Junior Dos Santos: Top 10 Threats to Dos Santos' UFC Heavyweight Title in 2012

Craig AmosFeatured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2012

Junior Dos Santos: Top 10 Threats to Dos Santos' UFC Heavyweight Title in 2012

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    UFC heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos will square off with striking juggernaut Alistair Overeem later this year. While the immediacy of the contest ushers Overeem to the precipice of MMA glory, the Dutchman is not the only combatant Dos Santos will have to be wary of in 2012.

    The UFC heavyweight division, once thought of as the organization's weakest link, is brimming with an influx of talent lent by 2009's heavyweight edition The Ultimate Fighter, the acquisition of top Strikeforce talent and the development of several young big men.

    Though Dos Santos is widely regarded as the best fighter on the globe over 205 pounds, the heavyweight waters contain some seriously hungry sharks. In 2012, Dos Santos will have to look out for these 10 fighters in particular. 

10. Mike Russow: The Man Who Just Won't Lose

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    Why is He on the List?

    If you juxtapose Russow's physical talents with incumbent champ Junior Dos Santos', this is a wash. However, Russow has a tenancy that keeps him in any fight. With a 4-0 record in the UFC, Russow has been counted out more than your average 10-year journeyman, but he just keeps winning.

     

    Does He Have a Chance?

    A very small one.

    If he fought Junior, he would have the chance to walk through punches and land a knockout blow.

    Russow can take punishment and deliver his own, but Dos Santos is on another level. Russow would likely end up as another digit on the Brazilian's KO counter.

     

    Will He Have a Chance in 2012?

    Stranger things have happened. Russow sits at 4-0 in the UFC. If he becomes active and improves his mark by two wins against top-10 opponents, he could be part of a December showdown for the title.

9. Stefan Struve: A Giant Talent

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    Why is He on the List?

    Struve is a threat to anyone. At 6'11", the aptly-named "Skyscraper" presents a unique set of challenges that even the most talented heavyweights must adjust to. Struve has shown the ability to mix it up with top-notch strikers like Pat Barry and has one of the division's best submission games.

    Struve already had a crack against Dos Santos before he was champ, and that did not go well for the Beverwijk native. Even so, Struve has improved his game since then and could drag Junior down into a pit of long limbs that could put him to sleep. 

     

    Does He Have a Chance?

    Though massive in stature, Struve would have but a minute chance. While he is athletic for his size, Dos Santos is quick enough to erase Struve's reach advantage.

    A knockout for the UFC kingpin rates as a very likely outcome in a hypothetical rematch.

     

    Will He Have the Chance in 2012?

    Like Russow, he'd have to get to work quickly. A convincing victory over Dave Herman on February 15 could put him on the fast track, but he would need one or two more impressive wins before the fall to warrant serious consideration for a title shot.

8. Shane Carwin: A Puncher's Chance

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    Why is He on the List?

    Junior's technical mastery proved too much for the sloppy stand-up of Shane Carwin at UFC 131, but still, the "Engineer" has the kind of power that would make Mike Tyson blush.

    Still relatively inexperienced as a mixed martial artist, Carwin has the time, injuries permitting, to develop the technique to match his raw strength. If that happens, he can defeat any fighter, even Junior Dos Santos.

     

    Dose He Have a Chance?

    A hardly existent one.

    Dos Santos battered Carwin for 15 minutes in their first bout, and projecting a dissimilar outcome would merit a creative explanation; I do not have one.

    Dos Santos by knockout or unanimous decision.

     

    Will He Have the Chance in 2012?

    Unlikely, though possible. First and foremost, Carwin needs to get healthy. If he can make his comeback before summer and reel off some impressive wins, he has the name recognition and the respect of the UFC brass to warrant consideration if there is no clear No. 1 challenger at the decline of 2012. 

7. Frank Mir: Potent Combination of Knockout Power and Wizardly Jiu-Jitsu

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    Why is He on the List?

    Mir has seen his fair share of ups and downs over the years but has turned in three consecutive wins over highly-regarded opponents. Known for the submission prowess that broke the arms of Tim Sylvia and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mir is more than just a ground specialist. Since 2008, the American has developed his striking and must be taken seriously as a knockout threat.

