Cain Velasquez is back on top of the heavyweight division. Michael DiSanto looks at Velasquez' UFC 155 win and the heavyweight landscape...
VELASQUEZ LEAVES NO DOUBTS
The fight was as beautiful as it was brutal - one man savagely destroying another in the purest form of competition. It was the single most complete 25-minute beating that I’ve ever witnessed in a heavyweight mixed martial arts bout.
I’ve watched the fight nine times already. Each time, I look for moments where dos Santos finds some modicum of success. Each time, I fail to see it. Velasquez systematically took apart an opponent who many believed to be unbeatable, and he did it without ever giving dos Santos even the slightest glimmer of hope that the tide would change at any point during the bout.
It was pure annihilation.
The fact that the fight lasted the full 25 minutes should not be a criticism against the completeness of Velasquez’s performance. Any argument to the contrary is completely ridiculous. He tried to get JDS out of there. The now former champion’s enormous heart and amazing fighting spirit were the reasons why the bout went the distance. He refused to succumb to the carnage, period. That leaves me just as awe-inspired as the greatness of Velasquez’s performance.
WILL THIS FIGHT HAVE LINGERING EFFECTS ON JDS?
Ask yourself this question:
Who would you rather be right now—Velasquez following his sudden, one-punch knockout loss in a fight that lasted a mere 64 seconds or dos Santos after surviving 25 minutes of a one-sided bout that leaves you looking unrecognizable from the way you did before the opening bell and your opponent with nary a mark on his face?
That is an easy one for me to answer. I’d much rather live through the adversity that Velasquez suffered than the annihilation experienced by dos Santos. Fighters can chalk up the former to lie in the fight game after making a mistake. The latter leads to no conclusion other than the guy that just handed out the beating is truly the better fighter.
Only time will tell whether the loss will have any lingering effects on JDS in future fights. Some guys never fully recover mentally from a beating like that. The broken bones, cuts and bruises certainly heal. It’s the damage to the psyche; the permanent loss of an internal belief of invincibility.
For my money, if anyone can recover from a loss like that, it is Junior dos Santos. I think he will be just fine when he resumes his assault on the heavyweight division in all instances except one. It’s tough for me to believe that the loss won’t impact his confidence, even if just a little bit, if he receives a third opportunity against Velasquez.
I’m not suggesting that dos Santos can’t topple the champion in a rubber match. All I’m suggesting is the butterflies will be just a little larger the next time they meet. And if a third fight starts off like the second, there is a very real chance that déjà vu will set in.
SHOULD WE RUN IT BACK?
My good friend and editor Thomas Gerbasi remarked after the fight that the results had him clamoring for a rubber match. I can certainly understand that perspective. Many believe that JDS was never truly in danger after the second round. Many of those folks kept expecting him to get his second wind and score an improbable come-from-behind knockout win.
I’m not among them.
I thought Velasquez basically toyed with dos Santos in the championship rounds. Again, that was the most complete and thorough shellacking I’ve ever witnessed in a five-round heavyweight fight. It was so one-sided that there is no doubt in my mind that a rematch would unfold in largely the same way. Sure, JDS always has a puncher’s chance. If they fought 10 times, he would win more than once by knockout. But Velasquez wins the vast majority of the bouts. I truly believe that.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that the pair should never fight again. Not by a mile. Instead, I think that JDS should string together a couple of impressive wins to both build up the confidence he undoubtedly lost on Saturday night, as well as building greater and greater interest for a rematch.
Dos Santos is the kind of guy who looks like the apex predator when he wins. Think about it. Have you ever thought anything other than “this guy is unbeatable” after any of his UFC bouts, Saturday night being the lone exception? I know that is precisely what went through my mind each time I watched him win.
Scoring two or three impressive knockouts will erase (or at least dramatically fade) the memory of his annihilation at UFC 155, and then the former champion can begin asking for his rightful rubber match. The UFC can replay images of the knockout from the first fight. Fans will begin salivating. The rubber match will then be an enormous event in 2014, assuming Velasquez can hold on to the strap for that long.
If an instant rematch with dos Santos isn’t in the cards, then who is next?
The UFC heavyweight division is getting deeper all the time. The current top five likely includes dos Santos, Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, Frank Mir and transitioning Strikeforce champion Daniel Cormier.
A bout with Overeem is long overdue. The former Strikeforce champion earned his right to fight for the title when he sent Brock Lesnar into retirement in his Octagon debut. He was on the backburner for most of 2012, but now that the calendar reads 2013, it’s time for “The Reem” to get back to business.
Overeem will face fellow Strikeforce transplant Antonio Silva on February 2 at UFC 156. Assuming Overeem wins, which he should, he seems like the most likely next in line for a shot at Velasquez.
Mir is also an interesting prospect for a title shot. The former champion presents an interesting challenge for Velasquez because of his size, vastly improved striking, and what I believe to be the best jiu jitsu in the heavyweight world. Werdum just cringed, by the way.
The big question in this matchup is whether Velasquez can dominate Mir on the feet the same way he did dos Santos. If so, then he will blow out Mir, because the Las Vegas native can’t take down the champion. No way. No how.
If, however, Mir finds some success against Velasquez on the feet, then things get extremely interesting. The champ will certainly be able to take the fight to the ground at will. But I’m not sure Velasquez wants any part of a ground fight with Mir.
Is Mir the perfect stylistic foil for Velasquez? Something tells me that we will find out sometime in 2013, possibly after Velasquez-Overeem.
Werdum probably believes that he has the best heavyweight ground game in the world. I may have co-signed on that comment a year ago. But after watching Mir break Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira’s arm, I was convinced to the contrary. Regardless, Werdum isn’t far behind.
Velasquez-Werdum would be a carbon copy fight to Velasquez-Mir, except for the fact that Mir has better standup. That differentiator probably means Velasquez would have a much easier time with the Brazilian. Then again, I could be completely nuts.
We can forget about Velasquez facing Cormier any time soon. The two are training partners and close friends. The former Olympian cornered Velasquez in his fight against dos Santos. That tells you all you need to know about the odds that the two will suddenly decide to put on the little gloves and go full speed against each other.
But that probably isn’t a bad thing for Cormier. He certainly has the explosive power in his right hand to stop Velasquez or anyone else. And he is the lone heavyweight in the UFC with better wrestling than the champion. Thus, he presents an interesting challenge. Yet, I think Velasquez beats him more often than not simply because of the size differential.
Cormier is a tiny heavyweight, one who is perfectly suited to drop to 205 pounds. His close friend standing atop the heavyweight mountain could be just what the doctor ordered to inspire Cormier to drop down in weight. That is the sort of decision that could change him from just another good competitor to a guy with serious long-term championship potential.
What do you think? Who do you want to see Velasquez fight next? I’ll be reading the comments, as always.