UFC 166 is set to shatter expectations and become the fight of the year, as reigning heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez looks to defend his belt against Junior dos Santos—the only fighter who has ever beaten him in the Octagon.
Velasquez and dos Santos have combined for two of the most memorable fights in recent UFC memory, which have only set the stage for an epic third bout. The two fighters split the first two meetings, each of which had championship implications.
Dos Santos, the heavy-hander, ended Velasquez's championship reign just as it began back in late 2011—with a daunting right hand that the Mexican-American couldn't recover from in the first round. The Brazilian's time at the top didn't last long—after dos Santos defended against Frank Mir, Velasquez took his belt back in a full five-round brawl in UFC 155 and won in a unanimous decision.
The brutally beaten, distorted face of dos Santos—slurred speech and all—proclaiming that he will be coming back to take his belt was the lasting memory from the night and everything since then has just seemed like a precursor to Saturday.
Both of these fighters match up nearly identically, with only a few key dissimilarities that will only intrigue the viewer more come Saturday night at the Toyota Center in Houston. In the tale of the tape below, you can see just how even Velasquez and Dos Santos appear to be on paper.
|Tale of the Tape: Dos Santos-Velasquez III|
|Cain Velasquez||Junior dos Santos|
But there's no doubt that the UFC has put on plenty of top-notch bouts this year. So in order to fully proclaim dos Santos-Velasquez III as the fight of the year, let's take a look at its competition leading up to now.
Early on in 2013, Georges St-Pierre fought to defend his welterweight title against Nick Diaz in what was pegged to be a doozy. Then, GSP dominated as he usually does and made it no contest.
Heading in, it looked like Anderson Silva's middleweight title defense against Chris Weidman in UFC 162 could potentially be a candidate. Weidman has a never-give-up attitude, and Silva had defended his title 10 times.
Then, Silva lollygagged around the Octagon and made the highly-anticipated bout hard to watch before Weidman took advantage of his lack of defense, punishing him with a second-round KO to shock the world of fighting.
Undoubtedly, the biggest competition with dos Santos-Velasquez III would be Jon Jones' title defense against Alexander Gustafsson in UFC 165. Jones has quickly become a candidate for greatest UFC fighter of all time with a 20-1 record, but was pushed to the brink by Gustafsson. The two fighters punished each other throughout all five rounds, taking no mercy.
After Jones' unanimous decision victory, both guys went to the hospital. Then, they took a Facebook picture together there. You can't make this stuff up.
Sure, UFC 166 will have to bring a lot of fire and excitement to the table to live up to Jones-Gustafsson. But after all, it's heavyweight, which always packs a lot of punch and very little dancing around.
And with both fighters having lost their belt to the other at one point recently, you can bet that neither will need any added motivation heading into Saturday. They know exactly what is on the line, and have felt just how terrible losing it feels.
Both dos Santos and Velasquez have entire careers to prove and legacies to defend on Saturday night. This is a fight that could very well define the career of whoever loses it.
With so much history and so much on the line for each fighter, along with the glaring lack of other candidates (save for Jones-Gustafsson), dos Santos vs. Velasquez III is the odds-on favorite to be fight of the year.
Steven Cook covers breaking news for Bleacher Report