Cain Velasquez is the most dominant heavyweight on the planet.
Lofty though that distinction may be, it fails to capture just how good the UFC heavyweight champion is.
Given his relatively small size for a heavyweight, one could argue that Velasquez should be breathing the same air as Jon Jones and Georges St-Pierre in the pound-for-pound rankings.
Yet still questions remain for Velasquez, particularly when placed within the context of a rubber match with Junior dos Santos, the only man to best him.
Read on for three important questions we have about the heavyweight champion ahead of UFC 166.
Much has been made of dos Santos’ recent comments disparaging Velasquez’s finishing power.
The Brazilian suggested that the former Arizona State Sun Devil “hits like a girl” during a recent episode of UFC Primetime.
Given the recent strides made by women’s MMA, it might be worth reassessing how pejorative that statement actually is. But I digress.
Does he have a point? The Brazilian was beaten like the reddest of red-headed stepchildren for 25 minutes the last time the pair met, yet he somehow managed to make it to the final bell.
Then again, we all remember the post-fight picture of dos Santos grinning next to Tim Boetsch (above), looking like a fan who had won a charity competition to attend a UFC event.
Yet, despite being left with the kind of mug that would have given The Elephant Man nightmares, one could argue that “Cigano” made a bigger statement with a single punch than Velasquez did with a sustained five-round beating.
Another possibility to consider is that dos Santos isn’t giving himself enough credit for being able to endure such a mauling—particularly when 10 of Velasquez’s 12 wins have come via KO/TKO.
The champion may have dos Santos’ less-than-flattering remarks in mind when he steps inside the cage at UFC 166.
The sturdiness of Cain Velasquez’s chin has been a contentious subject amongst fans ever since Cheick Kongo had him walking on stilts with a couple of well-placed right hands in 2009.
In fairness, though, we’re talking about heavyweights here. Punch resistance is a relative concept when the sport’s big men face off.
Still, the view that Velasquez can’t take a decent shot persists.
This perception seems to stem from a collective sampling bias. Many MMA fans remember the few times Velasquez has been visibly shaken by a punch, yet ignore the occasions when he has absorbed the kind of shots that would have vaporized an ordinary man’s jaw.
It strikes me as a little uncharitable to turn Velasquez’s chin into a punchline on the basis of three or four received right hands over the course of an entire career.
Even if I’m right about Cain’s chin, the real question is whether it can handle the kind of power imparted by dos Santos’ strikes.
Based on the pair’s first fight, the answer would appear to be a resounding “no.” After all, a single “Cigano” right hand to the temple was sufficient to put Velasquez in la la land.
What of the second fight, though? Understandably, fans and media focused on the challenger’s dominance—so much so that we overlooked how well his chin stood up to the Brazilian’s shots.
“Cigano” landed a number of right hands and reverse elbows that would have felled a lesser fighter.
However, no matter how many punches and elbows Velasquez absorbs, we’ll always have it in the back of our minds that dos Santos has proved he can end the fight with a single swing of his right arm.
Saturday night’s main event should give Cain’s chin the opportunity to answer some lingering questions, one way or the other.
I think we’re all agreed that Cain Velasquez’s performance in his second fight against Junior dos Santos was an astonishing display. It was MMA at its finest.
I daresay no one expected that level of dominance from either fighter. Whether the champion can repeat that extraordinary performance is perhaps the most salient question leading into UFC 166.
All that being said, most of what occurred in the second fight stemmed from the Brazilian’s relatively poor cardio—relative to Cain’s cardio, that is.
In the early stages of their second encounter, most of Velasquez’s shots looked downright desperate. He repeatedly lunged at dos Santos’ legs with sloppy takedown attempts.
However, “Cigano” rapidly wilted under the constant pressure. As a result, he was taken down with relative ease for the rest of the fight.
I can’t be alone in thinking that the rubber match could very well turn into a pick ‘em fight, assuming dos Santos has addressed that one glaring issue. Indeed, the Brazilian may even be favoured due to his proven finishing power against Velasquez.
Of course, addressing that issue is much easier said than done. In fact, it may be an issue that dos Santos is unable to fully address, given his physical makeup. Some athletes will never attain that elite level of cardio, no matter how hard they work for it.
If the Brazilian hasn’t made significant strides in that area, there’s a good chance Saturday night will look like a rerun of UFC 155.