The storyline is as perfect as it can get in mixed martial arts, a sport in which four-ounce gloves can shatter a conventional path in the space of one left hook, but for now, consider this:
UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum defeats Cain Velasquez in their UFC 196 rematch in Las Vegas this February.
Former champion Junior Dos Santos defeats Alistair Overeem this Saturday in the UFC Orlando co-main event.
Now Werdum, whose growing list of wins is giving him a strong case as one the greatest heavyweights ever, will rematch the man who forced his ouster from the UFC in 2008 via knockout and forced him into the wilderness before he turned his career around.
Epic. Hollywood. JJ Abrams good.
But Dos Santos has a rewrite in mind.
“Any one of them winning, I think I'm next in the line, but of course, it's how the UFC sees everything going on,” “Cigano” said. “Right now, I'm just worried about Overeem. I would love to face Werdum in a match, and he used to say that he would love to face me too, but I don't think that's true. But I don't care about that. The only fight I want to do again is against Velasquez.”
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Velasquez. Dos Santos threw hands with the two-time heavyweight boss three times, knocking him out once and then losing decisively the next two, their last fight taking place in October of 2013. More than two years later, injuries have limited both to just one fight each, Velasquez losing to Werdum in June, Dos Santos defeating Stipe Miocic a year ago, but the Salvador, Brazil product believes it’s time for them to start a new trilogy.
“I don't think Werdum fought with the same Velasquez that I fought,” Dos Santos said, referring to the altitude that depleted the former champ’s gas tank in rapid-fire fashion. “That was really strange to see Velasquez exhausted in the first round against him. So for sure I want to fight Velasquez again. That's the fight I would seek one day if I could. But right now, I just want to get my career going on again and wait for my chance to get that title back.”
That career gets going again this weekend in the twice-postponed bout against Overeem. Neither have been too kind to each other in interviews or social media over the last couple years, and the fact that JDS accepted a fight with the dangerous Dutchman after a year-long layoff shows you just how much he wants to put his hands on him, even if he doesn’t come out and say it quite that way.
“I don't pick fights, and I want to fight with the best,” Dos Santos said. “It's gonna be a very good fight. Overeem is having a good run right now, he's got some good victories, and I've been out for some time, but I'm feeling good, and every time I'm fighting in the Octagon I'm in there to give everybody a good show. So I think this fight with Alistair Overeem will be a great and big, big show for all the fans. And that's the point for me. I don't care about who I'm going to be facing; I just care about giving the people a good show and putting myself in a good position.”
Currently in the No. 2 spot in the heavyweight rankings, the 31-year-old is in as good a position as anyone is going to be after not fighting for a year, but the Overeem fight is a perfect one for Dos Santos because it puts him back on the world’s radar, and if he wins – particularly in spectacular fashion – it could allow him to leap over the likes of Miocic, Andrei Arlovski and Ben Rothwell when it comes to a title fight.
But all that depends on Saturday, and to get ready, Dos Santos switched things up a bit by traveling to Coconut Creek, Fla. to train with American Top Team. A happy sort by nature, Dos Santos is even happier with his new training squad.
“It's all about feeling good where you are,” Dos Santos said. “Right now, I'm feeling really good here at ATT and they're all giving me good support and I'm happy to be here working with them. All the time that I was working in Brazil in Salvador, my city, with my regular coaches, I think I was needing this. I like this time out of Brazil trying to learn different ways, to learn techniques, and all these things. So yeah, I'm having good times here at ATT. We have some great guys helping me there and it's been a great experience. That's the most important thing. I'm sure it's going to add a lot of good things to my fight game.”
If he shows those good things off against “The Reem,” he might just see his old friend Velasquez down the road.
“Before our third fight, a journalist asked me if I thought it would be the last time that I would be facing Velasquez,” he recalls. “And I said 'I don't think so. He's a great guy, a great fighter, and I will try to do my best all the time, so I think we're gonna have more than three fights.' And they gave the same question to Velasquez and he said 'yes, this is the last one. We don't have anything else to see after this.' So yeah, I'm gonna prove him wrong. (Laughs) We have a lot of fights to do yet. Of course, it's interesting for us and for the UFC too. If he could have the same performances he was having before, he's going to be on top of the division for a long time, so we're going to be, for sure, facing each other a lot of times.”
Only Junior Dos Santos could smile at the prospect of facing Cain Velasquez several more times and even request such things. But he’s a fighter, and after a year away, he’ll fight anybody 20 times just to be in that Octagon again.
“I missed everything,” he said of the year away. “It's my life.”