Two years ago, Junior dos Santos shocked the world with a first-round knockout of Cain Velasquez for the heavyweight title during the UFC’s Fox debut. Last December, the two came together again, and Velasquez took then-champ JDS through five rounds of torturous punishment, earning back the belt he was without for a year. Well, for fans, third time’s a charm, hopefully. The same holds true for current UFC heavyweight champion Velasquez and former champ dos Santos. Both hope to leave the Octagon with gold around their waist, but come Saturday night, only one belt will be awarded.

At the time of their first meeting at UFC on Fox 1, Velasquez seemed unstoppable and dos Santos was thought to have a puncher’s chance. The chance came to fruition when dos Santos knocked out Velasquez in a minute, winning the belt and setting up a nearly immediate rematch. The rematch, at UFC 155, went a bit differently. Going the distance, Velasquez dished out a level of punishment that would’ve put an elephant down, yet dos Santos was able to hang on until the end.

This Saturday night, headlining UFC 166, live from the Toyota Center in Houston, these top heavyweights enter the cage for the third time to settle the score once and for all. Both men are extremely motivated to walk out as the champ, but only one man can hold that title. This will be a battle for the ages.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Velasquez – 10, dos Santos – 9

Going into the second bout in the trilogy, it was possible to make the assumption that dos Santos was the better striker, albeit by a thin margin. The Brazilian has a background in boxing, training under coach Luiz Dorea since his early 20s. He also has 12 professional MMA wins by knockout and three “Knockout of the Night” honors under the UFC banner. At 6-foot-4 and with a 77-inch reach advantage, he is hard to get an inside track on and is one of the best and rangiest strikers in the heavyweight division. However, when the distance gets shorter, his attack becomes less effective.

Velasquez is about three inches shorter than JDS and is more of a bulldog. His style is more of a forward-pressing attack, and he stays low to avoid the reach of taller opponents. All but one of his 11 wins are by knockout and his ground-and-pound attack is possibly the scariest in the world.

In their first bout, Velasquez tried to get inside early in the fight, but was met with a huge counter punch from JDS and was dropped for a quick TKO barely over a minute into the fight. The second time, this was not the case.

In their second meeting, Velasquez finally got a chance to fully execute his game plan, and he made dos Santos pay. From the beginning of the first round to the final bell, Velasquez basically muted the entire striking arsenal that JDS had to offer. He got inside, drove dos Santos into the cage, peppered him with shots and took him down. The Brazilian’s striking arsenal was nonexistent, as he was unable to maintain the distance he needed to do any damage.

Velasquez is powerful, aggressive and not afraid to take a few shots to get inside his opponent’s range. It happened in their second meeting and will surely happen again, barring any other unexpected knockouts. Velasquez is by far the more dangerous striker.

Wrestling: Velasquez – 10, dos Santos– 9

Velasquez is able to supplement his striking game with his tremendous wrestling prowess. An NCAA Division I All-American out of Arizona State University, the champ is a tremendous athlete with the highest level of experience in controlling his opponents’ bodies both against the cage and on the mat.

In his last meeting with dos Santos, Velasquez used his striking to set up his clinch work, and after flurrying with attacks, managed to get his opponent to the ground. Once on the ground, dos Santos had a tendency to turtle up, which was a big mistake against a wrestler like Velasquez. This allowed Velasquez to maintain top position, preventing the Brazilian from getting to his feet. Thus, dos Santos sustained a ton of damage.

Junior dos Santos may be proficient in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but his wrestling is by far his biggest weakness. He has no formal wrestling training, outside of his MMA training, and he tends to spend a lot of time improving his striking. It would be to his advantage to spend a lot of time training counters for the superior wrestling moves of Velasquez.

That being said, the champ is hands down the better wrestler. In the heavyweight division, there are very few fighters, if any, that Velasquez would not dominate in wrestling, and dos Santos is no exception.

