Cain Velasquez battered Junior dos Santos for five rounds in their UFC 155 rematch. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Five round fights in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s heavyweight division are rare and beautiful things. Unlike the promotion’s more svelte performers, whose smaller frames and different body compositions generally allow for greater cardiovascular feats, it takes a special type of big man to be able to persevere through 25 hard minutes.
On Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos went the distance in a memorable and grueling battle at UFC 155 -- the first time a heavyweight title fight in the Octagon had seen the judges’ scorecards since Randy Couture and Tim Sylvia accomplished the trick at UFC 68 more than five years ago.
“If I had to bet, I would have bet everything I have that fight wouldn’t go five rounds, and I’d be broke right now,” UFC President Dana White said at the post-fight press conference.
White had good reason to feel the way he did. The first meeting between dos Santos and Velasquez at UFC on Fox 1 lasted a mere 64 seconds before “Cigano” put his stamp on the fight with an overhand right and follow-up punches to capture the heavyweight strap. That was simply par for the course for the Brazilian, whose formidable hands had finished seven of his UFC victories, including four inside of a round. Velasquez had a similar track record, though by different means, as the Mexican-American owned seven of his eight Octagon triumphs via stoppage -- five in the opening stanza.
More than stamina issues, the majority of heavyweight fights come to a premature end because of the serious power of the athletes in the cage. The UFC 155 headliner appeared destined for a similar fate when a Velasquez overhand right toppled dos Santos in the first round. The American Kickboxing Academy stalwart swarmed his foe with heavy ground-and-pound for the remainder of the frame, but, against all odds, dos Santos survived.
If you expected dos Santos to wilt under Velasquez’s unrelenting pressure once he got off his stool for round two, you were disappointed. Yes, Velasquez was never in danger, as he became the first fighter in UFC history to hit triple digits in significant strikes (111) and double digits in takedowns (11) in the same fight. Yet there was something admirable about dos Santos’ resilience. As his battered visage began to more closely resemble the mask worn by horror-film icon Leatherface than his own, “Cigano” never quit.
In fact, as the contest reached the championship rounds, he arguably got better, relatively speaking, of course. According to figures released by FightMetric.com, Velasquez out-landed dos Santos in significant strikes by a whopping 66-to-19 count in the opening two frames. His wrestling was also at its most effective, as he successfully grounded dos Santos seven times in 14 attempts.
In rounds four and five, the Brazilian battled Velasquez to a virtual stalemate in terms of significant strikes, out-landing the challenger 25 to 23, though it is worth noting that Velasquez held a 61-to-30 edge in total strikes. Dos Santos also tightened up his takedown defense, successfully stopping 11 of his adversary’s 14 tries.
Make no mistake, dos Santos won neither the fourth nor the fifth round, but considering where he came from after the contest’s initial five minutes, it was an admirable second wind.
“I envisioned this fight going so many ways, and one of them was a hard, five-round fight,” Velasquez said. “And that’s what it was. His takedown defense is really good. It’s not easy to get a takedown on him. It’s a thing of having to keep pressuring him. You get some takedowns and you don’t get some other ones. It’s part of the game. You just keep pressing on.”
It is difficult to name one other heavyweight currently on the UFC roster who could stop 22 Velasquez takedowns and still have the energy to make it to the finish line against the tireless 30-year-old as dos Santos did. Some may point to Alistair Overeem? We may very well get the chance to see how the hulking Dutchman will fare against Velasquez should he get by Antonio Silva at UFC 156 as anticipated. Just do not expect Velasquez to provide the same type of target that the diverticulitis-depleted Brock Lesnar did for Overeem a year ago at UFC 141. If the “Demolition Man” cannot make Velasquez taste his power early, he has little chance of making it 25 minutes against the two-time heavyweight king.
Fabricio Werdum could be interesting thanks to his submission acumen, but Velasquez is just as capable of hurting “Vai Cavalo” on the feet as he is of asserting his will through ground-and-pound. Hoping for another Fedor Emelianenko-type moment from Werdum in such a matchup is probably a little bit too much to ask.
Outside of those two, the rest of the promotion’s heavyweight ranks are currently filled with veterans on the way down, not-ready-for-prime-time prospects and a slew of reliable gatekeepers.
Things change, however, when Daniel Cormier fulfills the final bout on his Strikeforce deal and the promotion closes its doors on Jan. 12. In May, Cormier was the author of his own dominant five-round effort when he defeated Josh Barnett in the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix final. If anyone could match Velasquez’s pace and intensity, it would appear to be Cormier, who also possesses plenty of pop in his hands.
Unfortunately, the American Kickboxing Academy brethren are bound by brotherhood not to compete against one another. If not for Cormier, Velasquez is certain he would not be where he is today.
“I wouldn’t [fight Cormier]. This is my friend, my teammate and my coach,” Velasquez told Fox Sports. “If you want to see us fight, go to AKA three days a week.”
That means the best heavyweight fight not named Velasquez-dos Santos 3 will not happen unless one of the two teammates has a Josh Koscheck-like revelation and leaves the respected San Jose, Calif., gym. Instead, it is far more likely that Cormier drops to 205 pounds and pursues a lucrative bout with Jon Jones rather than wait for Velasquez to drop his belt.
“Whatever the deal is, we’ll go from there. Cormier’s a guy who can come in and do anything,” White said.
Yes, Velasquez dominated dos Santos at UFC 155, but it was captivating control. A few tweaks from “Cigano,” and perhaps the playing field could be level. Like Velasquez used his UFC on Fox 1 defeat as motivation to come back stronger than ever, dos Santos can use his first Octagon setback as fuel to improve and grow.
The first two bouts between the two top-ranked heavyweights in the world were a study in contrasts, one breathtaking and quick, the other grinding and brutal. An eventual third chapter seems needed, if only for closure. The exact date of that meeting is uncertain, but it feels like destiny.
We should all be thankful for that.