There’s an old saying in fight sports that goes something to the effect of: it’s not the wins in your career that define you; it’s the losses.
For former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos, his dose of MMA reality came at the hands of Cain Velasquez at UFC 155 in December of last year. Since suffering his first defeat in the vaunted Octagon, dos Santos has had time to reflect on the stinging defeat to the Mexican-American bruiser, do some much needed soul searching, and refocus on his ultimate objective.
“The first four days after the fight was a depressing time,” dos Santos said on Wednesday during a promotional stop in anticipation for his upcoming fight against Mark Hunt at UFC 160 on May 25 in Las Vegas.
“It was tough. I was really, really sad. Because the thing is, I didn’t fight. I don’t care if the other guy is better than me and he wins because he did very well and I performed very well. But in that fight, I didn’t fight. Cain Velasquez did very well, but I didn’t fight, so I was very sad. After some time, I began to think about some things and I learned a lot.”
“Cigano” admits to re-watching that haunting fight over and over again, trying to piece together just what went wrong.
”When I watched the fight, I didn’t know I was out in the first round. I don’t remember that punch,” he said when referring to a Velasquez right hand that dropped him to the canvas with just over a minute left in the opening frame.
After that, it was all down hill according to the former champion.
“When I watched the fight and saw that punch, (I realized) everything changed after that. It was almost like automatic reactions after that – just defending myself.”
The thing is, he’s not wrong.
Up until that punch from Velasquez, he was doing fairly well, especially in Cain’s bread and butter area of wrestling, where dos Santos had stuffed all six of his opening takedown attempts.
Velasquez went on to batter dos Santos for 20 minutes in a fight that had UFC president Dana White predicting post-fight that the battered Brazilian would be taking some time off, because as White put it, “You need to take some time off after a beating like that.”
There’s always a silver lining, however, and not unlike his throngs of fans around the world, dos Santos was impressed with his ability to persevere in the face of a crushing heavyweight bruiser like Velasquez.
“I think I learned a lot from that fight,” he stated. “I always try to see the positive in everything. I was fighting (hard) and I think I’m pretty tough doing that (lasting five rounds), even if I got beat.”
Next up, dos Santos turns his attention to the surging heavyweight slugger out of New Zealand, former Pride and K-1 standout Mark Hunt. A fan favorite, Hunt is currently riding a four-fight winning streak and is on the verge of a heavyweight title shot, after once being considered an afterthought from the Pride FC purchase in 2007.
For dos Santos – who was set to face Dutch striker Alistair Overeem before he was forced out due to injury – the Hunt fight is a bit more compelling in his eyes, as well as dangerous.
“I think for sure it’s gonna change (training and preparation) a little,” he stated. “The strategy will be a little bit different because I think Mark Hunt is tougher than Alistair Overeem.”
Overeem and dos Santos have had a contentious relationship with PED accusations flying and snarling taunts – something that is uncharacteristic for the mostly jovial Brazilian. Although he may dislike Overeem, he certainly wasn’t going to wait to fight him or stall his career.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t care about Alistair Overeem. He’s a joker,” he said with a hint of disinterest. “I couldn’t stay waiting for him. Who is he?
“He’s not the champion. If he was the champion, it would be a pleasure to wait for him. But he’s nobody in the division that I should be waiting (for).”
When pressed about his discontent, the usually upbeat Cigano shrugged off any media fodder and said it was strictly about Overeem’s propensity for disrespect.
“He says so many things about me when he fought Bigfoot Silva. And now he says a lot about Bigfoot Silva after he fought him,” dos Santos explained. “It’s very hard to listen to that. And people give him a lot of attention just because he says those things. I don’t like to be disrespectful to anyone, but in this case, he’s a joker.
“The main thing I don’t like is that he lies a lot. He says a lot of ‘trash’ things. It makes me sad. You have to show who you are inside the cage. You can’t win it (by talking) outside the cage.”
Maybe one day Overeem and dos Santos will finally hash it out in the cage. In dos Santos’ mind, it doesn’t really seem to matter.
He talks openly about his appreciation for life and the opportunities given him, he trains hard so the fight is easy, and it’s now a fight-by-fight proposition for the former heavyweight champ.
Next up is Mark Hunt, and after that it’s whoever has the heavyweight belt. He informs me that no matter who has the gold, whether it is Velasquez, Silva, or anyone in between, he’s only concerned with getting his championship back.
“The title is more important (than Velasquez rematch). The title is the objective of everybody, I think; for sure it’s my objective.”