Former UFC Heavyweight Champion Junior dos Santos has had a rough stretch of fights spread out over a two-year stretch, losing two in violent fashion while edging out a questionable win in a poor fight in between them. He enters April’s UFC Fight Night event in Croatia in need of a major performance against Ben Rothwell, and he’s well aware of what the fight means for him.
“Yeah, for sure. I think it’s a very important fight for me,” dos Santos in an interview with Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “Right now, I feel this fight that I have with Ben Rothwell is tougher than my last fight. I know I had a negative result in my last fight but this one now, I think if I win, and I will win this fight now, this win will put me back in the place I was before, the number one or two in the rankings and close to a title fight again. Of course I’m not thinking about title fight now, I just wanna be in the best position I can. It’s my whole life, it’s very important for me.”
After losing the rubber match in a brutal fight with Cain Velasquez, then a bounce back after 14 months out over Stipe Miocic, dos Santos added a TKO loss to Alistair Overeem in December after a year long layoff. Those two losses have been as damaging mentally as they were physically, but dos Santos believes he can get himself back to where he used to be.
“I’m sure I got everything that it takes to be the champion again, so I just need to put everything in the right place, including my mind, my head, because we have to be confident,” he said. “To deal with this negative moment for me has been very tough because since my debut in the UFC in 2008, I just had victories, victories and victories until I became champion of the world. Then I lost to Cain Velasquez, I started to live bad, bad moments, including with injuries, and I’m trying to go out of those moments and start living the winning moments again. That’s why I’m working so hard now.
“… I lived some good moments. Even with the injury and everything, I won the fight against Miocic, but the moment that I’m living now is not that good, I’m coming from negative results, so I want to change these things and get back to my winning streak. I believe deep in my heart that I can be champion again, and I will.”
Penick’s Analysis: Dos Santos has lost several steps from when he was at his peak, but he’s still got the striking game and the power in his hands to be a factor in this division. His chin’s not what it used to be, and that could hurt him moving forward, but if he can pick up a win here over a surging Rothwell it will be huge to start a new run. That’s a tough prospect given what Rothwell’s been doing, but if dos Santos is going to make something happen to be a title challenger again, it has to happen now.
[Junior dos Santos art by Grant Gould (c) MMATorch.com]
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