Fast-forward to present day and the consensus perspective on their rematch appears to be that “Cigano” would need to break his leg on the way to the cage for Velasquez to have much of a chance; the Mexican-American challenger is simply keeping the champ warm while he waits for his inevitable matchup with Alistair Overeem.
There will be those who say that viewing Velasquez as a significant underdog is justified, particularly when one considers what happened the first time around. However, there is a little more to the story than the infamous 60-second knockout would lead you to believe.
For example, it is worth pointing out that both men went into last November’s bout carrying fairly serious injuries. Had they not been scheduled to meet during the UFC’s debut on Fox, there is no doubt that one, or even both, would have pulled a ripcord.
As it turned out, both fighters gambled and did their employers a proverbial solid, but only one man left the cage feeling as though he would make the same decision again. Looking at Velasquez’s face during the post-fight furore, it seemed clear that regret was the most prominently projected emotion.
We didn’t get to see either fighter compete at even close to their peak, so it is difficult to read too much into the first fight.
When we do examine the action from last November—not that there is much to examine, I grant you—we see Cain Velasquez dictating the stand-up right up until the moment dos Santos cracked him square on the temple with the kind of technique more reminiscent of a baseball pitcher.
There is no denying the quality of the champ’s striking skills. He has not just beaten every opponent he has faced in the UFC; he has utterly dominated them in the stand-up game, while scarcely giving them a sniff of a takedown.
Cain Velasquez, on the other hand, rarely receives the credit he deserves for his proficiency on the feet, with fans and media instead focusing on the former Arizona Sun Devil’s outstanding wrestling credentials—and with good reason, admittedly.
The former champion has thus far torn through the competition, mainly thanks to his superior takedowns and brutal ground and pound, but we have seen occasional glimpses of how advanced his striking game is. Feel free to watch his brutal knockout of Nogueira if you need proof.
Unwilling to risk playing around in Nogueira’s guard, Velasquez instead put on a striking display that would have had Joe Rogan screaming “K-1 level striker!” had it been Overeem putting the combinations together. He was not only technical; he also demonstrated his diversity, mixing up kicks and punches like he had been training kickboxing his whole life.
Most will be surprised to hear this, but I expect dos Santos and Velasquez to compete fairly evenly on the feet. Despite the dominance of his wrestling, I don’t see the former All-American being able to take down the Brazilian.
“Cigano” has tremendous defensive wrestling, which he utilizes in much the same way as Chuck Liddell. He boasts the kind of hips Shakira sings about and most wrestlers dream of, allowing him to stuff the takedown attempts of even the most accomplished college wrestlers.
I expect this fight to be mainly a kickboxing match, with the occasional clinch battle against the cage. However, do not sleep on Velasquez simply because the champion has a reputation for being the superior striker.
Cain Velasquez might just surprise a few people when he gets a second shot at dos Santos, but I won’t be among their number.