Junior dos Santos defended his UFC heavyweight championship for the first time on Saturday night, knocking out former titlist Frank Mir in the main event of UFC 146.
Prior to his triumph at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, however, “Cigano” successfully foretold how the fight would end at Friday’s weigh-ins. His title belt now resting securely around his waist, Dos Santos says that the prophetic prediction was not made out of simple gamesmanship. According to the champ, he truly believed that he would hit the jackpot in round two.
“[The second-round knockout] was my strategy for the fight,” dos Santos at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “I thought he came to take me down, and in the first round, I was trying to keep my distance and make him tired. In the second round, it was my plan to walk a little more forward than in the first, and it worked. I think when you believe so much in yourself, that things happen. That’s why I’m so positive.”
Mir attempted to close the distance early in round one, latching onto a single-leg before trying to pull the champion down into a foot lock. The American’s efforts proved fruitless, as the champion escaped and then began to work his jab, staggering Mir with a right hook to close out the frame.
Things only got worse for Mir in the second stanza. Dos Santos started to loosen up even further, rifling shots to Mir’s body and head while avoiding most of Mir’s blows and keeping out of takedown range. The finish came 3:04 into round two, when the Brazilian snapped back Mir’s head with a hard right straight and landed a hammering fist on the ground for good measure. Though he was dominant from start to finish, dos Santos was complimentary of his opponent’s resilience after the bout.
“This was a good fight for me,” said dos Santos. “[Mir] can really take a punch. I’m feeling some pain on my hand now. It was a good fight, but every fight that I have, I have more experience. I came into this fight more confident to use my speed and my boxing skills to win.”
Upon earning the knockout, dos Santos was cheered enthusiastically by a large contingent of Brazilian supporters, some of which dos Santos says came to the event just to see him fight.
“It was fantastic for me to see all of the Brazilian flags. All the Brazilian people in the crowd made me so proud and so energized,” said dos Santos. “Every time I looked up, I could hear them and see the flags. It was such a great, positive vibe, and I’m so glad to be here representing everybody from Brazil. I thank them for their support.”
Now with a successful title defense to his credit, dos Santos is expected to next put his belt on the line against the man he knocked out to capture the gold, Cain Velasquez. While dos Santos declined to offer a prediction on how that return fight might play out, he says he would approach the bout as the most important of his career.
“I don’t care who is my next opponent. If I have to fight with Velasquez again, I’m ready. Let’s do it,” said dos Santos. “Velasquez is really tough. In my mind, he is different in this division, because he is very fast and his stamina is really good. For sure, he is dangerous and a good fighter.”