This Saturday night at UFC 166 in Houston, Texas, the biggest
heavyweight UFC fight in history is taking place. No. 1-ranked
former champ Junior Dos Santos takes on the current champion,
Mexican-American Cain Velasquez to complete their epic trilogy.
The first fight didn’t last long. JDS landed a beautiful
right hand that knocked down Velasquez early as he followed with a
series of rights on the mat to stop the fight in the very first
round. The second fight was very different. Velasquez used forward
pressure, head movement, wrestling and a brutal pace to beat up JDS
for 25 minutes. It was the performance Cain needed to defeat Dos
Santos. Cain corrected his previous mistakes and was able to drag
JDS into deep water early with a right hand and a pace that was
aimed at seeing Dos Santos drown. While there may have been times
when JDS’s body wanted to give up, his heart simply
wouldn’t allow it to sink. It was one of the greatest
displays of heart I have ever seen in the Octagon. No matter how
many times Dos Santos was taken down or battered, he refused to
give up and still sought out the KO until the final second of the
championship fight. Now, let’s discuss what kind of adjustments Dos
Santos must make to win this historical rubber match.
Velasquez mauled JDS for five rounds in their second
The 29-year-old Brazilian is the most athletic heavyweight
fighter on the planet. The way he moves, his strength and his speed
is a notch above everyone else in the division. He will need these
attributes to battle against the inhuman conditioning of Velasquez.
The key to the success of JDS will be his footwork. Dos Santos must
stay mobile and circle to his right to avoid that Velasquez right
hand that dropped him in Round 1 of the rematch. As he circles, he
needs to keep his hands high and mix in feints to confuse Cain.
Feints will make it much more difficult for a fighter like Cain to
find his timing.
JDS also needs to utilize the jab to keep Cain on the outside.
The lack of jab in the second fight allowed Cain to close the gap
and get off on his punches and utilize takedowns. The jab is also a
great measuring tool that has allowed JDS to find his range in the
past, especially in combination with his devastating uppercut.
There were times when JDS threw the uppercut without setting up the
jab and he paid for it with counters from Velasquez. By utilizing
the jab, dos Santos can keep Cain on the outside and force him to
take bad takedown attempts from the outside. The jab will also help
JDS get off one of his favorite strikes: the right cross. He sets
it up well with the jab but then side steps to his right to find an
angle where he will throw the cross or overhand right. JDS caught
Cain with this punch in their first fight. He has to be patient and
use his jab to find these angles.
Velasquez would be a much easier opponent if it weren’t
for his excellent high-volume striking game. He combines it
extremely well to set up entries into takedowns. From there, Cain
uses motion and chain wrestling extremely well. By that I mean,
Cain combines his second and third attacks very well to help finish
his takedowns moving from high crotch to double leg to body lock
takedowns. Cain does this best when he has room to drive through
his opponents in the center of the cage. It is very important that
dos Santos counter those takedowns when Cain does get in on his
Velasquez retrieved his UFC heavyweight championship belt at
To help him with the technical counters and defensive wrestling
aspects of the fight, dos Santos has hired Russian-born, Canadian
2012 Olympian Khetag Pliev to help him with his training. Normally,
it takes years of repetition to become an excellent wrestler that
can compete with the likes of Velasquez. Dos Santos has a few
things though that will help him become a much better wrestler than
he was in the first fight. First, he is an excellent athlete who is
capable of learning very quickly. He already has years of
experience learning the defensive aspects of wrestling with his
past training camps and now adding in tips from Pliev and focusing
on drilling and sparring, dos Santos can really make things more
difficult for Cain on Saturday night. The wrestling we see in MMA
is quite different than traditional wrestling. Countering wrestling
in MMA is difficult but certainly less complex than a straight
freestyle wrestling match. Perfecting the fundamentals and adding
strikes into the equation can even the playing field for
Another important tactic that will help dos Santos is circling
close to the cage. Cain’s style of wrestling attacks requires
motion and space, and the cage can be used as a great equalizer.
Despite being exhausted, dos Santos used the cage relatively well
in the second fight to stop takedowns. It was in the center of the
Octagon where he struggled most. With the cage at dos Santos’
back, Cain will run out of room to finish his style of takedowns.
Being the larger, stronger man, dos Santos also needs to use the
Octagon to rest and pace himself. From there, JDS can tie up
Velasquez and look for a referee break that will force Cain to try
for a takedown again and again.
Improved footwork and feinting will help JDS avoid another
beating at UFC 166.
Finally, it is important that JDS look to strike to the body.
JDS is a master knockout artist but must attack the body of
Velasquez, especially in the early rounds. Throwing shots at the
head allows a takedown expert like Velasquez to change levels and
attack the legs. If JDS throws jabs and crosses to the sternum or
stomach of Velasquez, it makes changing levels and takedowns harder
for the champion. Knowing that it is highly unlikely for Velasquez
to tire on his own, body shots are a great way to take the energy
away from even the most conditioned fighters. Staying at eye level
with the shorter Velasquez will also help his chances. It will
force Cain to change levels even lower and as we know in MMA, every
millisecond counts for reaction time. The higher dos Santos stands
the easier it is for Cain to attack his legs.
UFC 166’s main event is not an easy fight for either man. And
this is why we’re all looking forward to the completion of this
amazing trilogy between two of the best heavyweights to ever put
the UFC gloves on.