Submission Grappling: Velasquez – 9, dos Santos– 10

With the champ clearly being the dominant force in the striking and wrestling departments, dos Santos’ saving grace may actually be a submission. As dominant as Velasquez was in the previous fight, he was able to dish out a ton of damage, but was unable to finish. As Chael Sonnen so abruptly found out in his first match against Anderson Silva, wrestling for five rounds is not always a sure thing. It is possible for dos Santos to earn a submission, but he’ll take a lot of damage on the way.

Dos Santos and Velasquez are black belts in BJJ. JDS is a Team Nogueira fighter, so there’s no doubt his training is world class. While he hasn’t earned an actual submission victory since his second pro fight, he has displayed prowess on the ground and his frame makes him a force to be reckoned with.

Velasquez may have a black belt in BJJ, but it’s not really part of his repertoire. He trains at a very high level in submission grappling, but hasn’t really showcased much BJJ, because, after knocking out all but three of his opponents, he hasn’t needed to. With his superior wrestling, the American fighter has never gotten in a position to even need BJJ from a defensive standpoint.

While neither of these guys are known for their submission grappling, only one has needed to use it, so dos Santos gets a very slight nod in that arena.

Durability: Velasquez – 9, dos Santos – 10

If it wasn’t for durability, the last meeting between these guys would have ended in the first round.

Velasquez is a tough-as-nails fighter. He has absolutely destroyed the majority of his opponents. Because he is so fast and aggressive, though, nine of his 13 fights have ended in the first. With Velasquez having only gone to decision twice, both very lopsided in his favor, fans have never gotten to see him sustain much damage. In Velasquez’s five-round fight to regain the belt from dos Santos, the Brazilian hardly scored any points with his striking. Dos Santos, however, has proven he can take a beating without going down.

The durability of Velasquez was in question after his only loss to dos Santos, but nobody can ever question the toughness of the former champ. In literally every round of their last fight, Velasquez landed destructive shots over and over again, and could not knock out JDS. At the end of the fight, with a face that looked mutated into some sort of horror flick, dos Santos stood there on his own and listened to the judges’ scoring.

No matter how tough the champ is, there is no contest between his durability and that of dos Santos. Durability may just allow the Brazilian a window to pull off a submission while getting pummeled on the ground.

Aggression: Velasquez – 10, dos Santos– 9

Dos Santos may be durable, but Velasquez is possibly the most aggressive fighter ever. As anyone who was watching fully understands, JDS’s face looked like Captain Caveman went nuts with his wooden club.

The aggression of Velasquez is superhuman. He presses and presses until he wills his way to victory. Velasquez does not wait to smell blood in the water. He fights like he smelled blood before he even entered the Octagon. Very few fighters bring this type of mental fortitude into the cage.

X-factor

The x-factor in this fight is Velasquez. This guy is the most volatile mix of destructive talent that has ever graced the Octagon. He is like a bulldog…a bulldog with rabies that also happens to have world-class MMA training. Dos Santos is generally known as a “nice guy,” but Velasquez has nothing but bad intentions when that door closes. That’s not to say he’s out to injure his opponents, but he just intends to win every fight at all costs. His father worked very hard to make a life for his family, and Velasquez brings that same work ethic into his fights.

Total: Velasquez – 48, dos Santos – 47

Verdict: Unfortunately for fans of dos Santos, the final score in the above analysis is probably a little generous toward “Cigano.” In their last fight, Velasquez proved that, while his opponent may be a very talented fighter, he is a killer. Velasquez is strong, skilled, mean and loves to bum rush his opponents, no matter how big or tough they are. Dos Santos is a very talented top-10 fighter, but Velasquez is the best heavyweight around. In fact, should Jon Jones make the jump to heavyweight, he will most likely go down at the wrath of the champ. The UFC is very much in a “Cain Velasquez” era, and even though it will be tough for him to stop JDS, this will probably be the night that the Brazilian gets knocked out for the first time.

Photo: Cain Velasquez (center) (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Dan Kuhl
Interview Coordinator