At this weekend's UFC on Fox 1 show, UFC Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez faces Junior dos Santos. In this series, we look back at the complete career of the champion, and see what we can learn about Saturday's showdown.
So far, part 1 and part 2 have taken us through the first eight fights of Cain Velasquez's career. With a perfect 8-0 record, and a crushing KO of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Cain was ready for the biggest fight of his career - a shot at the UFC Heavyweight title and Brock Lesnar.
Fight #9: Cain Velasquez vs. Brock Lesnar
October 23, 2010, UFC 121
Simply put, this fight was huge. Lesnar was the UFC mega-star, the man who virtually guaranteed 1,000,000 PPV buys every time he stepped foot into the Octagon. Velasquez wasn't there, but the promotional push for him was big, emphasizing the idea that he could become the first ever Mexican Heavyweight champion. The two men headlined an absolutely stacked card, and they delivered on the promise of an epic clash.
Just as he did against Minotauro, Velasquez came out for this fight energized, aggressive, and with even more improvements since his last fight. Here, those improvements come primarily in his defensive wrestling. Lesnar has strong takedowns, and can use his massive frame to keep his opponents on the mat once he gets them down. But Velasquez (no slouch in the wrestling department himself) does a superb job nullifying Lesnar's wrestling through two primary tools.
First, Cain shows good takedown defense. When Brock shoots, Cain gets the underhooks and stuffs the shot, forcing Brock to work hard for the takedown and tire himself out in the process. Second, once Brock does get the takedown, Cain shows a remarkable ability to regain his feet. This is beautifully demonstrated in the 2nd Lesnar takedown - Brock slams Cain to the mat, and Velasquez instantly gets his feet beneath him and pops right back up, almost as if he had been bounced on a spring. And remember, he does this with a nearly 300 pound man on top of him.
Contrast these takedowns from Lesnar with Cain's own offensive wrestling. Once Lesnar is tired from these takedown attempts, Velasquez gets him down with relative ease. He then shows the superb ground control he is known for, trapping Lesnar and wearing him down. It's a sharp contrast to the way Cain avoids damage when Brock is doing the wrestling.
One final aspect of this fight worth noting is a continuation of something we saw in the Nogueira fight - patience. Against Nog, Velsaquez showed this patience at the end of the fight. After landing the fast combo that drops the former Pride champion, Velasquez does not just dive right in to ground and pound - he pushes Nog's legs aside to avoid getting trapped in the guard, comes around to the side, then throws the ground and pound with the same kind of accuracy he would on the feet. We see this patience come up again against Lesnar when Brock is flopping around the cage after being hurt. As Brock tumbles and flails, Cain stays close, but does not engage. He waits until Brock is no longer a wildly spinning top so that he can find the opening. Once Brock stops, Cain immediately resumes the offense. This ability to combine patience and focus with a killer instinct is very tough, but Velasquez uses it to take out two of the division's best.
In the end, Velsaquez has the superior stand-up, the superior defense, the superior wrestling, and the superior cardio. He beats Brock Lesnar down, taking away his Heavyweight crown, and leaving the former champion battered, bloody, beaten.
Fight #10: Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos
November 12, 2011, UFC on Fox 1
And now here we are, one year later, and getting ready for Cain's first defense of that title. And what a defense it is - not just because of his opponent, but also because of its historic significance as the start of the UFC on Fox deal.
So, based on our look at Cain's career, what can we expect this Saturday?
I think Velasquez will have no concerns starting the fight standing. He'll have the speed advantage over dos Santos, and will use movement and combinations to get in and out with strikes. As the fight progresses, look for Cain to start adding in wrestling by taking Cigano to the mat. There, he'll try to control using the back and, if he can, the crucifix, dropping fists on dos Santos the entire time. He'll push this pace as long as he needs to in order to break the challenger down.
Onebig aspect of this fight - this will perhaps answer the one lingering question left over from Cain's clash with Cheick Kongo. After that fight, some questioned Velasquez's power and his ability to be hit. He answered those power questions with his KO of Nogueira, but I don't think he has yet answered the striking defense question. Since Kongo, Velasquez has not fought a technical striker of any kind, and certainly not one with the punching skills of Junior dos Santos. So has Velasquez closed the gap that Kongo found repeatedly two years ago? I suspect he has, but can't say for sure. One thing I can say for sure? Junior dos Santos wants this question answered as well. And come Saturday night, expect him to answer it for us.
Thanks for reading this series. See you all on Saturday.