Junior dos Santos vs. Tai Tuivasa headlines UFC Fight Night 142 this December 1, 2018 at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre in Adelaide, Australia.
One sentence summary
David: Zuffa Comics Present! JDS versus the Venom-or-Carnage (?) to Mark Hunt’s Spider-Man.
Phil: “Live-action” Lion King, a rumoured Back to the Future remake, and now they’re remaking JDS-Hunt with Hunt being recast... this is bullshit.
Record: Junior dos Santos 19-5 | Tai Tuivasa 8-0
Odds: Junior dos Santos -150 | Tai Tuivasa +130
History / Introduction to both fighters
David: It’s hard to believe that there was a time when JDS was basically the Baddest Man on the Planet. Even his loss to Joaquim Ferreira felt like Fedor’s loss to Tsuyoshi Kohsaka in Rings: in such stark contrast to their current success that it was practically an urban myth. That’s how good we thought JDS was at his absolute height, and that is defiantly not the man he was or is. I think the biggest factor working against JDS is how sometimes it’s just the wrong place and wrong time. Just when he had built Rome, Rome experienced a series of earthquakes that brought the edifice down when it was positioned to best defend itself. Or something. That was supposed to be analogy to the Velasquez and Miocic fights, but you get the picture. The mighty haven’t fallen, but they don’t stand as tall. Now JDS is either a Tough Test for a young whipper-snapper or a roadblock.
Phil: Junior Dos Santos remains one of the top 5 most successful heavyweights of all time. Wins over Velasquez, Miocic and Werdum anchor a resume which has unfortunately started to look a bit more spotty of late. I feel like his career has moved in sync with Anthony Pettis down at lightweight - both functioned in a world which was less defined by “wrestling” or “striking” than it was by a concept of pressure and defined operating spaces. Both have had declines which have been somewhat overplayed in terms of their physical gifts and mentality, leaving people weirdly shocked when they’ve beaten up on stylistic slam dunks (JDS-Rothwell, Pettis-Miller or Pettis-Chiesa). That it’s been largely stylistic isn’t to say that there has been no physical deterioration whatsoever though: primarily, it’s that JDS’ unbreakable chin was destroyed in the Velasquez and Miocic wars. He’s been fighting at ATT of late, and it’ll be interesting to see if they can pull out the same kind of functional improvements that they were able to get out of Andrei Arlovski.
David: Time will tell if Tuivasa is the Venom or the Carnage to Mark Hunt’s Spider-Man, but either way it’s just great to have doppelgangers in the mix. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen one. First it was Rick Story and Kid-Anakin; Cyril Asker and Connor Ruebusch; Tony Ferguson and Marc Anthony (from The Substitute, not Man on Fire), etc. I’m way off topic, but my point is that Tuivasa is a truly welcome presence in the heavyweight division, and it’ll be sad to see either one of these men lose.
Phil: As one Hunt leaves, another takes his place. It looks like this event is the last that Hunt will be a part of in the UFC, and in his place we have his protege. Tuivasa seems a happier chap than his forbear, with a bit less of that internal trauma and laconic grief which lurked under the surface with Hunt. The fans have quickly embraced him as such, and the shoey post-fight celebration is gross but iconic. Tuivasa gets a mention on the “drinking from shoes” wikipedia page!
What’s at stake?
David: As long as the Daddest Man on the Planet remains champ, I don’t care.
Phil: What’s going on at heavyweight at the moment? Oh yea, waiting for Brock. Winner probably gets Ngannou then, I guess, for a Big Punching Fight (With Punching).
Where do they want it?
David: JDS is a very clearly-defined fighter: establish range, and sift heaters into the pocket. His obvious categorization is part of his strength — never straying from his strategy makes him that much more effective when his opponent’s strategy isn’t — and his weakness — tactically, he’s vulnerable. Nonetheless, being easy to gameplan for is not the same as being easy to fight. Dos Santos’ striking is very nuanced. Even his general strategy of fighting at range is atypical at any weight class: a lot of fighters know how to maintain and manage the opportunities that present themselves at range, but how many of these fighters actually use it to exert their power at a distance?
