Junior Dos Santos to Nova Uniao: How the Move Could Help His Game

Nathan McCarterFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2014

Former UFC heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos, answers questions during a media availability Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, in Houston. Santos will face UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez in a rematch in Houston Saturday. Velasquez beat Santos in a five-round decision in December to regain the title after Santos won in a knockout in the first meeting in 2011. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

Junior dos Santos made a high-profile switch last week, and the move could help pay dividends for the decorated UFC heavyweight.

Reported by Brazilian media group Globo (h/t Nate Wilcox of Bloody Elbow), the former UFC heavyweight champion decided to join Nova Uniao.

The Brazilian camp is currently home to two of the sport's top five pound-for-pound fighters: UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo and UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao. Head coach Andre Pederneiras has built an elite camp that has produced numerous top athletes, so Dos Santos' move makes a lot of sense.

The former champion was noted for his Brazilian jiu-jitsu upon entering the UFC, but he has never showcased it, as he prefers to handle his business on the feet. Afer all, his exceptional boxing skills are what helped him win the UFC Heavyweight title at UFC on Fox 1. He has fast hands, good technique and fight ending power.

Dos Santos has even proven that he has some defensive wrestling skills, with his takedown defense currently standing at 76 percent. However, in two fights against Cain Velasquez, he was brutalized and exposed. What he was doing is not going to lead him back to the top of the sport as long as Velasquez holds the title.

The move to Nova Uniao is smart.

The fights against Velasquez exposed Dos Santos' weakness to the current champion's ability to mix it up. It also revealed Velazquez's ability to seemingly take Dos Santos down at will. That will most certainly be a focus for Dos Santos with his new camp.

Nova Uniao is stellar at takedown defense. Aldo has avoided 92 percent of total takedowns, and Barao has a 96 percent success rate with his takedown defense. Also, Nova Uniao helped produce BJ Penn, who was known for his takedown defense. If the the Brazilian-based fight academy can impact Cigano's game the same way, then maybe a potential third fight will play out differently.

The camp also excels in leg kicks.

The former champion understands that he needs to improve. He gave an interview to Combate, translated by Fernando Arbex of Bloody Elbow, where he discussed the move:

Things were too slow, I wasn't feeling good in my way of evolving as a professional. Then I decided moving to Rio. Observing the world of MMA, it's clear to all that professor Dede Pederneiras is one of the best coaches, there is no question of why he every year competes for the prize of the best in the world. He is a guy who I think can aggregate a lot to my game, not just with gameplan, but also for being a intelligent guy. I see the instructions that he pass to Aldo, Barao and his others fighters and I like very much. I spoke with my professor Luiz Dorea and said that was the time to test me in Rio. I came, spoke with Dede and he treated me very well, as all of the team. Today I can train and evolve beside them.

Cigano showcased some of his diversity against Mark Hunt at UFC 160 when he finished him with a spinning hook kick, but he routinely focuses solely on his boxing. That will not get the job done against Velasquez. He needs to make the champion think at every level.

Dos Santos realizes that his old ways will not result in wearing gold. Although he has continued to win fights and become known as the second-best heavyweight in the world, that is not what he wants. He wants to be known as the best. Cigano wants to stand along atop the division once more, and the move to Nova Uniao could help get him there.

He is not set in his ways, and that is a lesson that many fighters need to learn. Only time will tell how a Nova Uniao-Junior dos Santos collaboration will pay off, but everyone should be excited to see the results the next time he steps inside the Octagon.

All stats courtesy of UFC.com unless otherwise noted.