Saturday night’s heavyweight title bout proposed an ending to the trilogy of Velasquez vs. Dos Santos. After getting knocked out in the first fight, Velasquez has bounced back to dominate Dos Santos in the last two rematches.
But is this rivalry truly over?
In MMA, there is a hidden notion that fighters should no longer compete against each another once someone wins two fights in a championship rivalry. A contender will typically either change weight classes or play the role of gatekeeper if he already has two losses to the champ.
Chael Sonnen moved to light heavyweight after losing two fights to Anderson Silva. Frankie Edgar dropped down to featherweight after being defeated in back-to-back bouts with Benson Henderson. Both Sonnen and Edgar are talented fighters worthy of competing in UFC title bouts, but after two losses each against champions, they both stared into a long, dark tunnel of endless non-title fights.
What happens when a fighter is clearly the second best in the weight class, and there isn’t any option to go up or down?
This is the situation for Dos Santos. He is a cut above all the rest at heavyweight, but he can’t get past Velasquez. The heavyweight division is the heaviest weight class in the UFC, so he can't move up. Meanwhile, he'd have to cut off a limb to drop down to light heavyweight.
In other sports, the best teams often play one another multiple times for a championship. Let’s say Dos Santos comes back and knocks off three or four top heavyweight contenders.
Should he still be denied a title shot if Velasquez is champion?
The hypotheticals become even more interesting if Velasquez were to lose the title and Dos Santos were to defeat the newly crowned champ to win back the belt. Would the UFC hesitate to have him defend the title in a fourth fight against Velasquez?
At the end of the day, winning is the only thing that matters in fighting. If Dos Santos puts together a nice streak, it will be hard for the UFC to turn a blind eye and write him off as irrelevant in the heavyweight title picture.
Velasquez vs. Dos Santos could soon be considered the Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings rivalry in the UFC.
The premeditated trilogy might become a hexalogy.