part 3 here
Velasquez- "I just want to say sorry to all the fans, friends and family. I disappointed you. I'm worth much more than this. I will come back."
Dana White laid into Velasquez, bemoaning the fighter’s loss.
"Listen, I'm no strategist and I'm nobody's coach but I don't understand why they didn't go for the shot early. "
The media in general crashed down the Fox broadcast. It has still not put on a show which has had even half the numbers of that first, disappointing broadcast.
Velasquez, as so often happens when a fighter loses, had been "exposed." A prior decision win over divisional gatekeeper Cheick Kongo was referenced ad nauseam, when Velasquez had been dropped on multiple occasions. When it had come down to it, the Mexican American was a good heavyweight, but perhaps… overhyped. Lacking in defense.
Then the injuries were revealed. Velasquez had been battling a shoulder surgery throughout his camp. Before the fight itself, both men had suffered knee issues, and had gone on to fight anyway. Both men went into surgery within weeks of the fight.
To attempt to enumerate the severity of how badly each man was impeded is an impossibility. Any fight is a confluence of myriad factors. Talent, training, metabolism, mentality and a thousand thousand other elements interact in fundamentally unknowable ways, crystallizing in the fists, bodies and minds of the men or women in the cage, quantified in the simplest binary manner: one fighter won, and the other lost. Was JDS "more injured" than Velasquez, or vice versa? The differences between their first fight and their second were not visible in the bodies of the men in the cage, but in strategy, approach, belief.
The New Champion
Dos Santos - Mir
May 26, 2012
Unlike Velasquez, Dos Santos would go on to defend his first title. Mir is a brutally efficient submission specialist, a limb collector with serviceable boxing and knock-out power, but without the wrestling to force a match into his strongest area.
Dos Santos, like Velasquez before him, fought like a champion. He refused to engage with Mir on the ground, maintained that outer distance where he is so fast, so dangerous, and gradually chipped away at Mir until the Las Vegas fighter was dead on his feet and the referee mercifully called the fight.
The shock of his win over Velasquez was wearing away and the realization was coming slow: Dos Santos was a real champion. His path to the belt and legacy were re-assessed, and it became clear- the Bahia striker already had one of the best records in heavyweight history.
In the co-main event to the new champion, Velasquez welcomed the Strikeforce import Antonio "Pezao" Silva to the octagon. The powerful, lumbering Brazilian was a hefty underdog, yet he has made a career of playing spoiler. Perennially underrated as both a technician and a game-planner who has maximised his physical gifts, Silva made the mistake of throwing an early, probing leg kick against the Mexican American.
Velasquez charged him to the floor, and never let the bigger man up. He cracked Silva open with an elbow, and buried him under a withering barrage of strikes. Silva was blinded by a torrent of his own blood. In under a round of horrific, relentless savagery Velasquez was stood back up by the referee. Like his fight against Nogueira, there was no celebration. He looked about, stone-faced, painted head to toe with gore. The aggressive challenger once more, that terrible will again given its line to follow, the path to the belt.
Dos Santos vs Velasquez II
December 29, 2012
Dos Santos: 15 W, 1 L
Velasquez: 10 W, 1 L
" The line of drive is made so as to force the upper end of the jawbone, ball, and socket up into the brain area, near where it is fastened to the upper skull. It agitates the nerve of the brain area, causing a concussion, or shock, and senselessness. It also affects the nerves, so that they act deadened completely, making it impossible to feel pain." - The Boxer and the Wrestler, 1934
This time, the roles were reversed, and Dos Santos was the favourite. Velasquez had proven that he could be hit, dropped and stopped. Dos Santos had shown that he could brush aside the Mexican American’s takedowns, and had the sturdier chin and the superior boxing arsenal. Most predicted him by an early TKO.
The early going of the second fight is rarely remembered all that well. Velasquez had clearly taken the criticism about going after Dos Santos to heart, and he threw himself into the takedowns full-bore. Dos Santos backed up easily, and the challenger sprawled foolishly onto the mat.
Velasquez got up again. Tried for the takedown again. Fell on his face again. Kept pushing forwards on his knees, stood up, came forward again.
