This Saturday night, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will make its FOX network television debut with Cain Velasquez (9-0, 7-0 UFC) putting his heavyweight title on the line against the challenger, Junior Dos Santos (13-1, 7-0 UFC). It’s going to be a great night for fight fans as this event will finish an hour before Manny Pacquiao is set to square off against Juan Manuel Marquez.
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect match-up for the first fight in the historic, seven-year partnership between FOX and the UFC, as these are two very special fighters entering the primes of their careers. I will break the action down in terms of each fighters’ strengths, the unknowns heading into the fight and the match-up, specific to one another. Finally, I will predict a winner.
Velasquez has made a name for himself through his world-class wrestling ability, his other-worldly work ethic and cardio, and a developing, technically-sound kickboxing game. He is well above-average in his quickness wrestling and an above-average athlete for a heavyweight. He has finished eight out of the nine fights in his career through ground and pound and striking.
Velasquez was a two-time All-American wrestler at Arizona State University and in the Octagon, he has man-handled the heavyweight division, demonstrating relentless take-downs, top control and ground and pound. His wrestling, in combination with his cardio, make him a bad match-up for any style of fighter because he can control whether the fight remains standing or on the ground. If he chooses to take the fight to the ground, he has almost no equal. He has used his wrestling to dominate Ben Rothwell and Cheick Kongo on the ground, and when he won the title against Brock Lesnar, he did so by keeping the fight standing.
The wrestling/cardio skill-set alone would make Velasquez a championship-caliber fighter, but through his training at the American Kickboxing Academy, his striking has improved to the point where he poses a real threat to almost any fighter in the division. Velasquez uses a pretty diverse array of attacks on his feet, using compact, technically-sound kickboxing. He mixes in short jabs, hooks, straights with quick kicks to the legs and body. He can finish fights standing and has done so against Lesnar and Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira in recent fights.
Dos Santos is, perhaps, the best striker in the heavyweight division, dominating every fight in his UFC career, including wins over Shane Carwin, Roy Nelson and Gabriel Gonzaga. He is light on his feet, quick and an above-average athlete for a heavyweight. He has finished eleven out of his thirteen wins, eight through KO/TKO and three by submission.
Dos Santos possesses quick, powerful, precise boxing with devastating hooks and uppercuts and the ability to finish with both hands. He has a great feel for distance and footwork, and can stay in the pocket boxing. He is extremely elusive, and finds openings to counter-strike. He has never been in trouble on his feet in the UFC and has made good MMA strikers look very bad.
Through hard work, Dos Santos has made himself a serviceable wrestler defensively and even offensively, and his cardio is above-average for the division.
The biggest unknown for Velasquez is what kind of shape he will be in following a year-long layoff due to a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder. Also, Velasquez’s chin has only been tested once, against Kongo. My takeaway from that fight was that he has a good chin, resilience and recovery, but if one were to suggest he was exposed for having a weak chin, there would be an argument. Velasquez’s chin could very well be tested in this fight like it never has before.
With Dos Santos, his defensive ground game has not been exposed since he has never faced a good wrestler. If Velasquez takes Dos Santos down, will he be able to stand back up or at least avoid taking damage with a defensive guard? Dos Santos should have good Jiu-Jitsu as he trains with the Black House gym, home of the Nogueira brothers, Anderson Silva and many other excellent Jiu-Jitsu artists.
Velasquez’s conditioning and wrestling will likely be the key to this fight. If Velasquez is only in 80% of his optimal shape due to his injury, he may not have a significant advantage in cardio, should this fight make it into the fourth or fifth round, which I believe it will. If he can take Dos Santos down enough early in the fight and control him from the top, the fight will be his to lose. I suspect it will not be as easy as that, as Dos Santos is a very real threat to hurt Velasquez on his feet. Velasquez will have to either earn enough respect to close the distance to finish a takedown or to pressure Dos Santos against the cage.
Dos Santos has the kind of power and accuracy standing where it will only take one opening for him to swing the momentum his way. Once a fighter is badly hurt, there is no telling how they will respond.
Ultimately, Velasquez’s wrestling will be the separator between the two and he will win by decision. However, Dos Santos will do enough damage standing, and recover and defend enough from the bottom to make this a competitive, four or five round fight. But with a fight as evenly matched as this one, it would not surprise me at all if it ended in the early rounds due to a TKO by either fighter.
I hope this will be a great fight on Saturday night and it should be. On paper, it has the potential to be a fight of historic proportions.Google+