After an excellent night of fights at UFC 166, Cain Velasquez dominated his closest rival, Junior dos Santos, much the same way he did in their last fight.
But this time he finished him.
Yes, many will say dos Santos was finished because of the way his head hit the canvas, but none of that can take away the work Velasquez did up to that point. Much like last time, Velasquez applied a great deal of pressure, crowded dos Santos and scored with numerous punches over all five rounds.
In the end, he was just too much for dos Santos, who looked as if he had made little to no adjustments since their last meeting. Once again, the challenger looked every inch a beaten fighter; his face was a bloody and swollen mess, but worst of all, he looked lost on more than one occasion during the bout.
Now that their trilogy has ended, it’s time to see what is next for Velasquez, who has defended his title two times now.
The top 10 in the heavyweight division is not exactly what you would call “deep,” especially when it is limited to fighters on the UFC roster. Men like Roy Nelson and Mark Hunt must be dismissed for obvious reasons—chief among them they lost their last fights.
Frank Mir is on a three-fight skid himself, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva has already been creamed by Velasquez twice and Alistair Overeem is one toe from being released from the organization after dropping two fights in a row.
Then, you have the perplexing situation of Daniel Cormier, who looked very good in his victory over Roy Nelson, and who is perhaps the only fighter in the division with the grappling needed to give Velasquez problems. Sadly, the teammate vs. teammate problem rears its ugly head and Cormier will not fight his friend in Velasquez and vice versa.
So, who is left?
Although not as dangerous a striker as dos Santos, Josh Barnett is probably the next in line as “the biggest threat” to Velasquez’s title. Of course, he must defeat Travis Browne in order to keep wearing those boots, but it will be hard for Browne to deal with Barnett’s overall game.
He’s easily one of the most well-rounded fighters in the division. He’s incredibly experienced and a proven finisher with the ability to end a fight at any time.
But perhaps one of his greatest strengths is his experience and adaptability. Dos Santos looked lost on many occasions during their rubber match, as if he didn’t expect the pressure-heavy strategy that Velasquez used. Barnett, on the other hand, wouldn’t be lost in such situations; he’s as crafty as they come and he knows how to survive bad situations.
Most people known Barnett as a kind of catch wrestler who has a knack for taking the fight to the floor and landing on top. But he’s much more than that; he’s a technician who knows the importance of movement and angles.
Should Velasquez take him down, Barnett knows how to keep things tight in order to minimize potential damage; this kind of close-quarter grappling from the bottom also allows him to mask his sweep or escape attempts.
Barnett would have his hands full against a high-level wrestler like Velasquez, but he’s not going to wilt under that pressure, and given his knowledge of the game as a whole, he needs just one small opening to turn the tables.
Should Velasquez defeat Barnett, it would be a serious feather in his cap, not to mention a learning experience.
There are not a lot of fighters in the heavyweight division that can exist inside the guard of Fabricio Werdum for an extended period of time; his submission skills are just that good.
His striking has improved greatly over the years, but in the end, it’s his ground game that is his most dangerous advantage. He’s one of the few submission artists at heavyweight who has the kind of overall grappling awareness to be a threat to Velasquez from his back.
Many fighters get chewed up by Velasquez because they are afraid of being taken down. Werdum figures to be one of the rare few so comfortable from their backs that they are able to commit to the striking exchanges without fear of being put on their backs.
He’s also much bigger than Velasquez and knows how to use his body very well in the area where most of this fight would take place: on the ground.
Obviously, Velasquez enjoys a cardio advantage over Werdum, but would that be enough to allow him to use his ground game consistently without being submitted? Or would his inexperience against such high-level submission artists see him rebuffed and forced to fight standing for most of the night?
Should Travis Browne defeat Josh Barnett at UFC 168, setting him up for a title shot seems like a logical choice in a division that is thin on top-10 fighters.
Browne is a very big fighter with KO power to burn and he’s only had one loss on his record; sadly, that loss comes at the hands of a man Velasquez demolished (with ease) on two occasions: Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva.
Still, a fighter is not the sum total of his losses, especially when he only has one “L” on his record. Given his spirited upset victory over Alistair Overeem, a fight between Browne and Velasquez would see him justly rewarded as a fighter who has won six fights in the UFC, five by way of stoppage.
Yet in spite of what Browne brings to the table—heart, power and desire—he looks like he’d be on the wrong side of a bad matchup against the champ. Everything Browne does dos Santos does better, and we’ve seen just how that style of fighting works against Velasquez.
But should he best Barnett, he should get that title shot, no question about it.