UFC 166 Preview- Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos

Cain Velasquez (12-1, 10-1 UFC) vs. Junior Dos Santos (16-2, 10-1 UFC)

The main event is a trilogy bout as Cain Velasquez defends the UFC Heavyweight Championship against Junior Dos Santos once again. The two have traded the championship as Dos Santos defeated Velasquez for it in November 2011 at the first UFC On FOX event, and Velasquez regained it in defeating Dos Santos at UFC 155 in December 2012. Both men are coming off wins at UFC 160 in May as Velasquez retained the championship in knocking out Antonio Silva while Dos Santos earned his next title shot by knocking out Mark Hunt.

Fight Breakdown- Arguably the two greatest heavyweight MMA fighters we have ever seen clash for a third time for the biggest championship in heavyweight combat sports. While a third bout usually signals the end of a rivalry, the way that Velasquez and Dos Santos have dominated the division since their arrivals to the UFC in 2008 shows that they make fight more than three times. They both hold identical 10-1 records in UFC competition, and the one loss for each have come to each other. They have bested every other opponent they have ever met, and neither has been in a close fight as all ten of their wins have come by finish or in dominant fashion. Velasquez was 2-0 when he signed with the UFC record, and his record may have been better had he not had trouble finding opponents. Being a member of the UFC roster changed that, and he reeled off seven straight wins, culminating in defeating Brock Lesnar for the UFC Heavyweight Championship at UFC 121 in October 2010. He lost to Dos Santos in his first defense, but he has now won three straight, with the win over Dos Santos sandwiched in between two wins over Antonio Silva.

Dos Santos came into the UFC with a 6-1 record with six first-round stoppage wins. He debuted at UFC 90 against Fabricio Werdum, and was a huge underdog going into the fight. He was featured on UFC President Dana White’s video blog for that fight week, shown hitting mits with a lot of power, and White suggesting fans put money down on him. He didn’t disappoint in the fight as he scored another first-round knockout, finishing Werdum in 80 seconds and quickly establishing himself as a future title contender. He then scored four more stoppage wins in finishing Stefan Struve, Mirko Cro Cop, Gilbert Yvel and Gabriel Gonzaga. He then showed his ability to go the distance in tough fights in back-to-back decision wins over Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin. That led to the first title fight against Velasquez, which Dos Santos won. He made one title defense, scoring a knockout win over Frank Mir at UFC 146 in May 2012, before losing the championship back to Velasquez. His big knockout win over a hot Mark Hunt in May at UFC 160 set him up for his chance to get the title back from Velasquez on Saturday night.

To see how this fight may go, you have to take a closer look at their second fight. In the first fight, it didn’t go very long, and it was about the first real punch thrown that finished the fight. Dos Santos hit Velasquez in the right spot behind the ear, and it dropped him and Dos Santos only need a couple of extra ground punches to win the fight. The second fight showed what Velasquez is capable of in a 25-minute fight as he used his power punching and strong takedowns to completely dominate Dos Santos. Dos Santos was on the verge of being finished a few times in the fight, but he survived, and was a battered man. Dos Santos took such a beating that he was very tired in the fight, and Velasquez never really tired in his 25-minute onslaught. Dos Santos admitted to being hampered by overtraining and personal issues going into that fight, and it was no secret that Velasquez was badly injured going into their first fight, though Dos Santos was as well. The third fight could see a completely different fight, and a different way of outcome, and that makes it very intriguing to see the two best heavyweights ever step inside the Octagon across from one another yet again.

There is no question that Dos Santos has more one-punch knockout power than Velasquez does, though Velasquez does have a lot of power in throwing combinations. The big difference between the two is the wrestling of Velasquez. Velasquez has some of the best wrestling skills in the sport, and he is relentless in going for the takedown. It made the biggest difference in their second fight as Velasquez was constantly going for the takedown as he went for 33 of them. He scored on 11 of them, with seven of those coming in the first two rounds, and they really took Dos Santos out of his gameplan and forced him to fight from behind. The first two rounds were the big key in the second fight, as Velasquez also scored 109 total strikes in the first ten minutes while Dos Santos only landed 21 total strikes in that first ten minutes. It set the pace for the final 15 minutes, and Dos Santos struggled to get back into rhythm as Velasquez outstruck him 101-45 over those final three rounds. If the gap between them was close going into the second fight, it was made bigger as Velasquez clearly showed he was the better fighter of the two.

However, Dos Santos is gunning to show that their second fight isn’t representative of the two men, and that he is the better fighter of the two. To do so, he needs to attack with his big right hand immediately, and use a varying array of strikes on his feet. His kicking needs to improve, and he should mix it up on the feet and come with spin attacks. His spinning wheel kick knockout of Hunt was ultra-impressive, and it put the stamp on him earning another title shot. He needs to use his sound footwork and circle and create angles. Velasquez’ takedown attack forced Dos Santos straight backward during their second fight, and that is something he needs to not do or he will get taken down again. Hopefully he has worked harder on defending the takedown as that is what Velasquez will be looking for. If Velasquez gets him down again, he brings a heavy top attack with tons of ground-and-pound, and with a seemingly bottomless gas tank, he is able to relentlessly attack from the top and his offensive output is strong.

Dos Santos is going to have to keep this fight on the feet if he is going to win it. He could find a submission on the ground, but Velasquez has good ground defense. Dos Santos’ balance on the feet is solid and his movement is good. However, this fight is Velasquez’ fight to lose. While wrestling is his strong suit, he is far from a one-dimensional fighter, and his striking is getting much more crisp as he progresses. It only takes one punch to change a fight, and change the outcome of a fight, and Dos Santos certainly has the power to change it with that one punch. If he can’t land it, though, he may be finding himself on the wrong side of another dominating performance from Velasquez. Velasquez will have to watch for counters from Dos Santos and keep the distance close to where he can score some takedowns. The further distance Dos Santos is able to create, the better chance he has of something landing. Velasquez is just too strong in close quarters and in the clinch, and his conditioning is unreal. He may finish Dos Santos this time, or it may go the distance, but Velasquez retains the title and moves on to his next challenge.

Why It Matters- These guys are destined to fight each other again no matter the outcome of this fight. It may be MMA’s first major five-fight series when all is said and done. Fabricio Werdum is waiting in the wings for the winner, and Josh Barnett, Travis Browne and Stipe Miocic have started to emerge as future contenders. There is also Roy Nelson out there should he defeat Daniel Cormier, and if Alistair Overeem can turn his UFC career around, he’s in the mix as well. There is a whole slew of challengers for the winner, and the loser will find themselves probably two wins away from fighting again for the title. The winner will firmly establish their position as the man to beat in the division.

Prediction- Velasquez

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