UFC 146 Junior Dos Santos’ first test as champion
The UFC Heavyweight belt is something of a cursed chalice in the MMA world. It tends to take promising fighters, lure them in, and give them a sprinkling of glory, before dumping them on the sidewalk for the next best thing.
This weekend at UFC 146 Junior ‘Cigano’ Dos Santos gets his first chance to defend the title he won last November, and the likeable Brazilian may well have the talent and skill to become the most dominate heavyweight champion in the UFC’s history.
There is a saying in the fight game: you aren’t a real champion until you have defended your belt. No heavyweight fighter has managed to put together more than two defences after winning the coveted title.
Every other division has had at least one dominate champion, who has put together a long string of defences. Names like Jose Aldo, Anderson Silva, Georges St Pierre, Dominick Cruz and Jon Jones come to mind.
Many tipped Cain Velasquez, the fighter Dos Santos dethroned, would become that first dominate champion and his time may still come. But right now Dos Santos is king of the hill and doesn’t look like going anywhere, anytime soon.
Dos Santos’ record speaks for itself; he is 14-1, with ten knockouts and two submissions. Not only is he unbeaten in the UFC, no one has even come close to matching him.
Dos Santos is a blueprint for a modern fighter: smart, skilled and dedicated.
His boxing is silky smooth; he counts Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida as sparing partners and anyone who can hang with those two in stand-up can be counted amongst the best.
Throughout his run to the top he has left a trail of outclassed or knocked out fighters in his wake.
Quite simply no one in the heavyweight division can keep up with him on his feet.
Dos Santos’ uppercut is particularly lethal, having accounted for Fabricio Werdum, and battered the likes of Mirko ‘Cro Cop’, Roy Nelson and Gabriel Gonzaga.
His footwork and use of angles to dominate the Octagon and control the fight has been phenomenal.
His stand-up strategy has been so good he hasn’t even been taken down. In fact in his eight UFC fights the only examples of his wrestling or jujitsu has been in taking down a fatigued Shane Carwin and battered Roy Nelson.
Coming up against Frank Mir, the original UFC heavyweight jiu-jitsu maestro, you can imagine this may be concerning.
Not according to Dos Santos, who brushes off suggestions Mir may expose him on the ground with his trademark smile.
His confidence is well established; Dos Santos actually began combat sport in jujitsu and then developed his much vaunted boxing skills.
He also trains in jiu jitsu with the legendary Nogeria brothers, middleweight submission ace Demian Maia, as well as a plethora of local Brazilian jiu jitsu experts.
His jiu-jitsu coach, Yuri Carlton, lays out some strong statements (translated here) on the Brazilian version of Dos Santos’ official website:
“I’ve got no doubt Cigano’s jiu-jitsu is better. He trains with the best in Brazil across numerous divisions.”
“Frank trains in American with some Brazilians but when you talk about jiu-jitsu, realistically Brazil is where the champions train.”
“This speculation that Frank is somehow better on the ground is all lies. I have absolute certainty Cigano is better.”
If these words are anything to go by then Dos Santos ground game may well be as lethal as his stand-up; a scary thought for anyone thinking of making a run for the heavyweight title.
This first title defence against Frank Mir will be a good litmus test for the new champion but it is one he should pass.
Mir is no slouch but his brawling stand up style will not serve him well here, he will have to hope Dos Santos confidence in his ground game is misplaced.
Junior Dos Santos isn’t the first heavyweight fighter who has looked like becoming the dominate fighter the division has never had.
If his arm is raised on Saturday night then an eventual rematch against Velasquez may well decide how long ‘Cigano’ lasts at the top.
However, if he continues to fight with the kind power and strategy he has shown, I cannot see anyone toppling Dos Santos of the top of the heavyweight pile.
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