What are the keys to victory this Saturday for heavyweight challenger Junior dos Santos? Michael DiSanto breaks it down...
Saturday night marks the beginning of a new era for mixed martial arts.
The UFC will make its debut on broadcast television, filling the screen on the same channel that broadcasts the World Series, the Super Bowl and, of course, American Idol. It will be a game-changing moment for the sport’s spotlight promotion because millions of people who would not otherwise have access to a live UFC fight will have the opportunity to tune in and form a first impression of the sport.
There will be just a single fight shown on Fox this Saturday night, so virgin viewers will have just one opportunity to react to a sport that has grown from virtual anonymity to pay-per-view juggernaut. That created incredible pressure on UFC head honcho Dana White to book a marquee fight that was sure to thrill.
Enter UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and the clear number one challenger, Junior dos Santos, a man many believe to be destined for gold. It is a marquee matchup from every angle. The sport’s biggest prize is on the line. Neither man has ever lost inside the Octagon. Their styles suggest a barnburner that should end in spectacular fashion. It is the perfect recipe for success.
Suffice to say, if the fight lives up to its potential, it should catapult the UFC to never before seen heights of popularity. And the winner could very well turn into a mainstream sports superstar. Translation: fame and fortune.
I know. Lots of hype. But it isn’t hyperbole. It is reality.
There is little doubt that the massive stage adds to the pressure that both fighters will face heading into the fight. Pressure often leads to hesitation, which, in turn, leads to poor performance. Dos Santos will have to guard against that, if he wants to take the title, because “Cigano” needs to be active and aggressive. That and land his big right uppercut, which is the single biggest key to victory for the challenger.
Dos Santos is probably the best boxer in the heavyweight division. He stands in traditional boxing style, with his legs far apart and his body almost perpendicular to his foe. That allows him to generate tremendous power in his shots because he can really lean into his right hand and fully rotate his hips with his left hook. It also gives him the proper foundation for his most effective weapon – the right uppercut.
“Cigano” has a right uppercut that would make heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko green with envy. And he uses it regularly in bouts, both as the second part of a two-piece combination and also as a lead. If he connects cleanly, it could mean good night for Velasquez.
Make no mistake about it. Dos Santos can turn out the lights with a variety of strikes. But the uppercut should be particularly effective against Velasquez. The question is how to go about landing it.
The first, and most obvious, way is to fire it off the heels of a left hand. The Brazilian bomber has one of the best jabs in the division. He snaps it like a professional boxer, and unlike with most boxers, it is jackhammer that causes very real damage, rather than just serving as a range finder.
Dos Santos can jab and quickly fire a right uppercut up the middle. He can also double up on the jab or throw one of his slick jab-left hook combinations before immediately cleaning up with his money punch. Those combinations should be particularly effective because the champion does not retreat straight back in the face of incoming fire, like most mixed martial artists. He instead stays in the pocket and moves his head and upper body like a pendulum to slip shots.
Like a pendulum, Velasquez returns to center after slipping a shot. Thus, if the jab, double jab or jab-left hook miss, he could very well be front and center by the time the uppercut arrives.
But that isn’t the end of the challenger’s options with his favorite strike. He can also lead with the punch. As crazy as it sounds, dos Santos is extremely effective leading with his right uppercut. Most fighters don’t try that technique because it requires elite hand speed. Otherwise, it is fairly easy to counter by slipping and countering, particularly with a left hook, since the right side of dos Santos’ head will be completely exposed.
Of course, dos Santos possesses elite hand speed, so he can effectively lead with a right uppercut without too much concern. He landed that punch several times in his last two bouts, both wins, over Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson. He can land it against Velasquez.
The one time that he may want to forget the right uppercut is when he is timing a Velasquez kick. In that instance, he is better served firing his right straight down the middle.
Velasquez is an extremely slick kickboxer, with very few tell signs associated with his deep arsenal of strikes. The one notable exception is when he throws a left kick, whether to the inside of his opponent’s lead leg, body or head. The American Kickboxing Academy superstar always steps forward with his right foot before firing a kick with his left leg in order to set his hips to generate speed and power with the strike.
It is a quick shuffle step. But he does it every time. He doesn’t fire any other strike, other than a left kick, when he shuffle steps forward with his right foot.
Dos Santos can try to time Velasquez by stepping in and firing the right hand down the middle the second he sees the champion shuffle stepping forward. He must do it instantly in order to arrive at the target first. And he had better hope that Velasquez isn’t uncorking a high kick, because things could get ugly in that instance.
Nevertheless, the risk is worth the reward. Velasquez is a very durable, high-energy fighter that can go for days. It is unlikely that dos Santos will outlast Velasquez in a grueling five-round war, so he should be thinking stoppage within the first three rounds. That is a very reasonable outcome, too. The challenger is a first-order power puncher, and some question the durability of Velasquez’s chin.
Remember, Cheick Kongo dropped him repeatedly in their 2009 bout. None of those shots put Velasquez out. He popped right up and kept coming, though that doesn’t change the fact that he was dropped several times by a guy that some cognoscenti believe has vastly overrated punching power.
I’m not sure if Kongo’s power is overrated. I am certain, however, that dos Santos carries at least as much dynamite in his fists. Probably more.
Defensively, dos Santos needs to always be mindful of defending the takedown. Velasquez is a former two-time Division I All American collegiate wrestler. His wrestling chops are so strong that he was able to take down Brock Lesnar in his last bout, something very few people in the world can do.
He can remain in good position to defend the takedown by not over committing on his power punches. Selling out with haymakers is the best way to open the door for a takedown. Dos Santos should keep a solid base with his feet and focus on throwing fast, not necessarily hard, punches. If he does that, then he can rely on his biggest strength, his boxing skills, in an attempt to win the fight.
The word “attempt” was purposefully chosen to suggest that Velasquez is the rightful favorite heading into the matchup, albeit by the slightest of margins. Dos Santos is a seriously live underdog, though. It actually wouldn’t surprise me to see the betting lines swing in the other direction by fight night. He may not have more tools to use in an attempt to win the fight, but the tool he likes to use (read: his fists) might just be the best in the division.
Junior “Cigano” dos Santos
• 27 years old
• 77-inch reach
• 13-1 overall (7-0 UFC)
• 8-fight winning streak
• Hasn’t lost since November 10, 2007
• 69.2% of wins ended by strikes (9 of 13)
• 15.4% of wins by submission, other than from strikes (2 out of 13)
• 15.4% of wins by decision (2 of 13)
• Last 2 fights went the distance
• 57.1% of UFC fights ended in the first round
• Current layoff is 154 days
• Career long layoff is 308 days
• Knockout of the Night twice