Junior dos Santos brilliantly boxed his way to a UFC title shot. | AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck
Junior dos Santos secured a shot at Cain Velasquez’s heavyweight title with his impressive decision win over Shane Carwin at UFC 131 on Saturday at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. If the past is any indicator, the heavyweight division is the biggest hammer the UFC can swing.
There is nothing quite like a heavyweight championship showdown, and Velasquez-Dos Santos is intriguing for all the right reasons and free of all the wrong ones. According to Wikipedia, four of the six highest-selling UFC pay-per-views have been heavyweight main events, always with Brock Lesnar involved. It will be interesting to see if Velasquez’s destruction of Lesnar at UFC 121 can replace him in fans’ eyes as The Man Who Beat the Man. A great thing Velasquez has to drive buys is the massive Latino fan base; this bout certainly is a great way to further continue inroads into that considerable market.
Presumably, the two will meet later this year, perhaps in the fall. It cannot be too soon, as the UFC has grown admirably in the past two years despite a constantly shifting and woefully under-scheduled heavyweight title.
What makes this exceptionally important is how inactive the true heavyweight crown has been. Since Lesnar’s rematch destruction of Frank Mir at UFC 100 in July 2009, which thereby solidified his claim on the title and established him as the true champion, the belt itself has only been up for grabs twice in nearly two years. Lesnar took almost a year off after his onset of diverticulitis, returning to defeat interim champion Carwin in July before losing the belt to Velasquez in October.
Velasquez’s shoulder injury and subsequent surgery put the championship on ice again. These things happen in MMA, but it will be a welcome return to the most important and marketable division in the sport. Heavyweights naturally draw more attention, and the main drawback to the fights can be spotty conditioning. That will be the case here, as Dos Santos and Velasquez are athletic and well-trained guys.
It is also important to note that both compete at around 240 pounds, which is a good thing to remember when spurious talk begins about the need for a super heavyweight division; it will always crop up when someone Lesnar’s size destroys a smaller heavyweight. That argument is a senseless one, as is the one to create a cruiserweight division or some equivalent around 225 pounds. Let the heavies be heavies, instead of further splitting a division that is finally getting some depth to it.
Heavyweights cutting down to 265 are never going to have the striking technique and standup athleticism of guys in the 240-pound range. That principle has held true in boxing for more than a century, and it is consistent in MMA, as well. For every Semmy Schilt, there are 10 massive guys with terrible technique. That is part of the tradeoff of getting that big, and while overwhelming size counts for something on the ground, getting a guy like Dos Santos or Velasquez there is quite an assignment.
There is no need for trash talk going into this fight, and we likely will not see it from either man; they are polite, class acts. What we have is an amazing bout between two resilient, eminently talented athletes. From a pure standpoint of overall skills and mutual danger, this is the best heavyweight matchup since Fedor Emelianenko-Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic in August 2005.
Velasquez and Dos Santos are tremendous fighters that have performed at a level of dominance indicating they are going to be terribly difficult to beat. Neither has been taken down -- and kept down -- while in the UFC. Both have excellent cardio, something that has been a wild card in heavyweight title bouts of late and in the division, in general.
That is a recipe for a great fight and, perhaps, a seminal rivalry to help drive the heavyweight division for the next couple years. Throw in Lesnar once he gets healthy, Carwin, who showed renewed conditioning and tons of heart, and others who emerge, and you have yourself a busy and compelling bunch of big guys.
Jason Probst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.twitter.com/jasonprobst.