On May 25, 2013, at UFC 160, former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos fought MMA veteran and former K-1 kickboxing champion Mark Hunt.
The bout ended in destructive fashion, with dos Santos delivering a spinning heel kick to the head of Hunt. The New Zealander fell, and the former champion quickly followed up with a straight right to the face.
The blow rendered Hunt unconscious, ending the bout at four minutes, 18 seconds of the third round. Dos Santos’ win also secured him a rubber match against the man who took his heavyweight title at UFC 155, Cain Velasquez.
Velasquez/dos Santos II
Dec. 29, 2012 saw the complete annihilation of a prime dos Santos. When dos Santos faced Velasquez at UFC 155, he was completely outclassed and outfought. Velasquez/dos Santos II sported one of the most prolonged, one-sided beatings in UFC history.
For five rounds, Velasquez varied his game, and constantly pressured the Brazilian with swift strikes and even quicker takedowns. Through much of the fight, dos Santos appeared flat-footed and bewildered by Velasquez’s intense cardio and strike/takedown combinations.
In that, at UFC 155, Dos Santos lost a lopsided decision (50-45, 50-43, 50-44), and left the octagon badly beaten and beltless. Velasquez/dos Santos II set the stage for and gave tremendous insight to their third meeting later on this year.
Dos Santos’ One-Dimensional Issues
Dos Santos’ demise at UFC 155 directly relates to his one-dimensional style of fighting. Dos Santos’ entire career has been predicated upon his great boxing talent. He is undoubtedly one of the best strikers in the heavyweight division.
The heavy-handed Brazilian has amassed a 75 percent knockout rate, and is able to end a bout at any given moment. He even knocked out a then-undefeated heavyweight champion in Cain Velasquez in just 64 seconds at UFC on Fox 1.
Given Velasquez’s dominance of dos Santos at UFC 155, however, many believe that the Brazilian’s victory over Velasquez in their first meeting may have been a fluke.
Leading up to his fight against Hunt, dos Santos gave light to his own one-dimensional fighting style. While appearing on MMAJunkie.com Radio, the former UFC champion stated, “I was trying to fight standing all the time, but it's MMA and you have to use Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling. So now, it's more clear to me. I have to use all my skills to win the fights, especially when you're fighting against someone like Cain Velasquez."
Dos Santos’ Untapped Talent
Dos Santos is not only a great striker, he is also a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt. Yet, only one of wins has come by way of submission. At UFC 160, given Hunt’s takedown and submission defense issues, many thought that dos Santos would exploit these deficiencies and use them to his advantage.
Regarding dos Santos’ game plan heading into UFC 160, Jordy McElroy of Bleacher Report stated:
“Junior dos Santos won't be looking to stand and bang when he steps into the Octagon against Mark Hunt at UFC 160. He understands that a one-dimensional approach will no longer cut it if he ever hopes to compete with well-rounded studs like Velasquez and Daniel Cormier.”
However, dos Santos only took down his opponent once during their bout and dominated him on the ground with ease until Hunt was able to rise to his feet. The Brazilian then abandoned that successful game plan and chose to box with Hunt for the remainder of their match-up. This paid dividends in the end, however, as Hunt succumbed to his third major issue—cardio.
Velasquez/dos Santos III
Velasquez is a completely different fighter than Hunt, and he doesn’t possess the deficiencies in his game that plague his heavyweight counterpart. Like dos Santos, an overwhelming majority of the champion’s wins have come by way of knockout.
However, unlike dos Santos, Velasquez’s wrestling dictates the pace of all his fights. This, accompanied by his speed, intense cardio and constant pressure create immense problems for any fighter, particularly those of the one-dimensional kind.
More than at UFC 160, dos Santos’ game will need to be more varied and complete when he faces Velasquez for the third time.
In the world of MMA, a fighter must be skilled in a multitude of disciplines to maintain success for long periods of time—even more so to become and remain champion.
For dos Santos, a game plan beyond mere striking will have to be implemented if the former champion expects to recapture the heavyweight title and win the trilogy between him and Velasquez.