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Dos Santos, Overeem eye win at UFC 146
You'd be hard pressed to find an interview with UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos where he doesn't smile or laugh at least once. Sure, it's easy to be happy when you have a huge championship belt around your waist. But there's something else.
Junior dos Santos is just a really nice guy.
It seems like an odd juxtaposition, someone who makes his living beating the snot out of some of the biggest, toughest men on the planet who's also willing to stop and take pictures with anyone who stops him, all the while joking around and having fun.
But being a good guy is something in which dos Santos believes strongly. He just has to, somehow, turn off the "Mr. Nice Guy" persona when it's time to get in the Octagon to do battle.
"Well, I think you are who you are," the Brazilian champion said. "I try to be nice because I think when you are nice, nice things happen to you. But the day of the fight, I try to take the fight very seriously. I focus on my objective, that is winning the fight. I keep my focus on the fight.
"Before the fight and after the fight, I'm OK with my opponents."
That goes for his upcoming foe at UFC 146 on May 26, Alistair Overeem. Even when told Overeem claimed to not only be bigger and stronger than dos Santos, but he also hits harder, the champion responded with the requisite smile.
"Really?" dos Santos asked with a laugh.
While he may not agree with the last part, he was willing to admit Overeem may have a slight edge in size and strength. Dos Santos will enter the Octagon at 146 at 6-foot-4 and will weigh somewhere around 240 pounds, while Overeem stands at 6-foot-5 and will likely have to cut weight to reach the heavyweight limit of 265 pounds.
Overeem, who fights out of Holland, not only listed his physical attributes as reasons why he'll take dos Santos' title, he also claimed to have an experience edge. Overeem is a former K-1 kickboxing and Strikeforce heavyweight champion who's been competing as a professional fighter for 14 years. Dos Santos is in his sixth year as a pro.
"In all facets, I'm the man," Overeem said.
Both fighters are coming off of wins over former UFC heavyweight champions. Overeem made his UFC debut at UFC 141 on Dec. 30 with a win over Brock Lesnar, sending the former champ into retirement with a TKO win at 2:26 of the first round. A liver kick sent Lesnar to the ground, where Overeem overwhelmed him with blows before the referee stepped in and stopped the fight.
The win over Lesnar was the first time many UFC fans got to see Overeem compete. While some may have wanted to see the fight last a little longer, Overeem said he was more than pleased with the outcome, and the way the fight played out. He said fans got to see what he can do.
"I think it was an excellent (first) impression," Overeem said. "I mean, my first fight in the UFC, a stoppage in the first round, two minutes, 26 seconds. It was a fight that would earn me the title fight. All I can say is I'm very happy it turned out like it did. I trained hard for it. I had some setbacks, I fought through them like a champ, and here I am."
Dos Santos won the title with a win over then-champion Cain Velasquez in the debut UFC on FOX fight this past November. It was the first UFC fight on network television, and while it didn't last very long (dos Santos knocked Valasquez out in just 64 seconds) dos Santos said he was happy with the way the fight came across on free TV.
"I think it was a good moment for the sport. For me, for Cain Velasquez — actually, for Cain Velasquez, no," dos Santos said with a laugh. "But for me and for the whole sport. Everybody got to see an MMA fight all over the world. People who never saw an MMA fight before, they were watching that day.
"It was very fast, the fight, but I think people liked the fight. Because when you know what is happening inside the Octagon, you like it better. When people don't like the fights, it's because they don't know what's happening inside there. When they see the skills of the fighters and how hard the fighters work to get there, I think things like that came through that day."
Dos Santos said the fight with Velasquez went better than he expected.
"Yeah, I was surprised, because Cain Velasquez is a really dangerous fighter," dos Santos said. "He's very complete. Good fighter standing, good fighter on the ground. His wrestling is really good. So I was expecting a very tough fight. It was perfect for me, because I had an injury in my knee at the time. It was a one-minute fight, so perfect."
With his knee feeling "100 percent," dos Santos heads into the showdown with Overeem looking to defend his belt for the first time. It's a matchup of two men known for their striking. While dos Santos is a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, he knows the fight will likely be decided with both fighters standing and throwing.
"I think it's going to be a good challenge for me," dos Santos said. "I've fought with Cro Cop (Mirko Filipovic) and Gilbert Yvel, good strikers. Now I'm facing the (former) K-1 champion. He's going to be a good challenge for me.
"Striker against striker, heavyweights ... it's going to be good for the fans."
Both fighters were pleased that UFC 146 has turned into a showcase for the UFC's heavyweight division. All five fights on the main card will feature heavyweights.
"Very happy," Overeem said. "I mean, this is what people want to see. The bigger, the badder, the better."
"I think it's a really good thing," dos Santos said. "This is going to be the first time in history that happens. I'm glad to be involved. It's important because we have really good (heavyweight) fighters now. The guy who is challenging me, Alistair Overeem, Frank Mir, Cain Velasquez, Roy Nelson, Bigfoot Silva, Stafan Struve ... A lot of really good fighters. It's going to be a good moment for our division. The heavyweight division right now is very interesting. All the good fighters in the world are in the UFC."
Both dos Santos and Overeem said they're becoming fans of another sport that features big men, American football. Overeem said he went to the NFC championship game earlier this year and saw the Giants beat the 49ers ("Go 49ers!" he said). Dos Santos said he'd like to take a shot at playing on the gridiron.
"Maybe I could be good in American football," dos Santos said. "But in the other sports, soccer or basketball, I'm not good. I prefer fights. I like fights. Boxing, MMA, everything."
For now, dos Santos will have to settle for competing in the Octagon. As for how his fight with Overeem will turn out, the champ has his own thoughts on the matter.
"I think I'm faster than him. It's not about size. It's about skills and strategy," dos Santos said. "He's big, he's strong. I respect that. But I will give my best inside the Octagon. It's not about what he will bring inside the Octagon, it's about what I can do there."