Cain Velasquez might’ve pummeled Junior dos Santos in the pair’s last bout, but the fighters’ rubber match in UFC 166 will still require the defending heavyweight champion to follow a very careful blueprint for victory.
Velasquez looked dominant in his five-round victory over dos Santos in UFC 155, but that hardly means the Brazilian will be a pushover this time around.
After all, dos Santos needed just 64 seconds to knock out Velasquez in the duo’s first meeting in 2011.
While most analysts are projecting a victory from Velasquez in this one, he’ll still need to fight exceptionally well to come out with a win.
But if he follows these simple principles, he should be able to keep his coveted championship belt.
Avoiding Dos Santos’ Strikes
If dos Santos is known for anything, it’s his devastating punching power.
The Brazilian tends to fight like a boxer, aiming for the one big punch that can decide a fight. That strategy worked perfectly for dos Santos in his first matchup with Velasquez.
Just watch the huge right he lands to end the fight the last time these two met.
Velasquez certainly has a talent for elusiveness, and he’ll certainly need to avoid dos Santos’ haymakers if he wants to stay upright in this one.
However, he should have an easier time of it this time around thanks to his improved health from the first fight, as Deadspin’s Tim Marchman explains.
Velasquez had torn both a rotator cuff and an ACL, the latter being especially bad for a wrestler since that ligament is what keeps the knee stable when planting and driving, the basic motion inherent in a takedown. Essentially, his knee was going to collapse under the force of his ordinary techniques, and there was nothing he could do about it.
He had no trouble avoiding dos Santos in their last matchup, and he’ll need to repeat that performance in the rubber match.
Countering the Kicks
While dos Santos is primarily a boxer, he’s recently added a new weapon to his arsenal.
He followed up his loss to Velasquez with a big win over Mark Hunt, a fight that gave him confidence and revealed a new side to his game, as the Los Angeles Times’ Lance Pugmire lays out.
Dos Santos called the second fight “a great experience” in regard to the lessons he learned. He responded to beat Mark Hunt in May, unleashing a new potential weapon with kicks.
Velasquez will need to be conscious about this new element to dos Santos’ game and be ready to counter appropriately.
Dos Santos tried a kick against Velasquez in their first fight, but the American couldn’t take advantage, as this clip demonstrates.
Velasquez anticipates the kick well, but his injuries prevent him from taking dos Santos down. If he can improve on this element of the game, he’ll easily neutralize dos Santos’ new weapon.
While avoiding and countering dos Santos will be key, Velasquez can most easily win this fight by putting the Brazilian on the ground early and often.
In the second fight, Velasquez landed this devastating right fist to bring dos Santos down, as this clip demonstrates.
From there, Velasquez could pummel him on the ground and use his wrestling background to his advantage.
Although dos Santos hung in for the rest of the bout, that sequence could’ve easily ended the fight. Accordingly, if Velasquez can repeat that type of performance in UFC 166, he’ll have dos Santos on the ropes once more.
Essentially, Velasquez just needs to continue to play to his strengths to win this one. He’s at his best when he can prolong a fight with his elusiveness and wear opponents down with his ground game. That’s exactly what he should be able to do here.
Velasquez will have to avoid dos Santos’ big punches and kicks to stay upright. If he can do that, he’ll have no trouble retaining the heavyweight crown.