Phil: Dos Santos is a mid-range fighter. As demonstrated against Overeem, he’s not particularly great when he has to move forward, as he has to set his feet to throw. As demonstrated against Velasquez, he’s not particularly great when he’s moving backwards, as his primary defensive option is to move straight backwards with his chin up. Honestly, the only reason he hasn’t been knocked out as much as Arlovski used to is because he’s far more durable.
With this being said, Dos Santos remains a monster at that mid-range. He’s crafty and cunning with mixing up the target for his jabs, feinting with the shoulder, attacking the body and the torso, and coming around the top with the wide overhand. Its ugly, but made to come from outside the field of vision. While he’s offensively empty in the clinch, his takedown defense is almost impenetrable, and opponents who try to outwrestle him often find themselves matching against his incredible cardio. For everyone apart from Cain, this has been a losing proposition.
David: The archerfish uses its spit for a lot of different reasons: to knock insects the hell out off vegetation just above water, but mainly to calibrate its decision-making. I doubt Tuivasa is channeling his inner-archerfish like some sort of cask-shaped Aquaman when he celebrates with beer, shoes, and spit but I do know that that you don’t get this far on just fleshy brawling. For all the similarities to Hunt, the similarities end once they’re inside the cage. Hunt developed his craft into a bruising counterpuncher. Meanwhile, Tuivasa is a bruising clinchbrawler. He uses his footwork for punch-entries that begin with wide-angled bolos. It sounds simplistic, but the mechanics of his approach are dynamic. He cracks with speed, power, and movement while displaying a varied arsenal of knuckle meat-soothers.
Phil: Stocky, fat and powerful: check. Shocking speed: check. Power: check. Left hook: check. Tuivasa is genuinely very similar to Hunt, with a few differences. He retains most of his physical gifts, whereas Hunt was already starting to slide slightly by the time he came to the UFC. As such, Tuivasa is already a more functional defensive grappler than Hunt was at the same point in his career. He’s more of a combination striker, which probably speaks to the grappling issue: Hunt’s volume dropped dramatically in the transition to MMA, which was probably to stop himself from getting put into takedown situations. That being said, Tuivasa also lacks Hunt’s craft when it comes to closing distance behind feints and small steps, before suddenly crushing the distance with a leaping left hook or similar. Instead it’s all fearless coming forward behind big shots and high-risk gambles like flying knees.
Insight from past fights
David: This feels like a pretty bad matchup for Tuivasa. He closes distance quickly, but deliberately, but that doesn’t mean he closes distance particularly well. Throughout his career, we’ve seen JDS do well in fights where his opponent has do to more than come forward. I guess the trick for those who make big bets is whether or not JDS’s chin will hold up under fire.
Phil: The Arlovski fight was actually pretty close, and I would say that Arlovski is not nearly the mid-range boxer that JDS is. Tuivasa absorbed a lot of shots closing in.
David: I just want to emphasize how great Helwani’s interview with Arlovski was. As soon as Helwani begins to describe Tuivasa’s celebration, Arlovski wants nothing to do with this information. He wants nothing to do with the man relaying that information. He looks like a man who’d rather be getting hit in the head with a baseball bat.
Phil: Short of someone tainting one of Tuivasa’s shoeys with a pinchful of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, I’m still interested to see how “ATT JDS” looks. Takedowns? Footwork?
David: As much as I like Tuivasa’s story, and demeanor, this bout feels like too much-too soon. It’s the kind of fight I’d feel more confident in if Tuivasa had just a few more wins. As is, he hasn’t been properly challenged. Junior dos Santos by Decision.
Phil: Much like Pettis, I feel like you have to look at JDS’ opponents and think: is this the kind of guy who has beaten him in the past? Can this person capitalize on his lacking footwork by either fighting on the outside, or pressuring him into the fence? In those cases, I think the answer is “no.” Tuivasa just likes to fight, and I think he’ll find himself wading forward through head and body jabs. Dos Santos’ durability is a concern, but outside of a weird one-off shot I just don’t think Tuivasa has the necessary style to get to him. Junior Dos Santos by unanimous decision.