LAS VEGAS – The sheer force of Junior dos Santos' right hand pounding into the focus mitt held his coach – and the resulting booming sound it made – sent precisely the message the UFC wanted prior to his bout with Cain Velasquez on Nov. 12, 2011, at UFC on Fox 1.
To anyone who saw or heard those thudding pops, there was no doubt about what dos Santos was capable of doing: He was perhaps mixed martial arts' best knockout artist and that little sequence at an open workout in Anaheim, Calif., served as a reminder of how serious a threat to Velasquez's heavyweight belt he could be.
What wasn't so well known was that dos Santos did little more than throw punches at the workout simply because he wasn't physically able to do anything else.
Much has been made of the knee injury that Velasquez suffered before he made his title defense against dos Santos on national television, as if dos Santos' victory should simply be tossed aside.
A reporter asked Velasquez at Thursday's final news conference for UFC 155 about regaining the title. When he used the phrase "your belt," dos Santos sneered before interrupting.
"It's my belt," he said, firmly.
What's been lost in the talk of the Velasquez injury is that dos Santos fought – and won – with a serious knee injury of his own. Two weeks before the bout, he was on crutches. And two days before, he wasn't comfortable going through the light media-designed workout the UFC had scheduled for him.
He was in pain and didn't want to injure his knee any further. He wasn't about to drop to the floor and risk putting his knee at additional risk.
"It was pretty bad," dos Santos said of his own injury.
To dos Santos and those closest to him, his 64-second knockout victory over Velasquez proved he's the best heavyweight in the world. But to many, the lingering message of UFC on Fox 1 was simply that an injured dos Santos was better than an injured Velasquez.
So, dos Santos heads into the main event of UFC 155 Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden to defend the championship for a second time feeling like he has a lot to prove. His history would suggest that's not a good thing for his opponents.
UFC president Dana White came to the rescue of his champion Thursday when the talk about Velasquez's injury began to discredit dos Santos' victory. White could hardly believe when someone questioned whether the first fight should be thrown out when regarding what might happen Saturday in the rematch.
"You don't throw the first fight out," White said incredulously. "I mean, [dos Santos] won by knockout. It would be pretty weird to throw that first fight out. But there's no doubt you're going to see a different Cain Velasquez this fight."
That's what makes the fight so compelling. Many were let down by the quick ending to the first fight. The bout was the main event of the UFC's first foray onto network television and there was a 40-minute buildup for a fight that barely lasted 40 seconds.
Many of the most ardent MMA fans were crushed. They'd been hoping for an epic back-and-forth match that would convince them of their sport's greatness.
What they failed to realize, though, is that the reason casual fans love to watch heavyweights is because the big men bring the big knockouts.
Dos Santos delivered a powerful knockout, yet somehow hasn't been embraced as a result.
He's the antithesis of a trash talker, a nice, soft-spoken guy who learned to speak English by listening to Katy Perry songs and watching American television.
He's added bulk to his physique, but insists he's retained his quickness. That would allow him to better defend against Velasquez's take-down attempts while allowing him to still throw with frightening power.
Velasquez may take him down, dos Santos conceded, and may even take him down repeatedly. But dos Santos knows the one thing that every knockout puncher knows: He won't have to land more than one shot in order to win.
That's the intrigue in this fight: Velasquez may be better than he was in their first meeting. He may even be far better than he was in November 2011.
He might dominate the majority of the fight Saturday. But one right hand is all that dos Santos needs.
Dos Santos knows it. White knows it. And most of all, Velasquez knows it.
In a combat sport, that one-punch power is always the biggest difference maker. Dos Santos recently earned his jiu-jitsu black belt and refers to himself not as a striker but as "a total mixed martial artist."
But it's his knockout power that has the potential to not only end the night early a second time but to finally – finally – give dos Santos the credit he deserves.
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- Mixed Martial Arts
- Martial Arts
- Cain Velasquez
- Junior dos Santos