Junior dos Santos dethroned Cain Velasquez 13 months ago. | Photo: Dave Mandel
The weekend between Christmas and New Year’s Day exists in a weird purgatory. You will be exhausted from visiting family, already bored with the toys stuffed in your stocking and yet still not quite ready to dive into a drinking environment to watch the Times Square ball drop on television. The Ultimate Fighting Championship, knowing its audience inside and out, has you covered.
The title of “Baddest Man on the Planet” is on the line at UFC 155 this Saturday, as Junior dos Santos risks his heavyweight strap for your viewing pleasure -- and a sizable pay-per-cut -- against the man he snatched it away from, Cain Velasquez, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
How We Got Here: The figurative blood is barely dry from their first encounter a little more than a year ago, yet here we are. Thanks to Alistair Overeem’s confusion over exactly how much testosterone his body really needs, his suspension allows Velasquez and dos Santos to share the Octagon for a second time, sandwiching just one fight in between their original scrap and the rematch ... An injury to Gray Maynard yanked him off the card and a date with fight bonus king Joe Lauzon. Jersey boy Jim Miller stepped up to fill that gap ... The UFC seems to have a difficult time determining what to do with little-known, four-fight-winning-streak middleweights, so it will slow one of them down by pitting Tim Boetsch and Constantinos Philippou against each other. Combat sports have too many Cinderella stories as it is.
Heavyweight Merry-Go-Round: It has been 30 months since Fabricio Werdum ripped the best-heavyweight-on-the-planet crown off Fedor Emelienanko’s bald head. Since then, the mantle has been bandied about. First, Brock Lesnar was the heir. Then Cain Velasquez enjoyed his short reign. Now, dos Santos sits atop the mountain. Since Emelianenko never fought in the Octagon, the designation of greatest UFC heavyweight of all-time remains wide open. Consider this: if the Brazilian defends successfully at UFC 155, he will tie Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar and Tim Sylvia for most consecutive heavyweight title defenses -- at two. In contrast, light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has defended his title four times in a little more than a year. Every other established weight class, with the exception of lightweight, has produced a dominant champion at one time or another. Dos Santos is on the verge of doing something unprecedented in the UFC’s heavyweight division; or he and Velasquez can play hot potato with the most valuable title in the promotion.
Useless Fact: UFC 155 marks the 25th visit for the promotion to the MGM Grand Garden Arena, more than any other venue. The Mandalay Bay Events Center is nipping at its neighbor’s heels, with 22 stops and a visit from UFC 156 forthcoming. It would be one event closer if it were not for the untimely demise of UFC 151.
Say What: In an excruciatingly boring media call, dos Santos took a not-so-subtle swipe at Overeem when asked about fighting Velasquez over other guys in the division. “I prefer to fight against clean athletes and real professionals. Cain Velasquez is one of these guys. He’s a real professional fighter, and that’s a good challenge for me. I know he’s very tough, and I know how hard I have to train to face him. The other guys, they just say things but there’s nothing behind the words. Guys like me and Cain Velasquez, we are made at the gym, and guys like the other guy, they are made at the laboratory,” he said ... Melvin Guillard-Jamie Varner was expected to take place at “The Ultimate Fighter 16” Finale, but Varner was forced out of the fight just hours before it due to illness. Fuel TV’s Heidi Androl caught up with Guillard, who said, “[Varner] will never get the opportunity to fight me again.” Seconds later, Androl told Guillard that UFC President Dana White had moved the bout to UFC 155. Without skipping a beat, the brash lightweight replied, “That’s cool.”
A Watchful Eye: We have heard it before, we are hearing it now and we will hear it again. As one of Velasquez’s American Kickboxing Academy teammates, Daniel Cormier has made it abundantly clear he has zero interest in the UFC heavyweight division if his amigo has the championship belt holding up his jeans. Cormier has already called out light heavyweight champion “Bones” Jones and openly discusses the possibility of dropping to 205 pounds. Even with a fight currently booked at Strikeforce’s final event on Jan. 12, it is all but certain he will continue to receive Zuffa checks in the UFC. Next in line for a title shot is Overeem, but after the “Demolition Man,” the cupboard starts to get a little bare in terms of believable challengers. A decorated Olympic wrestler could be what the division needs to spice things up and give other prospects time to rise above the rest.
Real-Life S---: A middleweight bout featuring longtime UFC veteran Chris Leben and Strikeforce import Derek Brunson starts off the pay-per-view portion of the card. Leben’s troubles, specifically with alcohol, have been no secret to MMA fans. His career on the sport’s biggest stage has been a rocky one, dotted with DUIs and drug suspensions. The Oregon native is adamant he has put his troubles behind him and is ready for whatever challenges lay before him. All too often, fighters are viewed as objects for viewing pleasure that appear on television on fight night and then disappear into oblivion. This simple notion clouds the reality that these are real-life human beings with real-life problems. The UFC has been lenient with Leben. Let us hope, for his sake, it does not have to give him yet another second chance.
Awards Watch: Often when two incredible submission artists fight one another, they stay away from the ground game for fear of the opponent’s skills and instead roll the dice standing and striking. That does not figure to be the case when Lauzon and Miller face off since they are two hyper-aggressive jiu-jitsu artists that love to jump into submissions ... Guillard- Varner is a matchup of talented lightweights with a propensity to implode at the worst possible time. Look for this fight to produce, well, something wild ... Flip a coin on which heavyweight contest scores the “Knockout of the Night.” Tails never fails.