Unless you held a strong dislike for Velasquez, the overwhelming feeling from a watcher was one of sadness. This man had been the champion of the world, and now he was reduced to crawling after his opponent on all fours like a dog. Struggling to what must surely be a humiliating loss. It was almost comical.
Will would drive him forward again. Will did not care how stupid he looked. Will would leave him humiliated a dozen times over before he gave up. If he had failed to move forwards fighting Dos Santos the first time, then this time broken glass in the octagon would not have deterred him.
Javier Mendez, his coach had told him: "You shoot, you miss, you shoot, you miss. I don't care. I want you to keep shooting. If you take him down for three seconds and he gets back up, take him down again. If it's four seconds, then you did better. Keep doing it because then he's gonna get more tired too."
Velasquez started to mix strikes in with his takedowns. He threw quick jabs in as he chased Dos Santos around the octagon, crisp strikes to the Brazilian’s jaw. As in so many of the heavyweight fights, the sea-change was almost undetectably fast. While Dos Santos was defending against Velasquez, he was not fighting back.
The champion was trapped against the cage, and threw a pre-emptive upper to try to catch Velasquez as he closed in.
The overhand is known as the "wrestler’s punch" yet, ironically, it had never been part of Velasquez’ arsenal. He had learned it specifically for his rival.
"‘Pops’ showed him that overhand and Cain took it like water."
He planted his feet, leaned past the upper and threw his weight into his fist, crashed his newest weapon into Dos Santos’ jaw. The champion who had taken hits from steel fisted knockout machines like Carwin and Nelson fell.
Velasquez hammered his toppled rival. It seemed sure that Dos Santos would be finished. And he was not.
Velasquez stayed on him as the champion struggled to his feet. Now the takedowns came easier, and as they came, so did the endless surge of punches.
The blow of the professional fighter is a terrible thing. The brain is wrenched within its bath of cerebrospinal fluid, flung and torn against the ridges and corners of the skull. In concussions, the neurons flare at once in an electrical panic.
The punches that Dos Santos took were not simply the strikes of any professional. They were the punches of a heavyweight, the blows of one of the greatest fighters in the world, and they came down in their twos and threes, in their dozens, and eventually, in their hundreds.
Heart kept Dos Santos in the fight under the barrage. Heart pulled him back up every time, from every takedown. Jack Dempsey said that a champion is "someone who gets up when he can’t," and Dos Santos showed those watching what those words meant over those 25 brutal minutes as he battled back to his feet with a twisting tornado of muscle and bone bludgeoning and bearing him back down, time and again, barbed breaths dragged piecemeal through labouring lungs.
He struck back when he could. He landed the weapons that had taken him to his belt, the left hook, the overhand, the upper, and they could not deter the challenger. They had been corroded and broken, worn away by the fearsome assault of the man in front of him.
And Velasquez? He remained alight, at that glowing filament demarcating the line between desperation and determination, throwing every one of the elements that he had learned, never give up, never, stop, attacking, the headkick, the takedown, the armbar submission, the takedown, the strikes, and then the takedown again.
Even his legendary endurance was slowed by this unreal pace. In yet another of those strange inversions which characterized their fights, Dos Santos’ best rounds were the fourth, and the fifth, showing that his gut-level endurance was second to none, not even Velasquez. Yet no-one could say that he won them.
When the fight was called, Velasquez fell to his back in joy.
When interviewed afterwards, the new champion said that it had been "the toughest fight he’d ever had."
The ex-champion was called to the mic. His face was ruined, swollen and mottled into a freakish bee-sting caricature. He could barely talk. As he began to speak, there occurred perhaps the perfect rebuttal to that sunny positivity which kept him rising back to his feet, which told him that the world was a good place, for good people.
The crowd began to jeer.
"Hey, what’s that, why are you doing that?" he asked, confused. "Why?"
"C’mon, he fought his heart out!" said Joe Rogan.
Even here, this was not enough to break the man from Bahia. At the end of the interview, he pointed at the camera, and his bloated lips impossibly twisted a little, into some semblance of a smile.