    Mir could beat Dos Santos by surprising him on the feet. If he rocked Junior, he could get the clinch and pull him to the ground. From there, it would surprise no one if Mir reconstituted the structure of the Brazilian's arm, before having his own raised.

     

    Does He have a Chance?

    Oh so tiny a chance.

    Some readers will likely question Mir's place at seventh. His spot in line is far from the front because he is a dream matchup for Dos Santos. Certainly, Mir would give Junior fits with his Jits (I'm here all week), but his lack of takedown offense suspect chin, and tendency to take 'em on the jaw would be his undoing. 

    Dos Santos by early knockout.  

     

    Will He Have a Chance in 2012?

    It's in his hands. He is probably one fight away. A match against Fabricio Werdum is the most logical No. 1 contender fight out there right now.

6. Dave Herman: An Opponent No One Wants

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    Why is He on the List?

    Many UFC fans saw Herman's company debut and wrote him off. He won, but he was the fresher of two heaving zombies in only the second round, pulling out an uninspired victory over John-Olav Einemo. In spite of this performance, Herman has a hefty toolkit and is a very dangerous fellow.

    If everything went right for him in a match against Dos Santos, Herman could win. He is capable enough on the feet to avoid getting tagged too often, and he has the wrestling to control his opponents on the mat. He also has underrated punching power. 

     

    Does He Have a chance?

    A minor one, but a chance nonetheless.

    I reiterate, if the Einemo fight is the only time you have seen Herman, do not be fooled. Herman is dangerous everywhere. He is 21-2 with 20 finishes, and one of his losses came via disqualification.

    Dos Santos would more than likely batter Herman into a waking nightmare, but this would be a dangerous fight for the UFC heavyweight champion. 

     

    Will He Have the Chance in 2012?

    Possibly. Herman squares off against Stefan Struve on February 15. If he wins, and wins impressively, he will garner a high-level opponent in his next match. If he can repeat step one of this equation, he could find his way into a December title fight, though a year-end No. 1 contender fight would be more likely.

5. Josh Barnett: A Possible Strikeforce Import

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    Why is He on the List?

    To accept Barnett as a threat to Dos Santos, you must first be persuaded that he will be brought over from the Strikeforce roster. 

    The finale of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix may very well signal the end of the promotion's 265-lbs limit division, and Barnett, a tournament finalist, would be on Dana White's wish list, despite the problems the two have had in the past.

    Barnett is a terrific wrestler with experience to spare. If he were able to get Junior down, the champ would have a real hard time getting back up.

     

    Does He Have a Chance?

    Yes, though the odds would be stacked against him.

    On the feet, Dos Santos would make the Pride veteran look as silly as he does when he dabbles in Japanese pro wrestling. Barnett might be able to submit Junior, though attempting to do so would potentially allow Dos Santos to get back to his feet.

    Ultimately, the question would be this: Could he take Dos Santos down in every round before being tagged. The answer: unlikely.

     

    Will He Have the Chance in 2012?

    Potentially. He must secure the Strikeforce Grand Prix title first, then settle things with Dana and maybe win a UFC fight. A lot of "ifs" in this scenario, but it is certainly within the realm of possibility.

4. Daniel Cormier: A Force on the Rise

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    Why is He on the List?

    Like Barnett, Cormier would have to transition from Strikeforce before competing with Junior Dos Santos.

    Cormier, long lauded for his wrestling prowess, opened a lot of eyes when he knocked out Antonio Silva last year. A big guy like Cormier is expected to possess power, but if he starts making a habit of blasting away top heavyweights, he will be an unstoppable force.  

    Cormier could beat Dos Santos if he sticks with his wrestling. The current UFC champion would be hard-pressed to stop Cormier's powerful double leg and would struggle to ward off the takedown from the clinch.

     

    Does He Have a Chance?

    Yes.

    Cormier is becoming one of the best heavyweights on the planet. With only nine fights to his portfolio, Cormier's wrestling credentials afford him supplemental experience, and his natural talent and capacity for quick development would make him a threat.

    Junior likely has the footwork to avoid being taken down repetitively, so Cormier would have to mix it up with the hands from time to time. This spells danger, and I see Junior taking this one with a late stoppage if they hook 'em up later this year.

    However, a Cormier victory would not be as much of an upset as many might think.

     

    Will He Have the Chance in 2012?

