(Note: I am by no means a world class expert, just a few things I noticed from the main event)
Fresh off of his UFC 155 shellacking at the hands of Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos has a lot of time to reflect (and recover) from the devastating loss of his UFC heavyweight title. From the opening minutes of the contest, Velasquez brought the fight right into Junior's face, never letting him get comfortable or even set to throw his heavy hands. Every aspect of the fight was controlled by the former champion, who used his relentless wrestling attack to neutralize Dos Santos' dangerous boxing arsenal. It was a pace that Cigano had never before encountered, and it showed as he was picked up and dropped to the canvas time and again. Often, when a fighter faces serious adversity for the first time, he is unable to bring his game back to where it was previously. Just look at what has happened to George Sotiropoulos! However, I firmly believe Junior is going to go back to the drawing board and make the necessary adjustments to his game to regain his crown. Here is how:
Tighten up striking holes:
Jack Slack made a very interesting point about JDS in his "Killing the King" piece when he talked about Junior's in- and-out boxing attack, similar to a fencer. In the first round of this fight, Junior moved straight back into the cage more than a few times when pressured by Velasquez, while simultaneously dropping his hands to his waist. Although he sought to avoid the takedown at all costs, it was evident that JDS didn't have respect for Velasquez' punching skill. He paid for this dearly when he was rocked by a stiff right that dropped him for the first time in his UFC campaign. This took the fire out of Dos Santos, who spent the rest of the fight getting tagged repeatedly on the feet without much resistance. Junior can learn from this by keeping his hands up and utilizing more head movement. Even before he got rocked, JDS found himself on the wrong end of striking exchanges by depending on his iron chin. In his previous fights, Dos Santos relied on beating his opponents to the punch, and showing his shots were better than theirs. This was an unreliable strategy against Cain in their second fight, who proved he can stick Junior when his defenses are down. After the first round, Junior's heralded boxing coach implored his fighter to keep his hands up at all costs, but to no avail. For the remainder of the fight, Junior seemed to eat Cain's strikes ad nauseum. The next time out, Cigano will be more wary of his opponent's striking ability, and will seek to avoid heavy shots that can take him out of his element.
Counter wrestle: Through the first few minutes of the fight, every takedown attempted by Velasquez was stuffed by Dos Santos. This is a testament to Junior's outstanding takedown defense, but there were times when Cain would lunge at Junior's feet for single legs and the champion would simply pull his leg out and walk away. While Dos Santos takedown defense is very good, his counter wrestling leaves more to be desired. Velasquez looked downright desperate at times to get the fight to the ground, and left openings to get pounded. Instead of allowing Cain to fall on his face and get back to his feet, Junior can seek to grab front headlocks, sprawl hard, and make Cain pay for his lunging attempts with top side ground and pound. The more comfortable Junior becomes with his defensive wrestling, the better chance he will have to capitalize on the sometimes telegraphed shots of Velasquez. Immediately grabbing underhooks in the clinch can help to stifle the body lock throws and takedowns utilized over and over by the former ASU All-American. I know that this isn't Junior's game, we all know he believes very much in his boxing. But simply hoping to catch Cain on the feet again will probably not bode well for Junior in the potential rematch. It is imperative that the former champ look to make Velasquez think twice about trying to take him down.
Cardio, Cardio, and MORE CARDIO!: It has been established that no heavyweight can even remotely match the unrelenting forward pace of Cain Velasquez. Years of dedication and amateur wrestling have turned Cain into a machine with seemingly no end to his gas tank. I do believe that having felt this buzzsaw attack firsthand will make Dos Santos take the necessary steps to keep up the pace. He has all the tools as an athlete to bring his endurance to a level that can compete with a grinding wrestler like Velasquez. Maybe not match him, as no one really can outlast Cain, but at least to keep the fight at a comfortable pace to utilize his own deadly boxing. By working deftly to compete with 5 rounds of grueling wrestling and top control, Junior can keep his knockout power in his back pocket for the right time and the right opening to get his belt back.
Top Game: Who really knows how well Cain defends off of his back for extended periods of time? At one point in the fight, Junior had Cain on his back, but did not implement much offense. If Junior really pushes to improve his top control, he may potentially be able to use his own devastating ground and pound to his advantage. It has been seen many times that Junior can really put a hurting on people on the ground, as evidenced by his finish of Gabriel Gonzaga and first-round dismantling of Shane Carwin. The man has knockout power that doesn't stop on the feet, and a few good shots may be able to slow the pace of Cain just enough to bring the fight into Dos Santos' realm. Working heavily on his own top game could pay dividends when these two meet again, and would only make Junior that more dangerous as a mixed martial artist.
It is obvious that JDS needs to find answers to the various problems presented by Velasquez, but I firmly believe that he will seek to improve his overall game and utilize more techniques that will help to stifle Cain's offensive arsenal. Junior got back to his feet time and time again, so it isn't like he was stuck under Velasquez the entire fight. Seeking out potential holes and diversifying his attack can make Junior Dos Santos the champion once again.
Please read and comment! I would love to hear feedback and opinions! Thanks!