Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos will complete their trilogy at UFC 166 on Saturday.
While it's far from certain this bout will be the last between the elite heavyweights, Velasquez and Dos Santos will look to take an important edge in their rivalry. Barring a controversy, it's quite possible the winner of this weekend's fight won't have to worry about the loser in their next several outings.
Velasquez and dos Santos have traded dominant victories in their first two meetings. The Brazilian stopped the American quickly at UFC on Fox 1, while Velasquez answered with a lopsided decision win at UFC 155 around 10 months ago.
Which fighter will take the lead in this massive heavyweight series?
Here is a closer look at how Velasquez and dos Santos match up in all areas.
Cain Velasquez was flattened by one big right hand in his first meeting with Junior dos Santos. However, aside from that one powerful punch, Velasquez has mostly controlled things when standing against dos Santos in this series.
In his second meeting with the Brazilian, Velasquez's pressure was overwhelming. Only three minutes into the first round Velasquez had dos Santos fading due to his relentless forward movement and takedown attempts.
Dos Santos carries his hands low to begin with, so tiring him opens up even more holes.
Late in the opening stanza of his second bout with Velasquez, dos Santos began backpedaling and throwing jabs, hoping the round would end soon enough for him to grab a breather before getting clocked by the then-challenger.
After eating a hook (top left), dos Santos lowered his hands and took a deep breath (top right) before trying to slow Velasquez's onslaught with a jab (bottom left). Much fresher and knowing dos Santos didn't have the energy to follow his jab with a second or third punch, Velasquez blasted his opponent with a right hand as the recoiled (bottom right).
This sequence led to a knockdown that seemingly sucked the life from dos Santos for the remaining rounds. Offensively, dos Santos is a great striker, but he leaves gaping openings defensively as he fatigues and fails to bring punches back to his chin.
Even before he starts to slow, he is far from impossible to touch. When throwing his left hand, dos Santos usually carries his right hand chest high, leaving himself susceptible to left hooks.
Prior to being stopped by dos Santos, Velasquez recognized that opening and landing multiple left hooks in the first meeting between the two heavyweights.
As dos Santos loaded up for a left to the body (top), he left his right hand hanging out to the side, and Velasquez capitalized with a left hook to the chin. Even when throwing his right hand (bottom), dos Santos would put himself in jeopardy by initiating his strike with his fist at his hip.
While dos Santos bounced back from his loss to Velasquez with a win over Mark Hunt, this tendency doesn't seem to be something the Brazilian corrected.
Less than two minutes into his fight with Hunt, dos Santos was already swinging his left hand while holding his right at chest level (left). The savvy striker that he is, Hunt answered with a left hook that staggered dos Santos (right).
Evading 60 percent of strikes thrown at him, dos Santos' striking defense is tighter than all Velasquez's past opponents except Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Jake O'Brien. However, Velasquez stopped both of those men and landed 111 times in his second bout with dos Santos.
With more effective kicking and the left hook to lean on, Velasquez is capable of winning a striking match with dos Santos. He'll just have to be sure to avoid going to the left hook too frequently, as will be touched on shortly.
As much as having his jab countered by left hooks hurts him, Junior dos Santos can use that hole in his striking defense as bait to set up one of his most devastating strikes.
Cain Velasquez kept going to the left hook counter in his first fight with dos Santos. It was working well until the Brazilian answered by following his jab with an overhand right.
The dipping motion of the overhand right caused Velasquez's left hook to fly over top of dos Santos' head. Meanwhile, dos Santos' right hand hit Velasquez from a blind angle, resulting in a knockdown and the Brazilian claiming the heavyweight championship.
Even against a more experienced striker in Mark Hunt, dos Santos was able to score a knockdown by throwing a jab-overhand right combination as a response to the left hook counter.
Obviously, Velasquez should take advantage of any openings dos Santos gives him. However, going to the left hook counter too frequently could put the champion in danger of eating another knockout blow from dos Santos.
Landing less than 50 percent of his strikes thrown, dos Santos is surprisingly less accurate than many of Velasquez's past opponents. What makes the Brazilian scary is his ability to end this fight with the one strike that does land.
Dos Santos knocked Velasquez and Hunt down when moving forward, though. If Velasquez keeps dos Santos on his heels, as he did in their second meeting, the challenger will have much more difficulty generating power.
Cain Velasquez took Junior dos Santos down 11 times in their second meeting. He also came up short on 22 takedown attempts in that outing.
When fresh, dos Santos is capable of stuffing Velasquez's takedowns. He denied six in the opening round of his second bout with the champion. However, staying fresh against Velasquez is nearly impossible in a five-round contest.
Dos Santos can improve his ability to defend Velasquez's takedowns with technique also, though. The Brazilian almost exclusively leads combinations with his left hand, which is normal for an orthodox fighter, but he might try leading with his power hand to answer Velasquez's single-leg takedown attempts.
