Cain Velasquez has yet to defend the heavyweight title he won 13 months ago. | Photo: Daniel Herbertson
On April 9, 2005, Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar waged a memorable three-round war at the “The Ultimate Fighter 1” Finale and created a new legion of mixed martial arts fans. UFC on Fox 1 “Velasquez vs. Dos Santos” on Saturday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., has the potential to be of similar significance, as the Ultimate Fighting Championship makes its network television debut.
Considered as something of a lead-in to the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez boxing match on pay-per-view, the live broadcast is scheduled to feature only one televised bout, but it is a big one. Nothing captures the imagination of the public quite like a tilt between two capable heavyweights, and the title clash between champion Cain Velasquez and challenger Junior dos Santos certainly fits that bill.
The nine-fight undercard is set to be streamed on Facebook, as well as FoxSports.com, and features a pivotal lightweight showdown between Ben Henderson and Clay Guida. With an impressive performance, the winner could secure the next shot at Frankie Edgar’s 155-pound belt. Here is a closer look at the main card matchups, with analysis and picks.
UFC Heavyweight Championship
Cain Velasquez (9-0, 7-0 UFC) vs. Junior dos Santos (13-1, 7-0 UFC)
The Matchup: It was not long ago that massive heavyweights were all the rage in the UFC. Brock Lesnar weighed in the ballpark of 290 pounds on fight night and looked to overwhelm opponents with sheer size and strength. Fellow behemoth Shane Carwin possessed the largest glove size in the promotion and had the knockout power to go with it. Frank Mir packed on pounds of extra muscle to keep up with the times.
That perception quickly shifted, as Velasquez, an agile, 240-pound heavyweight, dispatched Lesnar with relative ease at UFC 121. Meanwhile, Dos Santos, another streamlined big man, ascended the ranks of the division using a lethal combination of crisp boxing and cardio. If ever a heavyweight contest was meant to go five rounds, it is this one. Both Velasquez and Dos Santos have the stamina to make the 25th minute of their bout every bit as entertaining as the first.
More than a year has passed since Velasquez weathered Lesnar’s takedowns and battered the former University of Minnesota wrestler with precision striking to capture the heavyweight strap. Even though he has been sidelined since then due to a right shoulder injury that required surgery, there is no reason to believe that the American Kickboxing Academy product will not be 100 percent in his return to the Octagon. Velasquez’s relentless work rate alone is enough to wear down most challengers, but Dos Santos is a different breed.
In taking lopsided decision victories over Carwin and Roy Nelson, the Brazilian displayed the type of stamina that should match up well with the seemingly tireless Velasquez.
Dos Santos’ heavy-handed boxing is arguably the best heavyweight standup in MMA today, something Velasquez has yet to see during his impressive run. While Cheick Kongo was rocked the former Arizona State University All-American wrestler during their encounter at UFC 99, Velasquez recovered and was able to take a decision, still the only time the champion has gone the distance in his professional career. Dos Santos possesses much more technical skill than Kongo, however. His quick hands and ability to utilize angles will come in handy against Velasquez. Dos Santos’ uppercut is also dangerous and, if it connects, has the potential to swing the fight in his favor.
Velasquez has the ability to seamlessly use punches and kicks to set up takedowns, and that is what he will want to do here. An extended standup battle will ultimately result in Dos Santos winning on the judges’ scorecards. Velasquez will need to close the distance, push the Brazilian against the cage and work to get the fight to the canvas. Dos Santos stuffed Nelson’s takedown attempts and used a stinging left jab to keep Carwin at bay, but expect Velasquez to keep coming. Dos Santos has not had to fight from his back for an extended period of time, and if Velasquez can get the fight there, he can use positional control to work some ground-and-pound. One has to believe that Dos Santos, who trains with Team Nogueira, has a solid guard to neutralize Velasquez, but he will also need to work to get up off the mat when he is taken down.
It will be interesting to see, if the fight reaches the championship rounds, which man has the better gas tank. If Velasquez has been able to impose his will through wrestling, perhaps Dos Santos’ combinations will not be quite as crisp in the fourth and fifth frames. If Dos Santos can keep the majority of the fight upright, he will remain fresh.
The Pick: This bout has all the makings of a heavyweight classic, with two well-rounded fighters who bring to the division the best boxing and wrestling MMA has to offer. There is no clear-cut favorite here, but Dos Santos has the necessary tools to combat the champion’s strengths. He will win most of the exchanges and stave off enough takedowns to take a closely contested decision victory.
Continue Reading » Next Fight: Ben Henderson vs. Clay Guida