Cain Velasquez strikes Junior Dos Santos during UFC 155 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena
At UFC 160 on May 25th, 2013, Junior dos Santos broke free of his boxing norm and opted to throw a brilliantly timed spinning heel kick targeted right at the head of his opponent, Mark Hunt. The audience certainly didn't see it coming. Neither did Hunt—his body collapsed to the canvas shortly after dos Santos' heel impacted the rather sensitive portion of his skull.
Not long thereafter, Cain Velasquez squared off against Antonio Silva and—within a time frame even shorter than most had predicted—dropped the challenger to the canvas with a left-straight/right-hook combo. He followed up with some perfunctory ground-and-pound, leaving Silva wondering how he hadn't managed to survive a full two minutes.
It becomes clear, then, that Velasquez and dos Santos are always competing—whether directly or indirectly.
With their respective knockouts, both men served to elevate the No. 1 and No. 2 heavyweight ranking onto a rather lofty pedestal—one that will likely remain out of reach for most of their peers.
If there was ever a trilogy, that's it right there. Junior destroys him in the first fight. Cain destroys him in the second fight. I can't wait to see this third fight.They're the two best heavyweights in the world. That's the fight.
Let's examine a few of the factors involved in this historic rubber match.
UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez
Throughout their careers, both Velasquez and dos Santos have tallied up truly impressive stats that stand testament to their Octagon performances. Over the course of their first two matches, they racked up 183 strikes and 11 takedowns. If you scan the statistics across their combined careers, you're left with numbers worthy of consideration:
- 5.98: Combined average strikes landed per minute
In the world of combat sports, a certain adage tends to hold true: the heavier the fighter, the slower the output. Velasquez and dos Santos kick that idea to the curb. In fact, at 6.50 average strikes per minute, Velasquez throws the most strikes per minute in UFC history—regardless of weight class.
- 3.85: Combined average strike differential (+/-)
Even at such an aggressive striking pace, both fighters are wise enough to maintain proper defense—almost four strikes are thrown for each one received.
- 9.5: Combined average knockdowns landed
When they hit, Velasquez and dos Santos tend to hit rather hard. It comes as no surprise that both men are most often victorious by means of knockout.
- 81 percent: Combined average takedown defense
With refined offensive and defensive wrestling, these heavyweight sluggers have managed to keep their fights standing whenever (and wherever) they saw fit.
*All statistics courtesy of FightMetric
Junior dos Santos unleashes a jab on Frank Mir at UFC 146
During the UFC 160 post-fight press conference, dos Santos was asked to elaborate on why he chose such a wild technique so late into a fight he was clearly winning. His answer—when analyzed closely—provides an interesting outlook on his desire to finish:
I train kicks in my gym. I never felt confident to do that during a fight because, normally, my hands work. So tonight I saw the moment to throw the kick and I did. That brought me the victory, so I'm happy.
"Cigano" essentially conveyed the message that he'll throw everything but the kitchen sink in order to stop his opponents.
His record certainly shows it—75 percent (12) of his career wins have come by way of knockout.
By honing his boxing skills, dos Santos has established one of the most jab-heavy styles in the UFC heavyweight division. He mixes up the straight shots with deceptively fast overhand punches. He notoriously knocked down Velasquez with a single overhand right when they first fought.
In their rematch, Velasquez demonstrated that he wasn't too concerned with dos Santos' boxing pedigree.
During the first round, he stepped towards dos Santos and threw the very same overhand right that had previously cost him the belt. Dos Santos staggered backward, crumbled to him knees and never truly recovered for the duration of that fight. Velasquez would walk away—after five rounds of merciless domination—with championship reclaimed.
A spinning heel kick later, who knows what both men are willing to throw during the trilogy fight?
Cain Velasquez wears his national pride on his chest.
Velasquez has managed to turn his tattoo into an iconic image within the sport of mixed martial arts. That achievement was made possible by constant references to his cultural roots.
Mexican fans rejoiced when their undefeated fighter knocked out Brock Lesnar to claim the heavyweight throne. Salvador, Brazil erupted in cheers when dos Santos dropped Velasquez with a single punch.
MMA has a certain tendency to transcend mere sport or spectacle—pugilism is second nature to all cultures worldwide.
Each time they meet in the Octagon, Velasquez and dos Santos serve to both fuel their rivalry and unite their national fanbases. For a fleeting moment, they fill the cage with more than just the two best heavyweight fighters on the planet—they turn it into a battleground of geographic and cultural proportions.
When they meet for the rubber match, Velasquez and dos Santos will have the full support of not only their friends, family and training partners—but also the heritage that has become synonymous with their personas.
Velasquez vs. Dos Santos 3—by the time the cage door closes—will have morphed into Mexico vs. Brazil.
Velasquez and Dos Santos square off.
In the nascent years of mixed martial arts, the disparity between fighters was extreme—untrained brutes could win by sheer force alone, whereas trained specialists could remain untouched for long spans of time.
The peaks and valleys of the UFC landscape have become far more subtle in recent times. Championship belts tend to transition with startling ease.
Velasquez and dos Santos represent the new age of the UFC's heavyweight lineup—one in which only a genuinely complete fighter can dominate.
Their mutual competitiveness only serves to bolster the claim that both men are at the pinnacle of their division. MMA fans have witnessed Cain reassemble himself after an initial blowout loss in order to pummel dos Santos in the rematch.
It's that specific brand of grit and determination that is all but guaranteed to ensure fireworks in the rubber match. They've both tasted gold—Velasquez won't be willing to lose it, and dos Santos won't stop in his effort to get it back.
These heavyweight kingpins are the result of all the pieces falling into place—the right age, at the right time, with the right training camps and with all the reason to continue improving.
It's certainly not the UFC's only rivalry, but right now, it's the main one worth discussing.
When the dust settles, the conversation will have only begun.