Dos Santos-Velasquez today, Dos Santos-Velasquez tomorrow, and Dos Santos-Velasquez forever
By Derek Suboticki, October 21st, 2013
[I tried to do way too much here and I'm completely okay with that. I'm writing about MMA again! - Derek]
I’m worse than a TUF noob. That’s not a subjective judgment, either. As any “true” MMA fan will tell you, the quality and worth of your fanaticism about the sport is directly correlated with the age of said fanaticism. TUF noobs – the sad sack, reality TV connoisseurs that propelled The Ultimate Fighter to 18 (and counting) seasons while saving Zuffa from financial ruin – have YEARS on me in this most important of categories. I readily concede their advantage. Few that have visited the threads below MMA posts across the Internet – keeping in mind that these fans represent a pitifully small percentage of all self-proclaimed fans – would argue the cleft between the “hardcore” fans and their less seasoned brethren. Matchmaking, specifically for champions, is one of the contentious issues that divides message boards and forums, from the lowly Sherdog to the… also lowly Bloody Elbow.
PRIDE fans, in particular, don’t mind a little wackiness with who their champions fight. Being surprised would be silly – much as a strict diet of baby food will eventually lead to atrophy in adults, a fan base that was routinely fed Fedor v. Baby Zulu, Fedor v. Hong Man Choi, Wanderlei Silva v. (insert random victim), Cro Cop v. (masked!) Alberto del Rio and others (do we have comments here? We should have comments here. Put your favorite in the comments!) is not only used to, but OK with the best fighters in the world fighting anything but. That type of cavalier matchmaking during the prime of an elite fighter’s career has, mercifully, not infected the UFC.
For fans like me – and, I like to imagine, others – the purpose of MMA is a little different. It’s to find out who the best fighter in the world is. On a more clinical level – the one I enjoy and that first intrigued me – it’s to determine what the best fighting style in the world is. That’s the biggest benefit of a unified talent roster. Instead of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on different courts, or Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods trying to avoid each other in tournaments, most other individual sports – even those scourged by self-interested, criminal promoters like boxing – have realized the basic truth of just putting the best against the best and seeing what happens. That way, when an athlete truly transcends his peers as the aforementioned have, it’s real, as opposed to promotional protection.
That is but part of why I would like to see Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez fight as many times as possible, as long as both continue to prove they are above and beyond the rest of the heavyweight division.
The criticisms of their “bland” personalities? Those only amplify that electric, unexpected moment when the champion moved forward and refused to let the challenger occupy the center of the Octagon alone. That single gesture by a champion routinely described as “dispassionate” or “robotic” brought an outstanding Houston crowd back to a fever pitch. In the post-fight media scrum, Dana sang Houston’s praises, claiming he’d like to go there “every weekend,” but what crowd wouldn’t have been set ablaze by a confrontation that caused Bruce Buffer to announce the challenger as Junior “Cigano” dos Santo? The talk after last night’s tilt aren’t about lackluster UFC Primetime interviews or sleep-inducing press conferences. They’re what they should be about – talents, strengths, weaknesses and an incredible performance by both men. And that moment. The type that’s impossible to script or cajole. The kind that means more than all the prepackaged promotional pieces and scripted stare downs in the world.
The specifics of last night only reinforce this opinion. In an eerie redux of his short-notice (and star-making) bout against Bellator PPV main card (lol) heavyweight Cheick Kongo in Germany at UFC 99, Velasquez met Junior dos Santos’ fists almost immediately and found himself scrambling to recover. While there are strong cases to be made for, say, Herb Dean to obey his impulses and actually stop the fight in the third round, or for dos Santos’ corner to save their fighter from additional punishment, the simple fact is that dos Santos posed a viable threat to Velasquez’s title reign right up until the bitter end. In fact, Junior’s penultimate moment – slamming his head into the canvas and dazing himself, with Cain providing what Herb Dean had patiently waited for – was an attempt to finish a power guillotine out of which the champion deftly Sex Panthered. Junior dos Santos proved to me that, especially with Daniel Cormier departing for 205, that he presents the best challenge to the best heavyweight in the world.
Now, of course, that is subject to change, as it is in every combat sport. Fabricio Werdum has largely been confirmed as Cain’s next opponent, having more than earned his shot at the title despite his previous melting at the hands of dos Santos. Travis Browne’s knockout of Alistair Overeem propelled him up the rankings, setting up a match with everyone’s favorite 3-time steroid abuser, Josh Barnett. And those aforementioned PRIDE fans? They’d be happy to cycle contenders, whether worthy or not, into the mix, in an effort to fight “staleness” or “repetition.” Hell, you’ll find MMA fans that object to championship rematches on principle, perhaps letting a residual distaste for Frankie Edgar lead them to reject a replay of Alexander Gustafsson and Jon Jones in lieu of seeing Bones fight a guy that almost got knocked out by Ryan Bader. To them I say, look to the ancient past, the Long Long Ago, the Before Time, when K-1 was relevant and awesome. There were REAMS of rematches as the best strikers in the world advanced through Grand Prix after Grand Prix. Ernesto Hoost fought Jerome le Banner and Peter Aerts five times, and would no doubt have added to his trilogy with Semmy Schilt had there been more overlap between their primes. In other words, the best fighters in the world fought the best fighters in the world as frequently as they earned the opportunity. That is something MMA should aspire to, rather than match-make in fear of.
So let one of the up and coming heavyweights defeat Cain or Junior before we cast aside the idea of seeing them meet again. If Junior can successfully bat away another contender, and Cain is able to hold on to his belt, then who would object to a winter tilt between the two best heavyweights in the world?
Oh – one more thing. In the post-fight scrum, Dana also compared the situation at flyweight with Demetrious Johnson and John Dodson with JDS and Velasquez, declaring them analogous in how the pairs stand above their divisions. I feel the exact same way about that situation. Mighty Mouse-Dodson? I’ll have six, please.
Derek Suboticki is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. The better half /third of the Untethered MMA podcast shown every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET at FightFansRadio.com, also available as a podcast via iTunes.