Three. That's the number every UFC Heavyweight champion is trying to reach. Three consecutive defenses of the belt. So far, no one has been able to get there, with only three men (Brock Lesnar, Randy Couture and Tim Sylvia) ever defending the belt more than once. After UFC 121, the question was asked of Cain Velasquez - could he break the record? At the UFC on Fox show, Junior dos Santos proved that he couldn't - not yet at least.
So now, it's dos Santos in the hot seat, and the question has to be asked again. Can Junior dos Santos break the record? Can he finally bring stability to the UFC Heavyweight division?
History is not on his side. The Heavyweight title is the oldest belt in UFC history, dating back to the days of men like Dan Severn and Maurice Smith. It's jumped around numerous times, sometimes due to unsuccessful title defenses, sometimes because out of the cage activities have left it vacant. Yet through all these years, no man has made a real claim as the definitive UFC Heavyweight champion the way men like Tito Ortiz, Matt Hughes, and Anderson Silva have done in other divisions.
Perhaps that is simply the nature of the Heavyweight division. With their large frames and heavy hands, Heavyweight fighters add a greater air of unpredictability to their fights, and run the risk of burning out from injury faster. Cain Velasquez is a perfect example. Touted as a possible dynasty building champion, he went down to injury shortly after winning the belt, and in his first defense suffered a 64 second KO loss.
Which brings us back to the new UFC Heavyweight champion, Junior dos Santos. So, can he do it?
My honest opinion? No, he can't. As Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg like to point out, dos Santos is a specialist. He uses those heavy hands to knock out his opponents, and he's had great success with that so far. He's fought wrestlers like Shane Carwin and jiu jitsu experts like Fabricio Werdum, and he's forced them all to fight his fight - to stand up and trade, and eventually, to fall.
But when I look at the UFC Heavyweight division, I see too many fighters that pose real question marks for dos Santos. Brock Lesnar - can Cigano regain his feet if the massive Lesnar does manage to take the fight to the ground? Alistair Overeem - can dos Santos outstrike a K-1 champion? And what about Strikeforce Heavyweight Josh Barnett - can the champ avoid Barnett's catch wrestling takedowns and ground control? To bring that stability to the division, dos Santos will have to answer each of these questions with a definitive yes, all while staying healthy. It's a tall order, one that has taken down some of the sport's best Heavyweights, and given dos Santos's extreme reliance on those big punches over all else, I'm not sure he can get there.
Of course, if dos Santos can pull it off he can be the man to finally, after over 15 years, stake his claim as the UFC's definitive Heavyweight champion. History may not be on his side, but the power in his right hand definitely is. We'll see which one wins.
SBN coverage of UFC on Fox 1: Velasquez vs. Dos Santos