For almost a year and a half now, I have been defending Cain Velasquez from people who would say that he “really just didn’t have what it took to beat Junior Dos Santos”. After last night, I don’t think I will need to defend my argument ever again. Typically, I stay away from writing direct fight analysis, but last night being such a big fight, and one of the few that I have really looked forward to all year, I figured it warrants some direct attention from this writer/fan.
I’ve always contended that Cain got caught in the first fight – a patented upper cut that landed in the right place at the right second by a sharp striker was what won JDS the first fight. However, Cain is the more all-around talented fighter of the two in my view. I am not taking anything away from Dos Santos on the first fight; he went in with a game-plan and executed it – out-box your opponent and knock him out. It’s a tried tested and true strategy that is employed by many stand-up fighters in MMA, and frankly Velaszquez walked right into the trap that was laid out for him. Knowing the type of fighter that Cain is, I was surprised that he fell for this in the fight on UFC on FOX 1, BUT I was sure it wasn’t going to happen again.
Last night at UFC 155 Cain regained his title, and did so in devastating fashion (as I have told people he would do all along). Three factors basically dictated the outcome of this fight, as I see it:
1. The Striking Line: Velaszquez out-struck JDS by a factor of almost 2-to-1 (111 significant strikes, versus 57 landed by Dos Santos), a metric that was basically even keel in their first match-up, with only a combined 15 strikes having been thrown between the two on UFC on FOX 1. Cain was never reckless with his striking at UFC 155, never believing he could just wade in with punches. Instead he opted to take his time and wear his opponent down – and Dos Santos face after the fight spoke loudly to this.
2. The Relentless Takedown Attempts by Velasquez: What was most compelling, I believe, was Cain’s insistence on landing the takedown. A good fighter always learns from their mistakes, and Cain showed remorse last night for not having utilized the shoot in the first match-up. Almost from the get-go Cain tried to get this fight to the mat. While I was impressed with the initial takedown defence by JDS, after Cain finally got the Brazilian on his back a certain confidence came over him. With 11 takedowns landed in the fight (versus 33 attempted) by Velaszquez, it was hard not to believe that Cain was winning the fight by using his bread and butter technique.
3. The Gas Tank: I believe this was ultimately the determining factor in the fight. After about the midway point in the first round Dos Santos looked visibly wore down (the knock down by Cain at this point likely didn’t help things), going into the 5th round of the fight, Velasquez looked fresh as a daisy. This frankly surprised me a little, as Dos Santos has shown respectable cardio in his previous fights – but, in this case he just seemed like he could never mount a formidable offence due to fatigue. It allowed Cain to have his way with his opponent throughout most of the fight; takedowns and strikes suddenly became a lot easier for Velasquez, and Dos Santos started to look like an extra from “The Walking Dead”.
Sometimes once ground-based fighters find some success on the feet, and they tend to abandon the skill set that got them where they are today. This is what happened to Cain in the first match-up. He had been knocking guys out left-right-and-center, and went in wanting to do the same thing in the first time these two matched up. Obviously he failed. Coming into this second fight, you could tell that there was a tailor made plan in place, and it was executed to perfection.
I don’t want to take anything away from Dos Santos. He has been stringing together some impressive wins against valid opponents (e.g. Frank Mir, Shane Carwin, Roy Nelson), and I was really starting to become a believer that he might have the right stuff to be the future face of the heavyweight division. However, I think when all was said and done we saw that a multi-tool skill set and sound game-plan won the day for Cain.
Champions of the day need to be more than a fighter who is REALLY good at one aspect of the game. The days of Chuck Liddell and Matt Hughes are gone. Today is the day of Jon Jones, Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva (who does have a phenomenal ground game), Jose Aldo and Cain Velasquez. Hopefully, Dos Santos will evolve the same way – as I am sure the third match-up between these two will be a reckoning for one of them.