Junior dos Santos at 35 years old, may be in the middle of a career resurgence that is almost unprecedented in UFC history. After a bit of a rough patch, if you can call it that, following his two championship losses to Cain Velasquez, and a brief USADA suspension that he was ultimately cleared of, Dos Santos finds himself back among the heavyweight elite and potentially primed for another run as UFC heavyweight champ.
The problem is it’s never going to happen.
When we talk about a resurgence, we’re not talking about the type of resurgence we’ve seen from Bellator heavyweights Mirko Cro Cop or Fedor Emelianenko where they have been able to fight, and beat equally aged and faded fighters. Dos Santos’ resurrection appears to be legit and has come against quality fighters.
Dos Santos will never get to see this comeback through to its logical conclusion because of the current state of the UFC heavyweight division and also because of UFC’s booking habits. Current heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier is sitting pretty with plenty of options for his next defense. The fight he seems to be holding out for is with current WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar. It’s likely the strongest drawing fight he has on the table and if Lesnar is on board, that is likely the fight UFC wants to make.
His other option is to fight Jon Jones at heavyweight. Cormier has his reasons to not want this fight, but there are also strong incentives to take that fight, most notably legacy and money.
At a distant third would be for Cormier to offer a rematch to former champion Stipe Miocic. It’s the least desirable matchup for Cormier from a box-office perspective, but if Miocic lobbies loud and long enough, it could happen if Jones and Lesnar don’t pan out by summer.
This leaves dos Santos in a precarious position where he has to watch all of this play out before he’s even going to be considered for a championship match. Even before dispatching Derrick Lewis on Saturday night, dos Santos spoke about how Lesnar is likely getting the next title shot and the absurdity of it all.
The best thing he can do right now is to continue winning until UFC can’t ignore him anymore. Starting out with Francis Ngannou may be the best way to get that ball rolling. A win there should make JDS the undeniable top contender outside of the aforementioned four.
But until then, he waits.