Occupy The Throne – Edition #44

In this edition of Occupy The Throne, Samer Kadi and I look back at Junior dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez 2 and discuss the fallout.

Jeremy Lambert: It was the rematch that many people were down on given how their first fight went. Now it’s a trilogy that will be tough to sell in the near future given how their second fight went.

At UFC 155, Cain Velasquez recaptured the heavyweight title with a five round mauling of former champion Junior dos Santos. In the first fight, Dos Santos finished Velasquez in just 64 seconds, leading many to believe that Velasquez was overrated and JDS was unstoppable. After their second fight though, many now feel that the first fight was just a fluke and that Velasquez may never be stopped again.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Velasquez wasn’t quite himself in the first fight but let’s not be so quick to write off Dos Santos from challenging for the belt again just because he was dominated in the second fight, especially given the weak nature of the heavyweight division.

Samer Kadi: Aside from being a clash between arguably the two most talented heavyweights of their generation, Cain Velasquez’s two-fight series with Junior Dos Santos is indicative of the nature of the heavyweight division as well as MMA fans’ perception and occasional lack of understanding of the sport they so dearly cherish.

We are all trigger happy to label some fighters as near unbeatable, or unconsciously perceive them as such, before actually waiting on them to prove it. Fighters like Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, and to a lesser extent, Jon Jones, have earned their so-called invincibility. For their part, Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos, and any other heavyweight in history not nicknamed “The Last Emperor”, have not.

Enjoying any sort of a remarkable winning streak against the absolute elite is extremely rare in such an unforgiving sport, which only makes fighters like Silva and St-Pierre all the more special. The kind of skill set and athletic gifts these two possesses is absolutely unique, and almost unparalleled in MMA. In the heavyweight division, where a single punch is often all it takes to change the complexion of a fight, putting together a run similar to that of the dominant duo is challenging to say the least.

Jeremy Lambert: No one can deny the impressiveness of Junior dos Santos’ UFC run prior to this past Saturday night. He made an immediate impact by KO’ing Fabricio Werdum, who was just one win away from a title shot at the time and never looked back, knocking out and dominating former champions and title contenders. People thought they knew his flaws, but if they were never exposed, did they really exist? While he only defended the title once, JDS proved that he would be a force in the division for some time with his victories prior to receiving his title shot in 2011.

Velasquez had that same hype around him after he defeated Brock Lesnar to win the title in 2010 but that quickly disappeared after his first meeting with the Brazilian striker. Following his performance at UFC 155 though, fans are now quick to write off the inaugural FOX main event as a fluke and declare Cain the champion until the end of time. And while he’s as talented as they come in the sport, there are still a couple of fighters who can threaten Cain’s run, including his most recent foe.

That said, as things stand, it’s tough to find a guy who matches up well with Velasquez given his rare combination of speed, power, technique, and cardio in all areas of the sport.

Samer Kadi: As talented as Velasquez and Dos Santos are, they tend to get away with a lot of holes in their games due to the relatively sub-par talent level in the heavyweight division. Some of their dangerous tendencies often go unpunished. In fact, the only fighter to ever capitalize on Velasquez’s flaws was Dos Santos, and vice versa.

Dos Santos’ aggressive striking, his ability to put together combinations, in addition to the counter-striking he later developed made him unique at heavyweight, and gave him offensive tools very few could match. Meanwhile, Velasquez’s wrestling, clinch, work, pace, and cardio are unheard of at heavyweight, making it easier to stand out.

That however, does not negate Cain’s stiff head movement, or Dos Santos’ poor defensive footwork and his knack of leaving himself exposed by constantly lowering his guard. Meaning that while they are still head and shoulders above their heavyweight peers, it would hardly be a shock to see them continue to pay for their mistakes. While Velasquez’s beatdown of Dos Santos was nothing short of astounding, it is hard to shake off the AKA standout’s image of diving for takedowns from miles out in the first round without ever paying for it, or Dos Santos’ walking straight back against the cage with his hands low as Cain clobbered him with an overhand right.

Nevertheless, it is unfair to compare to compare UFC 155’s protagonists to their lighter weight counterparts. Instead, they should only be assessed relative to their own weight class. As it stands, Velasquez and Dos Santos are the best heavyweights on the planet by a landslide, and unlike the “I’m not excited for the rematch because it will go the same way” narrative, one fighter is simply too good to lose to the other every time, making a rubber match very likely at some point in the future, albeit not immediately.

Jeremy Lambert: There wasn’t a lot of buzz heading into UFC 155 as many fans felt that the second fight would go about the same as the first. Maybe it wouldn’t last 64 seconds and Cain would do a better job of sticking to the game plan, but the majority of the audience figured that JDS would once again knock the pride out of Velasquez. It also didn’t help that UFC hyped the fight as generic as possible, which is rare for their big year end shows.

Now fans are down on a third fight, feeling that a five round beat down is enough to erase the memory of the quick knockout and figuring that Velasquez will be able to do the same thing in a rubber match. Even if that were true, are there any other heavyweights out who can match the talent of Velasquez and Dos Santos? Sure there is Alistair Overeem, but let’s not forget that he’s extremely flawed as well. The only other name who deserves to be mentioned with those three is Daniel Cormier, but he won’t fight Velasquez anytime soon.

If Velasquez and Dos Santos met 100 times, we’re likely to get 100 different outcomes because the two fighters have the skill to match each other and take advantage of the others flaws. Even though JDS got thoroughly beat up this past Saturday, let’s not forget that he was still defending takedowns and bouncing back up in the fifth round. In fact, for all the talk of Cain’s wrestling, it was actually his pace and aggression on the feet that allowed him to reclaim the UFC heavyweight title.

Samer Kadi: The fan reaction that preceded Dos Santos/Velasquez II shows that many have yet to grasp the true nature of MMA, or learn anything from the sport’s history – or the pair’s first fight for that matter. Fights happen for a reason, and taking an outcome for granted when two elite fighters step inside the cage (not to be confused with a Silva/Bonnar type of fight) is highly misguided.

The same mistake is being made when automatically assuming another Velasquez beat-down should the two face off once more at some point in the future. While Cain should absolutely be favored, Dos Santos has already proven he can end the champion’s night in an instant, and denying his chances of repeating that feat would be ill-advised.

We are in the presence of two terrific athletes, who, on an absolute level, might be the most talented pair of heavyweights we’ve ever seen. And yet, MMA fans seem to be curiously down on the prospect of a rivalry that could define the heavyweight division for years to come.


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