"Like you said, Cain Velasquez, I’m gonna be back, I’m gonna be better, and I’m gonna take my belt again!"
The new and again champion has always kept himself to himself. "That’s how a man handles things… you keep things on the inside, good or bad."
For all that, when he was caught after the fight in a post-fight backstage interview, Velasquez was traditionally inarticulate, yet surprising:
"Thanks so much to the fans… I read all your inspirational stuff on twitter. Thanks so much for everything." The voice of the unstoppable, emotionless machine broke, and a tear ran through the blood still collecting in the canthus of his eye and made a crimson track down his cheek. Somehow appropriate.
"This is for you guys. Thank you."
The Unsuitable Champions
The next time each man fought was the mirror image of UFC 155. Now Velasquez was the one defending his title against a man who was undoubtedly dangerous, but an easy stylistic matchup. Meanwhile, Dos Santos fought resurgent striker Mark Hunt, and finished him with a whirling kick to the head in the third round.
Tomorrow, Velasquez vs Dos Santos III.
They are the greatest heavyweights of their era, yet the irony appears to be that neither is entirely suited to the championship mentality, at least when it comes to his counterpart. To be patient, to attempt to counter, to play the champion’s game has resulted in crushing losses for both men. When Cain left Dos Santos to become comfortable in his expanding world of the cage, he was obliterated by his speed and power. When Dos Santos moved backwards as the champion he was pinned and worn away by the challenger's diamantine focus. The winner will be the one who seizes the momentum.
Although he won the last fight, the onus is on Velasquez, as the champion. It’s one thing to simply tell yourself to throw yourself forwards at your opponent when you have nothing to lose and everything to take from him, another to carry the expectation of being the greatest on your back, the weight of the champion. Lunge headfirst into the fire from the man who annihilated your legacy in just over a minute while heavy with gold and the confidence of others.
In addition, from the cold and technical perspective, he was the fighter who did almost everything right in their last fight. If Dos Santos' team has performed their due diligence, learned to counter just one element of that devastating blitzkrieg, then Velasquez could end up face down on the mat. He has given Dos Santos the decisive weapon in each of their meetings- the fearless mentality of the challenger.
Combat sports, by necessity, are determined by only a few encounters. Unlike the seasons of team games, or the multiple meetings afforded by sports like Tennis, most combat athletes only encounter each other once or twice.
Tomorrow, there are two timelines, two stories and legacies each waiting expectantly to be born. The sadness of this is that the nodal shift will not just affect the future, but the past. The winner's victory will propagate backwards through time. The courage, skill and strategy of his opponent will be diminished. The Rhabdomyolysis of Junior Dos Santos will excuse his loss. People will believe that, like Joe Rogan said, "the real Velasquez." remains undefeated, was never knocked out.
Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing have the same wary relationship that comes between any old established classic and any upstart newcomer, that odd mixture of envy, contempt, and respect. It is the strongest between the heavyweights, those men who are "the big toe of God."
Dos Santos and Velasquez both had their interactions with the world of heavyweight boxing. When he was champion, and again more recently, Dos Santos mentioned that he would like to box one of the Klitschkos.
"I could beat that guy, man. Maybe not easy, but I could knock him out."
In a boxing ring, the young Brazilian would undoubtedly be slaughtered by either Klitschko, men who have spent years honing their craft. To many, his statement smacked of arrogance.
To me, it is just another facet of that eternal, unbreakable optimism, that cheerful belief that sent the mullet-headed Cigano into the professional mixed martial arts cage a few years after starting training, where he would win its most storied title. That happy confidence that there was nowhere he could go where the world would not welcome him, where his heart could not triumph.
Velasquez was challenged by a heavyweight boxer, Tyson Fury, looking to get his name out there in the media. The champion's reply:
"I'm not a boxer. I'm a mixed martial artist, and if he wants to fight, he can go into the UFC and work his way up like everybody else does. Nothing is given to you in this world. ... Don't talk about it, go ahead and do it."
Some found his reply boring. To me, it was classic Velasquez. Instead of mocking the young fighter, he simply laid out the path for him, showed it to him with unvarnished sincerity:
"There is the line. I walked it.
You can too.
If you have the will."