When dos Santos threw his left hand at Velasquez, more specifically anything other than a left jab, the American was able to duck it (top left) and attack the Brazilian's unprotected left leg (top right). From there, Velasquez pushes the inside of dos Santos' leg with his head (bottom left) and circles clockwise to knock his opponent off balance (bottom right).
By mixing things up and leading with his right hand on occasion, dos Santos can keep his left hand in position to defend against single-leg takedown attempts on his lead leg.
Having defended 74 percent of the takedown attempts he's seen inside the Octagon, dos Santos is tougher to take down than everyone Velasquez has faced in the UFC except Denis Stojic, who has only two fights making up his UFC career statistics.
Clearly, Velasquez can take dos Santos down. However, dos Santos can keep this fight standing early and will only need to stay upright long enough to land one big punch.
Junior dos Santos isn't going to come into any fight planning on scoring takedowns.
However, having taken down Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson, he's perfectly capable of dragging most UFC heavyweights to the canvas. Dos Santos scored his fourth UFC takedown against Mark Hunt and has only had two takedown attempts denied.
Because he has such an excellent jab, dos Santos forced Hunt to respect his feints (top left) at UFC 160. With Hunt's hands raised, dos Santos was able to drop down on a single-leg takedown (top right). While his form wasn't great, being bent over at a 90-degree angle (bottom left), dos Santos was still able to drive through and ground Hunt (bottom right).
While his wrestling might be underrated, Dos Santos is going to have a tough time taking Velasquez down.
In his six rounds with Velasquez, dos Santos has only attempted one takedown, and it failed. Furthermore, Velasquez has only been taken down twice over 11 UFC fights, and he's never given up more takedowns than he's scored.
While being taken down 11 times in his second meeting with Cain Velasquez wasn't a desirable statistic, it does say something about Junior dos Santos' ability to escape from bottom.
Repeatedly, dos Santos worked his way back to a standing position despite being underneath one of the best wrestlers in the heavyweight division.
Dos Santos had the most success with escapes when reacting immediately after being taken to the ground.
In the first round, Velasquez used body lock (top left) to take Dos Santos down (top right). Since he was driving forward to complete the takedown, Velasquez needed to sink his hip to the canvas in order to prevent having his momentum used against him. Dos Santos recognized that and quickly rolled to his right hip (bottom left), which shifted Velasquez's weight toward his upper body. Dos Santos continued rolling in the same direction with a left underhook to send Velasquez tumbling over him (bottom right).
This allowed dos Santos to stand and avoid giving Velasquez the opportunity to set up his base and go to work from the top. When Velasquez settled in on top, dos Santos had much more difficulty escaping.
Clearly influenced by Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, dos Santos went to the half-guard sweep when stuck on bottom (top left). However, dos Santos failed to trap Velasquez's right arm when he did, allowing the now-champion to post and avoid being rolled over (top right). Instead, once his left leg passed dos Santos' head (bottom left), Velasquez turned back into the Brazilian and landed in an advantageous position (bottom right).
Unlike with many of his past opponents, Velasquez had trouble keeping dos Santos down. Part of the reason, though, was his decision to land punches after taking dos Santos' back rather than looking to grapple and hunt for submissions. While that allowed dos Santos to stand, it also gave Velasquez the chance to cause more damage with his fists.
Velasquez may not stop dos Santos with ground-and-pound, but he can score plenty on the canvas, especially when his opponent tires as the fight moves along.
Junior dos Santos has not spent a lot of time on top in his UFC career, nor has Cain Velasquez found himself on the bottom frequently.
Unless dos Santos improves his half-guard sweep, it's unlikely this situation would come into play on Saturday, as Velasquez isn't going to be surrendering many takedowns.
Even if Dos Santos does end up on top after a sweep, it's more likely he'd back away and allow Velasquez to stand rather than try to work from the top.
Cain Velasquez's conditioning is a huge factor in the matchup, as it is in all his matchups.
In his second bout with Junior dos Santos, Velasquez sucked the wind out of his opponent in less than a round. Dos Santos pointed to over training as a reason for his lack of energy at UFC 155.
Even in the event dos Santos comes into UFC 166 with his best conditioning, it's hard to imagine him being able to sustain the same pace Velasquez will be looking to set early again.
Now that he has seen Cain Velasquez's unparalleled conditioning over five rounds, Junior dos Santos likely realizes his best shot at regaining the heavyweight championship is with an early finish.
Expect that show in a wild opening round featuring a more aggressive Dos Santos than appeared in his second meeting with Velasquez. If Velasquez survives dos Santos' early onslaught, though, momentum will shift his way noticeably as early as the beginning of the second round.
Again, Velasquez's gas tank and wrestling will prove to be the deciding factors.
Dos Santos can take Velasquez's best punches. He's shown that much. However, a bout that lasts longer than 10 minutes favors Velasquez significantly.
Velasquez defeats Dos Santos by decision.