Junior dos Santos has won 11 of his past 13 bouts. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Fox with a fine December offering that features a former heavyweight champion in the headliner and a ton of name value mixed with action fights sprinkled throughout the card. This is a solid effort from the promotion, and in a year that has been rife with injuries and setbacks, it offers a good chance for high ratings at a time when they are desperately needed.
In the main event, onetime heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos fights for the first time since losing to Cain Velasquez for the second time in October 2013. His opponent will be Ohio’s Stipe Miocic, a talented and athletic heavyweight who has received surprisingly little attention despite his rise into the upper echelon of the division. In the co-headliner, the surging Rafael dos Anjos attempts to build on his shocking knockout upset of former lightweight champion Benson Henderson against the returning Nate Diaz. Beneath the big names, Alistair Overeem desperately attempts to stay relevant against Stefan Struve, and the first challenger to the new women’s strawweight crown will likely be anointed in a fight between Claudia Gadelha and Joana Jedrzejczyk.
Let us take a look at each individual matchup at UFC on Fox 13, set for Saturday at the US Airways Center in Phoenix:
HEAVYWEIGHTSJunior dos Santos (16-3, 10-2 UFC) vs. Stipe Miocic (12-1, 6-1 UFC)
THE MATCHUP: The former heavyweight champion finally returns to action after a yearlong layoff and draws the rising Miocic. Dos Santos strung together an eight-fight winning streak to open his UFC career but dropped two of three to Velasquez, with a stunning knockout over Mark Hunt sandwiched in the middle. Miocic rebounded from a tough loss to Struve with victories over Roy Nelson, Gabriel Gonzaga and Fabio Maldonado, and he will get the opportunity to prove himself against a top-flight opponent. This is a fantastic matchup between two of the heavyweight division’s younger stars; due to the thinness of the weight class, the winner will have a real claim on a title shot.
Dos Santos is a linear, forward-moving fighter with outstanding quickness and power. Defensively, he relies on that speed and his command of angles rather than head movement or parries to avoid his opponent’s shots -- a strategy that falls apart if his foe consistently pushes him to the fence; with his back to the cage, he drops his hands to defend takedowns and leaves himself open to head shots. That is how Velasquez pummeled him for nearly 50 minutes, and it is also how Hunt had his greatest success in their meeting. Dos Santos’ style, which is predicated on speed and therefore having distance with which to operate, requires him to spend his time out in the middle of the cage, and there are few better in MMA when consistently given open space. He works at a quick pace, flicking a sharp jab to the body and head, hard straight right to the body, right overhand, right uppercut and left hook in powerful one-and-two punch sequences. He gives his opponents no time to breathe or recover between shots, and his astounding quickness makes it difficult for them to catch him with counters as he enters and exits range. Although he relies on his hands, dos Santos actually possesses a deep bag of striking tricks, including hard low kicks, Anderson Silva-style reverse elbows and, of course, the spinning hook kick with which he dispatched Hunt; his overall game would probably improve if he were more willing to exploit his full arsenal. Dos Santos is an outstanding defensive wrestler, and only the most skilled opponents have been able to drag him to the mat or keep him in the clinch for long.
Miocic shares a great deal in common with dos Santos. He, too, relies mostly on his crisp hands, pushes a quick pace and prefers to operate in the center of the cage. Unlike dos Santos, Miocic employs more circular movement than in-and-out, linear attacks, and he also has a strong base of Division I wrestling he can fall back on in times of trouble. For the most part, however, Miocic likes to throw hands. He moves well laterally and consistently tosses out a crisp jab, which he follows with a long, powerful right hand; he also used to have a nice low kicking game that he has gotten away from in his last few fights. He is not particularly powerful by the standards of the heavyweight division, but like most athletic, 240-pound men, he can crack a bit. As a wrestler, he prefers a quick double-leg, and from top position, he maintains a heavy base and drops bombs with his ground striking. Miocic has outstanding cardio and can produce substantial amounts of offense late into the fight.
BETTING ODDS: Dos Santos (-310), Miocic (+230)
THE PICK: Barring some fundamental transformation on the part of dos Santos or Miocic, this fight should boil down to a striking contest in the middle of the cage. That is not to understate the effectiveness of Miocic’s wrestling but more a comment on the difficulty of taking down dos Santos without the benefit of strong pressure and phase-shifting games. In that kind of striking matchup, the edge has to go to dos Santos; while both fighters are quick-paced boxers, the Brazilian holds substantial edges in speed, power and, should he employ the full measure of it, the depth of his striking arsenal. If dos Santos is content to fight solely at boxing range with Miocic, this becomes much closer to a 50/50 matchup than it needs to be; even then, dos Santos should still be favored on the basis of his physical tools. The pick is dos Santos by knockout in the third round.
Next Fight » Rafael dos Anjos vs. Nate Diaz