The Film Room: Junior dos Santos

By Kevin Wilson Jun 26, 2019
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Former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder Junior dos Santos on Saturday will make his 20th appearance inside the Octagon when he confronts Francis Ngannou in the UFC on ESPN 3 headliner at the Target Center in Minneapolis. More than a decade after his promotional debut, “Cigano” remains one of the sport’s premier heavyweights and can perhaps secure one more shot at the title with a win over Ngannou.

Dos Santos steps into the spotlight in this installment of The Film Room.

Dos Santos captured the heavyweight crown against Cain Velasquez in 2011 with one of the most perfect counter overhand rights you will ever see. This simple but effective punch has been a staple of his offense for his entire career. Although the big overhand catches your attention, the setup allows it to land. Both Velasquez and Mark Hunt bit on the jab feint and attempted to land a jab of their own, only to have dos Santos counter with the wild overhand right over the top of their outstretched lead. People will see a punch like this and think of it as a lucky shot, but when you pay attention, you see that even wild punches like this have some thought behind them and are intelligently designed.

The other punch upon which dos Santos has built his career is the rear-hand uppercut. Just like the overhand, this looks like a wild and lucky strike, but when you watch closely, you see the intelligence behind it. Notice how he doubles up on the jab and comes in with the uppercut as Fabricio Werdum attempts to counter the jab with his own right hand. Again, he uses the opponent’s reactions to set up his money punch. A lot of dos Santos’ strikes look like someone just swinging for the fences, but there are clever setups behind them; and he is always looking to draw reactions out of the opponent to set up his strikes. As he has gotten older, he has become a little less thoughtful in his striking, but he still has tricks up his sleeve that he can pull off in a moment’s notice.

One of the best moments of dos Santos’ career came in his first fight with Stipe Miocic in December 2014. Miocic rushed forward the entire fight and enjoyed some success with his leaping 1-2s and lead hooks. However, he became overzealous and ran into a beautiful left hook from dos Santos. Notice how he throws the right straight while switching to a southpaw stance and then ducks under Miocic’s left hook before coming back with one of his own. Dos Santos usually struggles when his back is against the cage, but this left hook showed his cleverness, as he managed to exploit Miocic’s tendency to walk forward with sloppy punches.

In his Dec. 2 fight against Tai Tuivasa, dos Santos dropped the Australian prospect with the same combination he used against Miocic, but this time it was thrown from the orthodox stance. This is a tactic dos Santos uses to get off the cage, and it works especially well against overly aggressive opponents like Miocic and Tuivasa. Ngannou has grown overly aggressive many times in the past, so expect this combo if and when dos Santos finds himself against the cage.

Dos Santos is one of the few heavyweights who can land spinning kicks with perfect accuracy and speed. Not many heavyweights even attempt such kicks, and they only add to his already deep bag of tricks on the feet. He oftentimes throws them to the body. Generally, when fighters throw a spinning heel kick, they aim for the head and go for the finish. However, dos Santos will try to bury his heel into the opponent’s ribs or liver -- a tactic you do not often see in MMA at any weight. It seems unlikely that he will use any of these kicks against Ngannou, but it is impressive that he can pull these off against some of the best fighters in the division.

As mentioned, dos Santos struggles with his back against the fence, especially against someone like Velasquez, who can intelligently work his way into the pocket instead of running forward wildly. If dos Santos is extra cautious of Ngannou’s power, he could find himself backed against the cage. However, if he stands his ground and does not allow Ngannou to bully him to the fence, he has a better chance of winning the striking exchanges. Advertisement


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