Say what you will about Cain Velasquez, Alistair Overeem and current UFC champion Fabricio Werdum, but Junior Dos Santos may very well be the most popular heavyweight in the UFC today.
Due in part to his historic title-earning knockout of Velasquez back at UFC on FOX 1 in front of millions of American viewers, the Brazilian has become a fighter with a vast following. One that has transformed him into the division’s most marketable and profitable names.
When dos Santos steps foot inside the Octagon this Saturday at UFC on FOX 17 opposite budding rival Overeem, he will be attempting to redefine his legacy in the sport of mixed martial arts. As a former champion who has fallen victim to the relentless pressure of Velasquez on two separate, yet equally decisive, occasions, “Cigano” must deliver once again on a nationally broadcast platform.
It’s borderline eerie to think that the future of JDS has come full circle on one of the promotion’s most notable outlets. Remember, the 31-year-old recently defeated rising contender Stipe Miocic on UFC on FOX 13 just over one year ago. With a chance to leave Orlando this weekend with a record of 3-0 on FOX, dos Santos will have become the master of free fight cards.
Needless to say, the former heavyweight kingpin has a sturdy test in front of him if he wants to cash in on a grand chance to fight for a title in 2016. Because despite only winning a single fight since losing to Velasquez back at UFC 166, JDS possesses the undying popularity and recognition to reenter championship discussions after a win over Overeem at UFC on FOX 17.
Blessed with unparalleled boxing technique, ferocious combinations, an iron-encrusted chin and the ability to detach opponents from their equilibrium, dos Santos has become synonymous with the word finisher. Through 11 UFC victories, spanning over seven years, the Brazilian has recorded a whopping eight knockouts. That’s good for second all-time in the UFC heavyweight division and includes finishes of Frank Mir, Mark Hunt, Mirko Cro Cop, Gabriel Gonzaga and the aforementioned Velasquez.
But the one victory buried deep on the former’s champ list of battered foe lies current champion Werdum. Not many people remember that dos Santos knocked the Brazilian out cold back at UFC 90, leaving Werdum’s ears famously wiggling on the way to the canvas. To boot, that was the first time we ever saw “Cigano” step foot inside of the Octagon.
Now while Werdum is a much tougher opponent these days, one who has uncovered a worthy stand up game, that victory will go a long way in earning dos Santos a title shot in 2016. Besides Overeem and Andrei Arlovski, JDS is the only heavyweight in the UFC who has defeated the champion one time or another. But what separates dos Santos from the rest of the pack is the fact that he remains the only fighter to ever finish Werdum.
That is a defeat rarely forgotten. Like a long-lasting pinch in the back of the champ’s mind, a loss of that caliber will never escape memory.
However, JDS must first defeat Overeem this Saturday to lock down a title shot sometime in 2016. Whether it be a rematch opposite Werdum or a super grudge match against Velasquez (Werdum and Velasquez will meet at UFC 196 in February), the Brazilian will need to dispose of “The Reem” before anything else.
In the past, it would seem as if dos Santos had the upper hand on a kickboxer with a suspect chin. But as recent history will have it, since making the jump to Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn’s gym in New Mexico, Overeem has become a different character inside of the cage. He has become a more patient striker, a more calculated defender and a guy who has begun to finally cash in on his promotional worth.
It’s going to be very interesting to see what kind of action is put forth in a three-round fight. Overeem doesn’t necessarily throw the volume that is needed to finish a guy like JDS, who has only been stopped by Velasquez back at UFC 166 on the heels of 123 strikes in over 20 minutes. While Overeem has never landed in that clip, it is interesting to know his last loss via decision came back in 2005 opposite Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at PRIDE 29.
If JDS is able to land early and often, Overeem will be in a lot of trouble. And considering the Brazilian is hungry as ever to reclaim the heavyweight throne, the Dutchman may simply be entering a wood chipper come Saturday. Because dos Santos knows that a title shot is right around the corner if he can add to his already impressive trophy room of knockouts.