Big Fight Breakdown
Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos UFC on FOX, Nov. 12
Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos for the UFC Heavyweight Championship isn’t just a fight, it’s a declaration. The promotion’s broadcast television debut on Nov. 12 comes fittingly on the UFC’s 18th birthday—the age of maturity in American culture—and its television partner FOX has promised to literally roll out a red carpet for the arrival. That’s a long way from the dim arena setting of UFC 1 so many years ago, and symbolically, it’s downright poetic.
For what will almost assuredly be the most watched fight in U.S. MMA history, UFC president Dana White took no chances, offering the masses the most significant bout that he could muster. Even if you only occasionally watch combat sports, the term “heavyweight champion of the world” means something. On paper at least, the
matchup is riveting. Velasquez (9-0) is a cyborg of a fighter—aggressive, hard-nosed, powerful, and boundless in energy. And dos Santos (13-1) casts a perfect foil with his tight striking, speed, and durability.
Velasquez is a one-man symphony of violence. He punches, he kicks, he grapples, he puts you down, and then he mauls you in efficient style. If you believe in statistics, his are gaudy. According to FightMetric.com, he is first in UFC history in strikes landed per minute (7.46), third in significant strike accuracy (61%) and fourth in takedown accuracy (68.2%). Defensively, he’s just as good. He’s second in takedown defense (88%) and fourth in the least amount of significant strikes absorbed per minute (1.15).
Simply put, Velasquez excels in all phases of the sport. That makes him a difficult matchup for anyone, but couple his technical brilliance with endless stamina, and you have a fighter who haunts heavyweight dreams. Even if you can survive his versatile game for the first few minutes, Velasquez can keep a pace that will wilt almost anyone.
Conditioning is really the lynchpin to Velasquez’s success. In 2010, ESPN’s Sport Science investigated the phenomenon and found that his heart rate maxes out at 167 beats per minute, a low number on par with elite endurance athletes. In a sport that relies heavily on short, anaerobic bursts, that gives Velasquez a built-in advantage.
The only question some still pose about Velasquez is concerning his chin. He was rocked more than once during a 2009 fight with Cheick Kongo, and dos Santos is the best striker in the heavyweight division. If Velasquez can avoid dos Santos’ power, his superior wrestling and conditioning should carry him.
Junior dos Santos has crafted his reputation on two things: his left and right hand. Sure, he’ll sprinkle in an occasional takedown, and he’s equally adept firing off kicks, but the heavyweight contender prefers to set up and fire blistering combos with bad intentions.
While Velasquez gets all the ink regarding conditioning, dos Santos is also well above average in that area, as evident by his continual ability to inflict damage over extended periods of time. He’s second to Velasquez all-time in strikes landed per minute (6.79).
But the area in which he is most underrated is his wrestling. Despite the fact that dos Santos didn’t grow up a grappler, he has learned rapidly and seamlessly implemented it into his MMA strategy. During his UFC run, he has landed 75% of his takedown tries and stuffed 83% of attempts against him. He showed how effective he could be in that facet of the game in his last fight. Facing former D-II collegiate wrestling champion Shane Carwin, dos Santos landed both of his takedown attempts, and stuffed Carwin on two of three tries. Free to let his hands go because of it, dos Santos battered Carwin on the feet, out-landing him 88–20 in significant strikes.
The key to a dos Santos win over Velasquez will be similar. He will need to shut down Velasquez’s grinding style, find space, and put his hands to work. If Velasquez is successful in getting the fight to the ground, or even pressing him against the fence for extended periods, it’s a sign that Velasquez holds the tactical advantage. However, if dos Santos can deny Velasquez a positional edge and keep him at distance, it will become a tale of two strikers. And dos Santos always has full trust in his hands.