COMMENTARY | This Saturday night at UFC 166, former UFC Heavyweight Champion Junior dos Santos looks to reclaim the title when he and Cain Velasquez finish their trilogy in the main event. It has been an interesting 10 months for dos Santos, as he has gone on a transformation from the unbeatable champion to the badly beaten stepping stone, and now back to the hungry challenger in that time frame. He will be looking to come full circle in the rematch against Velasquez, in what would surely be the biggest moment of his UFC career if he was victorious. To get ready for the fight, here is a look at his top five UFC moments entering UFC 166.
5. Bouncing Back
Even the most die-hard dos Santos supporter cannot deny the fact that he was dismantled by Velasquez in their second bout at UFC 155 in December of last year. Left with a battered face and hurt pride, it seemed fair to question whether dos Santos would be able to bounce back from such a one-sided defeat. This was his challenge at UFC 160 in May against fan-favorite Mark Hunt. Although Hunt does not possess the wrestling or pace of Velasquez, one could question whether dos Santos would be able to show the same trademark aggression that had become commonplace before he lost the title.
Those questions were quickly put to rest against Hunt. The bout went back and forth for nearly three rounds until dos Santos was able to score the knockout with a beautiful spinning heel kick. The fight was key for dos Santos, as it showed that his kickboxing has developed to the point that it is as dangerous of a weapon as his normal boxing. At the same time, the fight proved that the loss to Velasquez did not make dos Santos gun shy in terms of standing and trading with one of the most dangerous strikers in the division.
4. Capping Off "The Ultimate Fighter"
When then-champion Cain Velasquez suffered a rotator cuff injury in late 2010, it was announced that dos Santos and former champion Brock Lesnar would serve as the coaches for the thirteenth season of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show. The two would then square off at the end of the season, with the winner getting the next heavyweight title shot. During the show, dos Santos came off as extremely likable, displaying better-than-expected English and an encouraging coaching style. His personality, especially when contrasted with Lesnar's stand-offish tone, likely went a long way towards dos Santos' popularity.
At the conclusion of the season, Lesnar was forced to drop out of the scheduled fight with an intestinal disorder. As a result, the main event of UFC 131 in June 2011 was changed to pit dos Santos against former title challenger and feared striker Shane Carwin. The bout ended up being little challenge for dos Santos, who was able to pick Carwin apart with strikes, leaving Carwin's face a bloody mess en route to scoring the unanimous decision win. Although he was unable to get the finish, the dominance dos Santos displayed in victory was more than sweet enough to cap a successful stint on the reality show.
3. Destroying the Legend
After scoring consecutive highlight-reel knockouts in his first two UFC fights, it was clear that dos Santos was ready to take the next step in the heavyweight division. With this in mind, he was booked to fight the legendary Mirko "Cro Cop" Filpovic at UFC 103 in September 2009. To be sure, Cro Cop had seemingly lost a step since his legendary days in Pride FC, as he entered the bout with just a 2-2 record in the UFC. However, his name recognition and past triumphs made the fight perfect to see if dos Santos was someone who could compete with the elite strikers in the division.
After the fight, there was no doubt not only that dos Santos could compete with the best strikers in the division, but that he was one. For the better part of nearly three rounds, dos Santos dominated the veteran, doing considerable damage both in the clinch and with traditional boxing. In the third round, it was a knee and right uppercut to the eye that caused Cro Cop to verbally submit, validating dos Santos in the process.
2. Shocking the World in UFC Debut
Little was known about dos Santos prior to his octagon debut at UFC 90 in October 2008 against the much more established Fabricio Werdum. In fact, entering the fight, most of the talk was centered around Werdum being snubbed when the de facto four-man heavyweight title tournament left him out. As a result, the opinion seemed to be that a victory for Werdum would put him in position for a title shot once things sorted themselves out.
Therefore, the shock was understandable when the relatively unknown dos Santos clobbered Werdum with an uppercut after less than two minutes had gone by. Werdum crumbled to the mat and the bout was stopped. In that instant, dos Santos immediately became one of the most talked about fighters in the UFC and was fast-tracked into contention in the heavyweight division. In what has become a common theme during his time in the octagon, the one-punch knockout power he displayed against Werdum has firmly entrenched dos Santos among the division's elite.
1. Winning the Title Before a Record Audience
When the UFC announced its new television deal with Fox, it was clear that the promotion would be exposed to more eyes than ever before. To celebrate the first show televised on the network, the UFC decided to go big, by scheduling the first Velasquez-dos Santos bout to headline the show. With such a huge fight being given away for free, the whole sports world tuned in, making the bout the most watched fight in MMA history.
As it turns out, the world was given a great introduction to dos Santos. Clearly aware of the added pressure in the air, the two fighters circled around with little action in the opening seconds. Then, just like that, it was over. One minute into the first round, dos Santos hit Velasquez behind the ear with a punch and sent him crumbling to the mat. Junior would swarm and the bout would be stopped. Dana White putting the heavyweight title around dos Santos' waist in front of a stunned crowd capped off one of the biggest moments in UFC history, and the biggest moment of dos Santos' career to this point.
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Del Pearson is a big MMA fan who has been to many live UFC events. His all-time favorite fighter is Randy Couture. Follow Del on Twitter @DelPearson44.
- Mixed Martial Arts
- Martial Arts
- Junior dos Santos
- Cain Velasquez