Traditionally the UFC saves something special for its year end card, with last year ending with the massive headliner between Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem (ably backed up by Nate Diaz vs. Donald Cerrone and Jon Fitch vs. Johny Hendricks) and the previous festive season producing 2011’s match of the year in Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard II and Brian Stann’s memorable knock out of Chris Leben at the New Years Day UFC 125.
Almost two years and fifty six UFC events later (not bad for a promotion that took ten years to rack up its first fifty shows) we’ve got another compelling card (despite the best efforts of the malevolent injury bug) with a main event which is massive in every possible sense.
That bout sees a rematch of the fight which kicked off the FOX era of the UFC as the consensus #1 and #2 Heavyweight fighters in the world (although people differ as to which is which), Junior dos Santos (15-1) and Cain Velasquez (10-1) face off once again to contest the UFC Heavyweight Title and the informal accolade of ‘baddest man on the planet.’
It’s almost a shame that they’re both so nice.
Except, it’s not really. Both JDS and Cain conduct themselves professionally in interviews, talking softly, smiling broadly and generally coming across like athletes who have worked hard to get where they are, are thankful for their opportunities and enjoy spending time with their families. Some folks might prefer some intense trash talking, but when there is genuinely nothing more than professional rivalry I find it quite refreshing to be presented with two competitors who seem like human beings, not cartoon characters…
The truth is that JDS and Cain are the best heavyweights on the planet and their first encounter didn’t prove much, other than JDS can knock anyone out – which we pretty much knew already.
That first match, insofar as it lasted has been picked apart in the year since, but I still firmly believe it didn’t teach us a great deal. Some people point to the fact that it proves Cain’s striking, specifically his head movement and predictability are overrated (see here at Bloody Elbow) but I’m prone to think that Cain’s relative striking shortcomings are more than made up for in MMA by the threat he presents at closer range.
Few heavyweight strikers have the confidence in their ground game, or movement to keep their hands up and their posture tall when confronted by a wrestler like Cain and even fewer have the presence of mind and sheer strength to make the opportunities his striking deficiencies present count.
Yes, JDS is the better boxer and has the better footwork, but Cain adopts more varied striking and is the better wrestler, the question when discussing striking, is who can make their advantage count, second time round.
Another question, and perversely the one which I’d really like to see answered is who is the better jiujitsu guy. Both guys have high levels of BJJ under great coaches (JDS a black belt from Rodrigo Nogueira and Cain a brown belt from Dave Camarillo) but we’ve never seen them in the Octagon.
JDS has found that his boxing is enough to deal with everyone placed in front of him so far and his takedown defence has confounded everyone he’s faced as well, although it IS worth noting that a tiring Shane Carwin has some success against him in the closing round of their match with wrestling techniques.
Cain’s success has been founded on his wrestling base, controlling opponents against the cage or on the mat in order to unleash a barrage of strikes and has thus far always looked towards the ground and pound option rather than the submission option when the opportunity presents itself.
In theory, if the fight stays standing, JDS wins by knockout or decision and if Cain can take him down or press him against the cage, he wins by TKO or decision. Is it perverse to hope that one of them pulls guard and wins by submission, just to mess with us all?
There is always the possibility that one of these guys, already the best in the world has something truly exceptional in the tank, either in terms of a submission win, surprise game plan or deus ex striking finish worthy of Anderson Silva.
In any case, I expect a decisive finish here, because when you have the two best Heavyweights in a generation facing off for a second time, then they’re not going to be messing about.
Strangely, as the challenger Velasquez has more to lose as a second KO against dos Santos makes a third title challenge unlikely so long as Junior holds the belt.
Will that make a difference? Will Cain regain the belt, setting up a near inevitable trilogy match or will JDS win again and set up future matches against Daniel Cormier and Alistair Overeem, with the potential place as the greatest heavyweight in UFC history within his grasp?
Who do you think will win?
Either way, this is one for the ages, and I can’t wait.
Check http://www.ufc.com for viewing details wherever you are.