The UFC’s Heavyweight division is, at present, starving for contenders.
The division’s top three fighters (not including the champion) are all 1-1 in their last two fights. It will take at least another win or two for these men to be considered for a title shot but one not unlike them has already received that gift.
Junior Dos Santos (ranked 4th) too has a 1-1 record in his last two fights. Traditionally only winning your last fight is not reason enough to warrant a title shot. But Dos Santos has something that none of those top 3 Heavyweights does: a win over current Champion Stipe Miocic.
If the UFC still abided by its old motto (where the best fight the best) we would be looking at Velasquez or Werdum fighting for the belt. But sadly those days are behind us.
It can be argued that on the merits of their respective records Velasquez certainly and to a lesser degree Werdum should be fighting in Dos Santos’ place on May 13th. But the Werdum rematch will not sell and Cain cannot be trusted to make it to the cage so instead we have a fighter who is 3-3 in his last six bouts and last fought 13 months ago, also fighting for a belt.
The main reason Dos Santos received a shot at the belt was because of his December 2014 unanimous decision win over Miocic. The UFC is hoping that heavyweight bout, one of the best ever, will be repeated on Saturday night. However, both the Ohioan and the Brazilian have changed considerably since that time and at this point in their careers it seems foolish to expect a similar five-round war.
It seems clear that although “Cigano” was been able to turn back the likes of Ben Rothwell he is heading towards a general decline in ability. The 35-year-old has only suffered two knockouts in his career but both of these have been in his last four fights.
Although Dos Santos retains his speed and power many say his durability is all but non-existent. This decline is especially relevant when considering his opponent’s talents. Miocic has won his last four fights, all by knockout. His standup, and wrestling has improved considerably since their last fight and he has taken relatively little damage during those bouts.
On paper it seems a sure bet that the Strong Style Fight Team product will easily handle the shop worn Brazilian. This prevailing notion is not entirely sound though when considering a few key details.
Junior Dos Santos has shown a Championship pedigree that makes him a perennial threat at Heavyweight. He has knockout power in both hands (and feet) and has some of the best boxing in the UFC. In his most recent win, he returned to his past strengths though with a more measured approach (employing a heavy kickboxing and movement oriented game plan). These are the very strengths and means by which he beat the likes of Velasquez, Mir, Gonzaga, Struve, Carwin, and Werdum.
If we see more of that Dos Santos, as we did in his last fight, we very well may feel foolish for prescribing to the above narrative. That being said, the clash of their respective styles might tell us even more about the likely outcome of this fight.
Like Dos Santos, the Ohioan and Golden Gloves Champ has phenomenal boxing, but they prefer different attacks. Whereas the Brazilian prefers long-range kicks, jabs, and overhands, the Champion has a preference for short and extremely powerful hooks, straights, and crosses.
While Dos Santos’ movement based game can and has worked against slower opponents, Miocic is perhaps his equal or even his better in terms of speed and athleticism. Moreover, the Volunteer Firefighter possesses the kind of wrestling ability that has given Dos Santos problems in the past. That being said, Miocic did get dropped by Alistair Overeem in his last fight and has shown himself vulnerable to long rangy strikers. Meanwhile, “Cigano” has improved his takedown defense under American Top Team, a gym dominated by grapplers.
Mixing and matching all these conflicting facts and narratives can lead one to a strong case being made for either man and that is just how the odds makers have it. Miocic/Dos Santos 2 is more or less a pick-em fight.
For the most part Miocic is the safe bet but it is very easy to envision Dos Santos keeping him on the end of his strikes and putting him away early. What is more or less guaranteed though is the main-event of UFC 211 won’t end in a decision.
Their respective finishing rates (78% for Dos Santos and 81% for Miocic) point to a fan friendly affair at the top of the best card of the year.