OAKLAND CA - AUGUST 07: Junior dos Santos punches Roy Nelson during the UFC Heavyweight bout at Oracle Arena on August 7 2010 in Oakland California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
UFC Heavyweight Champion Junior dos Santos is preparing for his first title defense this weekend against former Champion Frank Mir. The May 28th card features an all Heavyweight main card that includes several of the best fighters in MMA.
While the scandal with Alistair Overeem's elevated testosterone levels has reduced this card to some degree, it is still packed full of action. In Junior dos Santos' eight fight career in the UFC he has brutalized opponents on the feet with his imposing striking. The challenger Frank Mir has a history of not faring well against hard punchers, and the speed and power with which dos Santos throws punches doesn't bode well for Mir.
While Mir is a healthy underdog and rightly so, there is vulnerability in dos Santos' striking that has been present for his entire career and to this point has gone unexploited.
more after the jump...
When it comes to striking in MMA offense normally progresses more quickly than defense. This is partially because wild, winging styles are often valued by fans and promoters, and because the small gloves mean a single punch can dramatically affect a fight. Defensive short comings are often covered up with offensive output. Junior dos Santos, while a champion, is still developing as a fighter and while his offense is extremely advanced he lacks basic defensive fundamentals.
Here we an example of the duality of dos Santos' striking prowess and flaws. The left hand dos Santos has throw is crisp and powerful, and has solidly connected with Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic.
Defensively however, dos Santos is out of position. His right hand is low and not in a position to catch a counter strike. His head is up right, his chin is not tucked behind his left shoulder and thus is not protected.
In short, dos Santos is wide open for counter blows, but his opponent is too busy getting hit in the face to take advantage of them.
Dos Satnos is plagued by bad defensive habits but to this point nobody has taken advantage of them. Now this is not to say that dos Santos is completely inept when it comes to defense, he will displace his head when he throws punches very well at times, but as fights wear on he falls more and more into bad habits.
Here is a shot of dos Santos' bout with Roy Nelson. The Brazilian is in almost the same position as pictured above. He is throwing his left hand, his right hand is down and his chin is up in the air.
In this case Neslon has managed to avoid the left hand and has come over dos Santos' left shoulder in a picture perfect counter punch.
Photos by Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
Likewise in this shot, dos Santos is throwing a digging left hand shot to the body and Nelson replies with a left hand of his own. Again Nelson's punch finds its mark because dos Santos' head is stationary and his right hand is well out of position.
But in the end, these two strikes meant very little for Nelson as he could not match dos Santos' offensive onslaught.
Despite his defensive deficiencies dos Santos rarely gets hit hard. This is mostly because of his sheer physicality on the feet. He throws just about every punch with a speed and power not seen my many heavyweights. When dos Santos goes on the assault, often fighters are just overwhelmed or when they do hit dos Santos it isn't hard enough to stop him from coming forward.
MMA history is full of strikers like this, whose chief form of defense is an aggressive offense and a stout chin. Names like Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva spring to mind and in their heyday there were fearsome strikers, but eventually their chins failed them. It is no mistake that the most enduring champions in the sport right now, Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre, are two fighters that largely have avoided taking damage in their fights. St. Pierre through good use of his jab and grappling, and Silva by way of his outstanding footwork and head movement.
This is not to say that dos Santos is not a worthy champion or is some how a fraud, but rather that there is room an upset to occur whenever he steps into the cage because of these openings. In the Heavyweight division everyone can punch with force and it will only take one mistake for dos Santos to lose his title, a lesson he taught to Cain Velasquez. And let us not forget what happened the last time Frank Mir faced an aggressive striker who liked to drop his hands.