he has advantages in this fight as my partner already laid out, the champion is the champion and has once defeated the challenger for a reason. Dos Santos may have flaws, but if they’re unable to be exploited, then they exist about as much as the NHL season. Velasquez has to get inside to do any damage to Dos Santos, and when he does that, he’s going to eat an uppercut that puts him down. Think Liddell vs. Sobral 2 and you have how I think the ending of this fight plays out.
Samer Kadi: Junior Dos Santos has absolutely earned the right to be the favorite. He is the champion for a reason, and the last time these two men fought, it took him just over a minute to dispose of his foe.
However, they are still evenly match, and the stylistic advantages they hold over each other in different areas of the game make this one a toss-up. Dos Santos’ striking will more than likely give the challenger all sorts of fits. However, a more cautious Velasquez should avoid any big shots early on, before showing a greater sense of urgency in going for the takedown. He will close the distance, get the clinch, and eventually take the fight to the ground. Dos Santos will have his moments in the stand-up, and he will get back to his feet after being taken down, but this will become increasingly hard to pull off with each passing minute, as Velasquez tightens up the screws, turns up the pace, and finishes a tired Dos Santos with some ground-and-pound in the fourth round.