Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Junior dos Santos is not fighting for revenge.
While it is true that Frank Mir snapped Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira’s arm with a gruesome kimura at UFC 140, “Cigano” will not carry that image of his mentor into the Octagon for the UFC 146 main event on Saturday night. Instead, when the Brazilian stands across from Mir at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, he will be focused on furthering his legacy by keeping his heavyweight championship securely around his waist.
“When ‘Minotauro’ lost to Frank Mir, I was very sad. I was upset, and I think all of Brazil was upset to see that loss and especially those of us who trained with him -- his teammates,” dos Santos said during a recent UFC teleconference. “But what motivates me is to defend my belt. I’m looking at a very good phase of my life professionally and personally. My only motivation going into this fight is to defend my title -- to keep this great phase that I’m living going. So revenge doesn’T Cross my mind, and it certainly doesn’t do anything to make me feel more pressure for this fight.”
Dos Santos added some extra intrigue to the title matchup during the first episode of “UFC Primetime,” when he questioned how Mir handled himself in a first-round knockout loss to Shane Carwin at UFC 111.
“He’s not a man. He gives up,” dos Santos said during the show. “Against Shane Carwin, he pretended he was hurt. He’s full of it.”
The Team Nogueira representative might not be looking to avenge the defeat of his friend and teammate, but he also isn’t trying to sell the fight with inflammatory remarks, either. Dos Santos feels he is just calling things as he sees them.
“I don’t promote fights by talking trash,” dos Santos said. “What I say, I say because I believe it. I confirm and stand by what I said. What I meant by that remark is that I feel that Frank Mir lacks heart and lacks the ability to proceed through rough spots in a fight.
“That's my personal opinion. It's what I truly believe,” he continued. “I don’t say things just to [sell] fights. I'm not a trash talker, and I never will be.”
During his unbeaten eight-fight tenure with the UFC, dos Santos has established himself as one of the best strikers in the heavyweight division, if not the entire promotion. His 6.8 significant strikes landed per minute ranks No. 2 all-time in the organization, as does his significant strike differential of 4.72. Additionally, his eight knockdowns are surpassed by only six men in UFC history.
The most important of those eight knockdowns came in November against Cain Velasquez, when “Cigano” floored the then-champion with an overhand right at UFC on Fox 1. Moments later, dos Santos was celebrating victory in the center of the Octagon at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
Most of dos Santos’ adversaries have failed to go the distance with the dangerous boxer -- only Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin have lasted three rounds against him -- but even dos Santos himself didn’t expected to defeat Velasquez in the manner he did.
“I always walk in with a strategy prepared for a particular fight, and I am always ready to go the whole fight,” he said. “Against Velasquez, I was ready to go all five rounds. You don’t walk in thinking you’re going to end a fight right away. Yes, I threw a really hard shot against Cain and it took him down. Even I was surprised that the shot landed as hard as it did and that he went down -- so much so that if you watch the playback of that fight you can see that once Cain goes down, I take a step back.
“It takes me a second to swarm him, but at that fight, the result for me was perfect. Ending the fight quickly -- and the speed was really perfect -- was the result of just paying 100 percent attention, seeing a moment and being able to capitalize on that moment. It wasn’t the strategy I walked in there with.”
On Saturday, dos Santos will try to be just as opportunistic against Mir. He knows that flexibility in such situations is crucial to success. Several weeks ago, he was preparing to face massive Dutch kickboxer Alistair Overeem. With a new opponent, the strategy has changed, but the overall plan remains the same: Find a moment and capitalize. Dos Santos believes he is ready to do just that.
“There were several adjustments to be made [when I found out about the change in opponent], but the people I had helping me they were truly with me. They supported me, and we got through it. We made the necessary adjustments, and I can say that I feel very prepared to go into this fight,” he said.