    His path is the same as Barnett's: Win Strikeforce Grand Prix, transition to the UFC, win a fight and challenge for the title.  

3: Fabricio Werdum: Better Than Ever

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    Why is He on the List?

    Werdum recently made his return to the UFC and looked better than ever. Long heralded as one of the most dangerous jiu-jitsu practitioners in MMA, the only thing standing between Werdum and a knockout victory in his UFC reprisal fight was Roy Nelson's diamond-sculpted head.

    Nelson is a decent stand-up fighter, and Werdum absolutely blew him away on the feet. If Werdum continues to improve his stand-up, Dos Santos will have a difficult time replicating the knockout win from 2008 that he holds over his fellow countryman.

     

    Does He Have a Chance?

    Absolutely.

    Not only did Werdum show he could strike by pulverizing Nelson early this February, he showed that he could avoid damage when he lost a contestable decision to Alistair Overeem in 2011. Once Werdum learns to put it all together in the same fight, he will be a very scary opponent.

    Oh yeah, and he also has a better ground game than any heavyweight on the planet. 

    In spite of how vast Werdum's improvement on the feet has been and the threat he poses on the ground, Dos Santos would undoubtedly have an edge in this fight. The champ made his mark in the UFC by dropping Werdum in his first contest under the ZUFFA banner, and a second fight would likely yield a similar result.

     

    Will He Have the Chance in 2012?

    Very likely. Given what he accomplished in Strikeforce, coupled with how impressive he looked in his Fight of the Night winning performance against gatekeeper Roy Nelson, Werdum is likely one victory away from a shot at UFC gold. 

2. Alistair Overeem: Next in Line

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    Why is He on the List?

    Since he is next up to challenge Dos Santos for the UFC title, a better question may be, "Why is he not No. 1 on the list?"

    Overeem is a deadly opponent for any fighter. He is a technical striker with tremendous power, and he possesses a bevy of slick submission victories. He could beat Dos Santos by outstriking the UFC kingpin, en route to a quick knockout win. 

    He is not the No. 1 threat of 2012 because he possesses the same strengths as the champion himself.

     

    Does He Have a Chance?

    Overeem is a rare talent, and he would have a considerable chance to beat Dos Santos, but not the best chance.

    An argument could be made that Overeem is a better striker than Dos Santos; he has been a successful K-1 kickboxer, while Dos Santos shuns the use of his legs as an offensive weapon. If the two banged it out on the feet, it is anyone's guess who would walk away with the title.

    Overeem is second on this list because of his tendency to lose focus after the first round of his bouts. Since beginning his undefeated streak as a heavyweight in 2007, Overeem has only been out of the first round one time. Over his entire career, he owns a pedestrian 6-5 record in fights that make it to the first bell.

    While the matchup on the feet is tight, Overeem could not knock out Dos Santos in five minutes. After a competitive round or two, Junior wins by knock out.

     

    Will He Have the Chance in 2012?

    Barring injury, he is next up for Junior.

1. Cain Velasquez: Former Champ out for Revenge

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    Why is He on the List?

    Prior to being violently disposed of as UFC king, Velasquez looked unstoppable. He possesses freakish cardio, unmatched athleticism, premium wrestling and solid stand-up.

    A second fight with Junior could go a lot differently than the first. Velasquez has the talent and ambition to beat anyone in the sport, and in spite of the devastating loss he has to Dos Santos, he is the most capable of beating the Brazilian.

     

    Does He Have a chance?

    Yes.

    Cain was caught early by Junior in their first fight, and that was that. If they fight again, Cain could dictate the pace of the battle by taking Junior down and controlling him for five rounds. He could even knock him out or submit him on the ground.

    Dos Santos will always have a marked advantage in the stand up, but that is the only advantage he has over Velasquez.

    If the two enter the cage together for a second tilt, they should go in at nearly even odds. Velasquez has a better chance to dethrone Dos Santos than any other fighter.

     

    Will He Get the Chance in 2012?

    Possibly. Once Cain gets back in action, he will start two or three wins away from a chance at recovering the UFC strap. Aside from Junior, I am hard-pressed to think of anyone who can prevent him from stringing together a couple victories, and acquiring a shot at the title is more a question of "when" rather than "if" for Velasquez.