My advice to Junior dos Santos

This Saturday night at

href="http://www.ufc.com/event/UFC166#/fight/Cain-Velasquez-Junior-Dos-Santos"

target="_blank">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.

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Velasquez mauled JDS for five rounds in their second

matchup.

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

legs.

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Velasquez retrieved his UFC heavyweight championship belt at

UFC 155.

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

less-experienced wrestlers.

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.

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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.