Junior dos Santos has menaced opponents with his standup skills. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/UFC/Getty Images
The heavyweight title is on the line in a rematch of the first-ever UFC on Fox fight. Between rumors that both Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez fought injured in their first encounter and their dismantling of opponents since, perhaps it is fitting that we run this matchup back one more time. UFC 155 “Dos Santos vs. Velasquez 2” will close out the year for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and, as is tradition, it has stacked the card to end with a bang.
Let us see how these guys matchup:
Gone are the days of the lumbering, super-sized heavyweights. Dos Santos and Velasquez are leaner, meaner and pair power with speed. Dos Santos is slightly younger, but both men are in the peak age range for UFC fighters. Each will stand orthodox, with a 77-inch reach. Dos Santos stands a little taller, perhaps diminishing any hope of a miracle high kick from Velasquez.
These familiar opponents have been on tears in the UFC, rarely going to a decision and averaging only five to six minutes per fight. Hoping that their past injuries are behind them, they have each enjoyed a seven-month layoff since their wins on the all-heavyweight main card at UFC 146. The tale of the tape does not reveal many advantages, but it does tell the story of two guys fully capable of smashing their opponents.
In their last fight, all but the final seconds were spent standing, and that is how these guys will start their rematch. Let us dive into the almost 6,000 data points they have racked up in their time in the Octagon:
Heavyweights stay standing more than any other weight class, and that will play to the strength of the champion. Dos Santos was already the best striker in the heavyweight division before he put on a striking clinic against Frank Mir, and he carries sound technique, high accuracy, dominant pace and brutal knockout power all in the same two hands.
A couple things are worth noting here. Both fighters have excelled across offensive metrics, so both are excellent strikers. More specifically, dos Santos’ training as a boxer is evident with his sharp jab and dominant pace of action. He has nine knockdowns in nine fights; his accuracy is way above the heavyweight average; and he throws nearly two and half times as many strikes as opponents while in a standing position. However, his tendency to box in lieu of slugging it out also leads to his slightly lower share of power strikes. Interestingly, while his accuracy significantly exceeds that of his opponents, his opponents have been roughly average with their own accuracy, meaning dos Santos’ defense is just average for his division.
Velasquez is no slouch, either. He, too, has outpaced his foes in standup striking and has done so with superior accuracy that is also -- but to a lesser degree -- above the heavyweight average. Plus, he throws a greater share of power strikes than the champion. His clinch striking accuracy -- dirty boxing to some extent -- is quite good and much better than dos Santos, though Velasquez’s defense there lags. Most significantly, the challenger’s overall striking defense is actually superior to the champion’s, as seen by the low accuracy of Velasquez’s opponents compared to those of dos Santos. This could be a byproduct of Velasquez’s wrestling ability, as adversaries may have been more conservative in exchanges while worrying about his takedowns.
The bottom line: despite Velasquez’s solid performance to date, dos Santos has the edge here in striking. However, both of these heavyweights wield knockout power, so as long as this fight is standing, do not blink. Whoever can land a big strike first could end this main event early. The numbers favor dos Santos, and their last fight ended quickly after he landed an overhand right. That being said, we have yet to see how Velasquez’s mobility on a healthy knee will help his defense in avoiding the threat of the champion’s striking.
We all want to see them stand and trade, but we cannot ignore the ground game:
Velasquez has shown an aggressive wrestling attack, averaging 2.7 takedown attempts per round. He also lands those takedowns with high success, about two-thirds of the time, which is well above the UFC heavyweight average. Velasquez has wisely utilized the clinch position for most of his takedowns, even incorporating slams on occasion – an impressive feat in the weight class of giants. While dos Santos has a similarly high success rate, he averages very few attempts and clearly prefers to keep things standing.
Once on the ground, Velasquez has been quite active with ground-and-pound. Rarely attempting submissions, he actively passes guard and often ends up in side control or even full mount, where he rains leathery bombs by the hundreds. Though his focus is on striking volume -- and not submissions -- has led to frequent opponent escapes and standups, there is no question he has been absolutely dominant on the ground.
In stark contrast, dos Santos has barely attempted any ground game at all -- a rarity for a Brazilian fighter. Still, the findings here are less demonstrable, as opponents have not gotten the better of him, either. Dos Santos has shown a similarly stout takedown defense, and on the two occasions where he ended up on his back, he was able to get back to his feet quickly without absorbing a single strike. His Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt from Team Nogueira is still waiting for a legitimate debut in the Octagon, and Velasquez’s tendency to close the distance may provide the best chance yet. The real unknown here is whether dos Santos can be effective fighting off his back and actually lock a submission on a seasoned wrestler. Generally speaking, submissions in the heavyweight division are rare, but Velasquez’s submission defense is untested in MMA competition. He has only faced one guillotine choke attempt, while dos Santos has not faced any submission attempts at all. It may be a longshot, but it adds an unknown element to this rematch should the fight go to the ground.
The Final Word
The betting line here is close, much closer than most title fights in recent history. As a -150 favorite, Vegas says dos Santos has a 60-percent chance here. That is not a lot of respect for the guy that handed Velasquez his only defeat -- and in 64 seconds no less. That is the reality of two dangerous heavyweights facing off. They are both capable of finishing any fight. While dos Santos will have the advantage standing and Velasquez will have the edge in ground-and-pound, we will have to wait and see who ends up landing the shot that closes out 2012 for the UFC.
Next time, we will look into Frankie Edgar’s debut at featherweight against champion Jose Aldo at UFC 156.
Note: Raw data for the analysis was provided by, and in partnership with FightMetric. All analysis was performed by Reed Kuhn. Reed Kuhn, Fightnomics, FightMetric and Sherdog.com assume no responsibility for bets placed on fights, financial or otherwise.
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