Given his performance at UFC Fight Night 86, do you see Junior dos Santos fighting for the UFC Heavyweight Title again anytime in the future? Why or why not?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Junior dos Santos put on a performance worthy of a title contender in the shallow pool that currently is the heavyweight division in the UFC. Ben Rothwell was the perfect opponent for Cigano to make a statement against. Big Ben had momentum, and had defeated some top fighters during his four fight winning streak. Many (including myself) had picked him to dispatch JDS en route to a possible title shot later this year. In hindsight, a return of dos Santos to his old style of fighting all but guaranteed that Rothwell didn’t have nearly the chance some thought.
The speed difference was evident. While Rothwell may be powerful and scary, his flat footed and immobile style allowed dos Santos to pick him off with a variety of shots, getting in and out and avoiding the heavy hands of the larger fighter. He also successfully avoided Rothwell’s counter strikes and didn’t press trying to land a big shot. Fighters on losing streaks often get impatient and try to “get it back” all at once by ending a fight early. Dos Santos stayed patient, stuck with what work, and put more and more damage on the big Wisconsinite. Styles do make fights, and while the tactics JDS employed may not work as well on a different opponent, he played his cards near perfectly in a clean sweep decision over Rothwell.
Dos Santos fighting again for the UFC title is less than a sure thing. While the defending champ looked the part of sure fire contender, the layout of the heavies is working against him. Your number one and two contenders right now are Alistair Overeem (assuming he beats Andrei Arlovski) and Cain Velasquez (assuming he beats Travis Browne). The UFC has long pushed Overeem in hopes of putting him in the championship spotlight, and he’d be a logic next choice against the winner of Wedum vs. Miocic. Velasquez was all queued for an (unnecessary) championship rematch when his latest injury once again removed him from a bout. The UFC sees Velasquez as a big part of gaining traction in the Latino market, particularly Mexico, and they’ll be eager to give him another crack at the strap.
At worst, that would seem to put dos Santos at third in line, with only one more win needed to give the former champ a chance to reclaim the belt. This only really works out though, if Werdum is still holding the title. If Overeem or Velasquez wrests it from the Brazilians hands, you’ve got the issue of both of these two having recently beaten dos Santos, with Overeem doing it by knockout and Velasquez doing it twice by near death experience. There’s little need to see Velasquez vs. Dos Santos 4, and JDS would have to do something pretty special in his next fight for shot against Overeem to be warranted. There’s also the matter of who to match dos Santos up against next. Everyone who is either coming off of losses, going to be coming off of losses, or an unnecessary rematch for Cigano. JDS’s best chance would be Arlovski upsetting Overeem, JDS fighting and beating Arlovski, and the winner of Werdum vs. Miocic holding onto the best against Velasquez (let’s be realistic, Browne might get pounded through the Octagon when he takes on Velasquez). Dos Santos would now have a logical shot at one of two guys he’s beaten before. While these scenarios aren’t impossible, they do seem more unlikely at than not, which is how I’d characterize dos Santos’s canes of fighting for a title again any time soon.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Well, I can’t count him out. You never seem to be to far out of it in the heavyweight division. Guys make runs, then recede, then make another run. It’s fully possible. I don’t know if this was an aberration or if it’ll continue, but JDS looked fantastic. He hasn’t looked this good in years. He could absolutely make a title run. I have doubts as to whether that will actually happen or not, but it’s definitely possible.
CASH NORMAN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Had you posed this question prior to UFC Fight Night 86, I would have vehemently said no. My reasoning would have been the lack of growth and adaptability JDS exhibited in his previous losses. After the two horrendous horrific beating at the hands of Cain, my thoughts were years had been taken off JDS’ fighting career and most likely his future quality of life was compromised. Next he fought Stipe Miocic and had a five round war in which I thought he lost, but I could see cracks in his durability. After Alistair Overeem TKO’d him, I felt bad for JDS and relegated him to the role of a high level gate keeper.
For an athlete to have longevity in any sport they have to be able to adapt, adjust, and grow. In no sport is this more evident than mixed martial arts; Cigano’s ability to change his approach to fighting and not rely so heavily on the knock out blow was an adjustment. In addition, Cigano included powerful leg kicks to his striking arsenal rather than solely boxing his opponent.
Anytime JDS was spoken of they mentioned his power or boxing. Never had anyone mentioned his actual movement and lack of footwork (don’t worry, I hadn’t paid attention to this either until after listening to the Heavy Hands podcast). The reason Velasquez had been able to hold and brutalize JDS along the fence was because he was unable to pivot himself away from it. In his match with Rothwell, Cigano didn’t allow himself to trapped against it.
At this point, we should be cautiously optimistic about Cigano’s chances. I think he may have to face another top tier heavyweight contender before he challenges for the belt. More than likely it will be a rematch with Alistair Overeem, Stipe Miocic, or Fabricio Werdum. However, I could also see the UFC booking a rematch with Mark Hunt. If he continues to adapt and improve, the only possible hurdle to JDS in recapturing the belt would be Cain Velasquez.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
If he keeps fighting like he did against Ben Rothwell he will be fighting for the belt again without a doubt. It may not have been a flawless performance, but it was very close to that by MMA standards. Rothwell had no answers and was unable to back dos Santos up against the fence, something that had been dos Santos’ Achilles heel since his second encounter with Cain Velasquez. In addition to being more fundamentally sound in his footwork than I can remember, dos Santos looked more confident as well since his only successful title defense against Frank Mir. Throw in the fact that he is amongst the youngest heavyweights in title contention, then the odds are very much in favor of dos Santos challenging for the UFC Heavyweight Title once again.
[Junior dos Santos art by Grant Gould (c) MMATorch.com]
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