By most any definition, UFC 155 is a deep, intriguing card, but it could have been so much better. Like many 2012 events, Saturday’s show at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas was bitten hard by the injury bug. Phil Davis, Forrest Griffin, Chris Weidman and Gray Maynard were all originally set to take part in the promotion’s year-end offering before the usual assortment of ailments arrived to spoil the fun.
All is not lost, however, because the main course -- a heavyweight title rematch between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez -- is still on schedule. After relinquishing his belt to dos Santos in just 64 seconds at UFC on Fox 1, Velasquez will be highly motivated to reclaim his throne. Since then, dos Santos successfully defended the heavyweight strap for the first time with a second-round technical knockout of Frank Mir at UFC 146.
Extended title reigns are difficult to come by in the land of the giants -- a point Velasquez hopes to drive home in Sin City. Here is a closer look at UFC 155 “Dos Santos vs. Velasquez 2,” with analysis and picks:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC 155 Free Fan Pick’Em
UFC Heavyweight Championship
Junior dos Santos (15-1, 9-0 UFC) vs. Cain Velasquez (10-1, 8-1 UFC)
The Matchup: The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s heavyweight division has developed nicely in recent years, but dos Santos and Velasquez remain the class of the promotion’s big men, especially with Alistair Overeem’s seemingly annual licensing woes.
There are several factors to consider when examining dos Santos’ 64-second stoppage of Velasquez in their first meeting at UFC on Fox 1, but be assured that luck was not one of them. The overhand right that connected behind Velasquez’s ear was a precision punch from one of the most accurate and prolific strikers in the UFC at any weight class. If Velasquez were to present the champion with a similar opening in their rematch, there is little doubt that dos Santos would be able to capitalize again.
Did Velasquez’s year-plus layoff following shoulder surgery cause him to adopt a more tentative approach during his short-lived title defense? That is entirely possible, but even a vintage Velasquez has the potential to get caught by someone as skilled as “Cigano.”
An American Kickboxing Academy product, Velasquez was in fine form at UFC 146, immediately scoring a takedown against Antonio Silva before battering the massive Brazilian to a bloody pulp with vicious punches and elbows on the ground to force a first-round stoppage. There is a huge discrepancy in the athletic ability of dos Santos and “Bigfoot,” but it was still good to see that Velasquez suffered no lasting effects from the first loss of his professional career.
On that same card, dos Santos showed what happens when he faces an opponent with a one-dimensional game plan, as he punished former titleholder Mir with jabs, hooks and straight punches en route to a second-round TKO victory in the UFC 146 main event. Mir’s lone moment came in the first round, where he attempted to close the distance and pull dos Santos into a foot lock. The champion maintained his balance, however, and pulled his appendage free from Mir’s clutches. From there, it was academic.
The blueprint for Velasquez to recapture the heavyweight title remains much the same as it was the first time he squared off with dos Santos. The Mexican-American fighter is one of the most agile heavyweights the sport has seen, and he is capable of transitioning from striking to takedowns at a moment’s notice. His ability to use punches and kicks to keep dos Santos guessing will be pivotal in ultimately forcing the Team Nogueira representative to the floor. The Brazilian has only been taken down twice in his UFC career, in part because he has an excellent sprawl and good hips and also because he often puts his quick hands on foes before they can begin to think about shooting.
It is important for Velasquez to be first to attack in this fight. Dos Santos does not need long to establish a rhythm, but if Velasquez can pressure his adversary early by forcing cardio-draining tie-ups and takedown attempts, he can alter the course of the bout. That means being persistent, even if dos Santos successfully defends his initial advances. A hesitant Velasquez will only allow dos Santos to start pumping his jab on the outside, setting the stage for more potent power punches.
Velasquez’s best chance for victory is to overwhelm dos Santos with a consistent work rate, grinding him against the fence and punishing him with physical ground-and-pound. That task is easier said than done against a mobile boxer who has a keen understanding of movement and angles. Dos Santos counters well and is capable of rocking Velasquez with his lead uppercut and body punches when the former Arizona State University wrestler attempts to bring the action to close quarters.
The Pick: Velasquez will begin the fight aggressively, but he will find it difficult to consistently get inside against the dangerous combinations of dos Santos. Both men have the gas tank to go five rounds, but their track records say it probably ends earlier. “Cigano” wins by TKO in round three.
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