It seems amazing how written off former UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez is in his rematch with current champion Junior dos Santos. It is very understandable that the image of dos Santos knocking out Velasquez out is hard to get of one's head when breaking down this fight, but it seems next to no-one is predicting things to go any differently.
This is a bit shocking as a look at the history of the sport pretty clearly demonstrates that second meetings between fighters rarely, if ever, proceed along in the same path as the first. Chuck Liddell was knocked out by Randy Couture in their first match and then Liddell proceeded to win their next two meetings, Tim Sylvia was submitted in under a minute by Andrei Arlovski and then went on to beat him twice. Even when the result doesn't change the fights vary, Chael Sonnen dominated 4 rounds and 4 minutes against Anderson Silva before getting triangle choked the first time around, but in their second fight Sonnen didn't make it out of the second round.
There are just too many variables in an MMA fight that change from match to match and moment to moment for things to play out in the same fashion. And within these variables there is a perfectly plausible path to victory for Velasquez in this rematch that is largely being ignored.
While we did learn about how Velasquez and dos Santos match up in their first fight there is still much more of that story to be told. One big question that has yet to be answered is dos Santos able to stop Velasquez from taking him down once the distance is closed? Nobody knows the answer to that question because we have yet to see those two fighters engage in the clinch.
It is very difficult to tie dos Santos up as he normally engages from a long distance, lunges in for strikes, and then breaks distance again before he can be engaged in the clinch. The answer for Cain is put dos Santos' back to the cage and take away the knock out power by staying clinched with dos Santos.
From there dos Santos would be faced with the best wrestler he has faced in his career, both in terms of credentials and ability in an MMA context. Velasquez is an excellent clinch grappler and, as pointed by BE readers langoustine and jhf884, Velasquez has preferred takedowns from the clinch both in his college and MMA career. Cain was an All-American wrestler at powerhouse school Arizona State and has shown excellent wrestling skills in MMA. So it isn't unreasonable to think that Velasquez is capable of dragging dos Santos to the mat.
Once on the mat Velasquez is a fierce top position grappler, having won nearly every fight in his career by (T)KO froms strikes on the ground. Some will point to the fact that dos Santos is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu while Velasquez is just a brown belt, but often comparing belt colors means very little in modern MMA. Velasquez's years of wrestling has giving him fantastic balance and pressure form top, often refereed to as "base", and as a result Velasquez is excellent at staying on top of his opponent. In his most recent fight Velasquez brutalized Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt Antonio Silva on the ground, and there is no reference to suggest how dos Santos would fair off his back against such an accomplished grappler as Velasquez.
One of the other big questions is how does Velasquez close that distance safely. Last time Velasquez seemed to content to settle in on the feet and try to counter dos Santo's wide punches but, as Jack Slack clearly pointed out, Velasquez isn't a defensive wizard when it comes to striking.
This represents the biggest advantage for dos Santos as nobody has figured out how to effectively close distance against him, but it is also worth noting that the only time dos Santos has ever rematched against a fighter he suffered his first loss. Now clearly dos Santos is a very different fighter than when he lost to Joaquim Ferreira, but there is something to be said about having a better feel for an opponent's distance and timing in a rematch, it could be just the edge Velasquez needs to safely clinch.
I am not trying to say Velasquez is a lock to win, I am however saying that he should not so easily be written off. He is a very talented heavyweight, with only one career loss, in the midst of his fighting prime, and is clearly one of the best heavyweights of this current era. While he clearly could be dropped by another big Junior dos Santos punch, stop expecting him to go quietly because you may be in for a nasty surprise.