Cain Velasquez, The Once and Future King

30 Dec

      There are beat downs and there are beat downs. And Cain Velasquez put a beat down with a capital “B” on Junior Dos Santos last night to reclaim the UFC heavyweight championship he lost to Dos Santos a year ago. Known for his impressive fitness level, Velasquez came out like a mad dog from the opening bell setting a torrid pace that saw Dos Santos wilting by the end of the first round when Velasquez dropped him with a brutal right hand and then grounded and pounded him till the bell. Amazingly for a 240 pound heavyweight, Velasquez kept up the unrelenting pressure for the rest of the five round fight never giving Dos Santos a chance to recover or regain the momentum. By the end of the match, Dos Santos’s face looked like a jack-o-lantern that someone had carved with a hatchet and a baseball bat leaving Velasquez with a lopsided decision victory.
      Though I had picked Dos Santos to win, I’d always thought Velasquez had a decent chance to take back the title. While most of the MMA polls had dropped his name from the ranks of the pound-for-pound ten best fighters in the sport, I never had him rated lower than the top six or seven spots on that list despite his first round knockout loss to Dos Santos last year. Anyone who had seen him throughout his career and understood what they were watching should have realized just how good Velasquez was and not held a single loss against him. But for those who didn’t know, his manhandling of Dos Santos should serve as a good reminder.
      But what I found surprising about Velasquez’s victory was the way he accomplished it. He simply overwhelmed Dos Santos with pressure, something no other fighter has been able to do. He forced his way in close, trapping the usually elusive Dos Santos against the cage, and scoring a number of takedowns. Moreover, he was able to hold Dos Santos down on several occasions and work some effective ground and pound, which no one has previously come close to doing against Junior. After his loss in their last fight, the first of his career, it seems clear Velasquez was simply a man on a mission and had a determination to regain his title that would not be denied.
      As for Dos Santos, watch as all the “experts,” who had rated him among the top five pound for pound fighters in the sport coming into this fight, suddenly drop his name all the way out of the top 10. But one shouldn’t sleep on Dos Santos any more than they did on Velasquez after his loss. He is still a phenomenally talented fighter and quite capable of coming back from this defeat. While Velasquez may never be able to show the same level of determination and aggression he did in this bout, Dos Santos will still need to improve some facets of his game adding tools he’s never needed up until now if he wants to regain the title.
      A good place to start would be with his clinch game. Velasquez continually roughed him up on the inside and Dos Santos never seemed to have an answer for it allowing himself to be trapped with his back against the cage and offering little in the way of retaliation. Though, on a couple of occasions, he managed to secure a “plum” tie-up, clinching Velasquez behind the head with both hands, he never showed any inclination to capitalize on the position. Clearly, a bit of work on his dirty boxing or his muay Thai knees from the plum position would seem in order. Also, though he’s known as an experienced Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner, his entire ground game seemed to consist of looking to stand up every time Velasquez took him down. Though laying on his back in the guard position with a ground and pound monster like Velasquez on top of him may not have been an effective strategy, at least the occasional threat of a submission hold might have slowed Velasquez’s attack on the mat a bit.
      But Dos Santos did display terrific heart in hanging in there and not being stopped despite seeming battered and exhausted by the end of the first round. Now it’s his turn to show the kind of determination Velasquez did in coming back from his first loss. Though there are some other good heavyweights in the mix – notably former Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem – it seems likely these two are destined to meet yet again, perhaps more than once.
      In boxing, top fighters will sometimes meet each other three, four or even more times than that in an ongoing series of battles as long as fans will pay to see it. Legendary middleweights Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake Lamotta fought five memorable bouts against each other during their careers. It’s possible, before all is said and done, you might see Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos meet four or five times before they’re done. They are the two best heavyweights of their era and, quite possibly, the two best heavyweights of any era. The third chapter of what may turn out to be the greatest rivalry in the history of MMA is now waiting to be written.

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