There is a moment when Cain Velasquez changes. It seems to come only as he drapes a small Mexican flag around his right glove and his eyes narrow his focus as he begins his walk to the cage. The look on his face doesn’t quite appear to be confidence or concentration. Simmering beneath is a quiet indignation, almost a resentment that an opponent would dare try to challenge him at what he does so well. Better than any other heavyweight walking the earth, as a matter of fact.
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It’s not something he voices, but the hints are there, personified by his soul-crushing style. He’s not so much trying to knock your head off as he is trying to make you surrender, breaking you down one molecule at a time. Head, body, legs, and eventually, your mind goes, too. You break, and when that happens, there is no coming back.
No one has ever resisted him like Junior dos Santos has. UFC 166 was supposed to answer some grand question about supremacy in the heavyweight world, but instead, it was the delivery of a grand statement. After knocking out dos Santos, Cain Velasquez is quickly gaining ground as the greatest heavyweight MMA has seen.
After the first two fights between them, we couldn’t help but still have lingering doubts, questions in our minds about what exactly this rivalry was, and what exactly it had solved. Was dos Santos’ clean knockout the more decisive conclusion, or was Cain Velasquez’s one-sided mauling the unquestionably dominant result? The interpretation of that data lay largely in your own personal preferences, and it’s also what made a rubber match so necessary.
There is no need for analysis any longer, no possibility of seeing anything other than a picture made clear by the sheer superiority of Velasquez. Because even while we accept the dos Santos win in fight one as a valid result, the reality is that the duo fought for 49 minutes over three fights, and Velasquez dominated 48 minutes of them. That is hardly an accident, and it’s hardly close.
Here is the final striking stats of the three fights: Velasquez 491, dos Santos 140.
That is not a misprint. Velasquez landed 351 more strikes than his opponent over three fights, against the guy who is still almost unanimously considered the second best heavyweight in the world, a fighter who is powerful and fast and agile.
If fight No. 2 was a mauling, the third was a systematic beatdown. dos Santos came into the fight in much better shape, and paced himself early in hopes of (a) short-circuiting Velasquez’s aggressive wrestling game, and (b) ensuring he’d still have gas in the tank to fire off his power punches late. Amazingly, he stuffed 11 of Velasquez’s first 12 takedowns over the first four rounds, but despite succeeding in that major task, he didn’t manage to win a single one of them. At the time the fight was finished, judge Ruben Najera had it 40-36 for Velasquez while Jon Schorle and Sal D’Amato each had it 40-35 after giving Velasquez a 10-8 in round three.
In other words, dos Santos’ only chance of winning was a Hail Mary right hand.
“Yeah, I’m definitely satisfied,” Velasquez said of the process and the result. “Hopefully no more excuses on his part.”
Those last unprompted words gave a small peek into the mind of MMA’s quietest assassin. Velasquez doesn’t have an outsized personality, and in fact, he’s proven over the years to be quite humble. For example, he still cleans the mats at his American Kickboxing Academy gym after practice. Can you imagine Kobe Bryant mopping the Staples Center floor, or Derek Jeter grabbing a rake and helping out the Yankee Stadium grounds crew? That is Velasquez, modest but fiercely competitive, and his statement suggests that he was bothered by dos Santos’ public discussion of rhabdomyolysis, a condition he says he suffered while training for the second fight.
This time, dos Santos came in saying he was in brilliant shape, and in the immediate aftermath, gave Velasquez his due.
“He beat me up,” dos Santos said. “That’s it.”
That’s a pretty fair assessment of the situation. It’s also the only one.
The question now will be what other heavyweight can wedge his way between them? Fabricio Werdum seems the likely candidate to draw Velasquez in his next title defense, and Velasquez is a lock to be a sizable favorite. In the meantime, dos Santos will head back to the drawing board and look to force his way back to a fourth fight.
From afar, they may continue to do what they’ve done all this time in pushing each other to great heights. No matter who he faces next, dos Santos will no doubt have Velasquez on his mind, and while Velasquez will move on to another hungry challenger, even he acknowledged that the series will probably, eventually move past a trilogy.
For now, it’s really not necessary. It may never really be necessary. Velasquez is No. 1 with a bullet, and if the qualification for a title match with him was the probability of success, we might not be looking towards dos Santos or anyone else who’s currently active. More and more, it becomes clear that Velasquez is historically great, and that his biggest challenge lies not with some opponent but in maintaining his many gifts.