Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos will go down in UFC history as the great heavyweight trilogy that wasn't. Dos Santos took the first fight in just over a minute when Cain was seriously injured. In the 10 rounds that followed, he never again came close.
Velasquez delivered an extended beatdown rivaling anything we've ever seen in the Octagon, not once, but twice. At UFC 166 the beating was so one-sided and ugly that everyone but the medical professionals on hand wanted to see the fight stopped. Velasquez landed power shots over and over again until, inevitably, dos Santos couldn't even stand.
This wasn't a rivalry. It was a rout.
Now that dos Santos is in his rear-view mirror, the inevitable question becomes who's next for the champion? If dos Santos, who has likewise run through the heavyweight division, isn't a match for Velasquez, is anybody?
|Antonio Nogueira||UFC 110||KO (Round 1)||2/21/10|
|Brock Lesnar||UFC 121||TKO (Round 1)||10/23/10|
|Junior dos Santos||UFC 155||Decision||12/29/12|
|Junior dos Santos||UFC 166||TKO (Round 5)||10/19/13|
He's beaten the best wrestler in the division, former NCAA champion Brock Lesnar. Legendary submission artist Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira met his match as well. Dos Santos was arguably the hardest puncher in heavyweight history. We saw how he measured up.
That's every archetype there is in MMA. There is no style of fighter Velasquez hasn't met—and bested. His striking is good enough to beat a wrestler. His wrestling is too good to allow a jiu-jitsu man to take him to the mat and control him. And as we saw against dos Santos, he can either ground a striker or push him up against the cage, where his punching power and opportunities are limited.
This combination of talents makes Velasquez the most complete heavyweight in UFC history. Even the great Fedor Emelianenko didn't possess skill on this level and of this variety. But Velasquez isn't perfect. His lack of one-punch stopping power will always allow foes to stay in the fight. He was head and shoulders above dos Santos and couldn't put him away until the final minutes, allowing the challenger several opportunities to steal the fight.
It didn't come back to haunt him at UFC 166. It might, however, one day in the not so distant future. Velasquez can be knocked out. Anybody can. Lacking world-class punching power or a dynamic submission game, Velasquez is destined to be in a ton of grinding fights until his workrate eventually overwhelms his foes.
That's not to say he isn't a great finisher. His record shows otherwise, as 11 of his 13 wins have come before the final bell. But with no surefire way to finish a bout, Velasquez's success is predicated on pace and perfection. And twenty-five minutes is a long time to be perfect.
"I think all the guys are tough," Velasquez said at the post-fight press conference. "On fight night we have to show up. We have to show up and perform. And that's it. On any given day you could lose. You have to go out there, try your best and perform. That's what it comes down to."
In a way, Velsquez's all too human flaw is actually a good thing, at least for MMA fans looking for competitive and exciting fights. It means his opponent will always be in the fight until they are too worn down to fight anymore. That this occurs, and often, in the first couple of rounds, is a testament to just how different Velasquez's approach is to any other heavyweight in we've ever seen in the Octagon.
Cain Velasquez is the best heavyweight in MMA history. But he's not invincible. That should give opponents, and fans, a lot to look forward to as we watch him continue his Hall of Fame career.