Brazil's Junior Dos Santos is one win away from a shot at the heavyweight title, but to get it, he has to beat Roy Nelson this Saturday at UFC 117...
I once asked then-super middleweight boxing champion Jeff Lacy what a knockout felt like. He described it as playing a video game, but that he was controlling his opponent. When I posed the same question to UFC heavyweight contender Junior Dos Santos, he replied, “It’s what I train to do; it’s great when I accomplish my goal in a fight.”
That may be the secret to the success of ‘Cigano’ thus far in his UFC career, a stellar run over less than two years that has seen him finish each of his five opponents. And there are no easy outs in a lineup consisting of Fabricio Werdum, Stefan Struve, Mirko Cro Cop, Gilbert Yvel, and Gabriel Gonzaga, making his streak even more impressive.
But despite having a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it’s Dos Santos’ lust for the knockout that separates him from the pack. Some fighters want the win by any means available, others want to show off a well-rounded MMA game; Dos Santos wants to send you packing with his fists, making him not only a fan favorite, but a respected warrior among his peers, including his opponent at UFC 117 this Saturday in Oakland, Roy Nelson.
In fact, in recent interviews, Nelson has claimed that he is the only one who was willing to throw hands with the Brazilian this weekend, a claim that Dos Santos appreciates.
“It’s great to know that I have the respect from the other fighters,” he said. The respect is mutual, especially when it comes to Nelson, a crafty vet and jiu-jitsu black belt who has also shown off his knockout prowess in back to back early KOs of Brendan Schaub and Stefan Struve.
“Roy Nelson is an experienced fighter, and a dangerous opponent both on his feet and on the ground,” said Dos Santos. “He is a complete fighter and has shown that he has heavy hands.”
Will he test them with a certified standup stalwart like Dos Santos though? Given Nelson’s confidence and veteran mojo, it’s not out of the realm of possibility, but one would expect that he will try to put the 26-year old on his back and test out his ground game. Then again, it was expected that Gonzaga would be the BJJ black belt to force Dos Santos out of his comfort zone, and ‘Napao’ wound up just like the rest of his countryman’s Octagon foes.
It’s this ability to make quality opponents fight his fight before stopping them that has skyrocketed him up the ranks, and as he approaches his sixth UFC bout, his humble nature remains, but he’s still confident as the same time, giving his current scouting report on himself as follows:
“I feel I have improved in all aspects and gained more experience and confidence.”
Given that, it’s prime time for him to make his move on the man at the top, and should he beat Nelson, he will be staring at a title shot.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Dos Santos of the impending shot at the belt for the winner of Saturday’s bout. “I have been working hard to fight with the best in the UFC and I feel ready for a title shot.”
Now all that matters is him beating Nelson and then waiting to see who emerges from the fall showdown between champion Brock Lesnar and challenger Cain Velasquez. Who wins? Dos Santos opts to take the high road, saying, “I think it’s a tough fight for both, and I am excited to watch.”
I guess he’ll save his hard hits for the Octagon, and that’s just the way his fans like it, as they’ve become accustomed to his humble manner, emphatic knockouts, and winning post-fight smile. The reaction to his success is particularly vibrant back home in Brazil, where he is eagerly accepting the mantle of possibly being the best Brazilian heavyweight since his mentor, ‘Minotauro’ Nogueira.
“I have been seeing the reactions of the Brazilian fans more often now, and it’s great to represent Brazil,” said Dos Santos. “I hope to take the belt back home some day.”
It’s a lot to gather on your shoulders, but Dos Santos, whose English is improving rapidly, has the right attitude, talent, and charisma to not only be a star in Brazil, but worldwide as well in the coming years. Not bad for a young man who has only been training in the sport for five years. But when you love what you do, progress can accelerate and send you on a wild ride you never expected. That’s the Junior Dos Santos story thus far.
“I love training and I love fighting, and the sacrifices pay off,” he said. “I am very happy with what I am doing and what I have achieved in the sport.”