An Amazing Victory but No, Junior’s Still Not Ready for Gold

Former heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos earned himself another rematch with Cain Velasquez with a spectacular knockout victory over Mark Hunt at UFC 160. Aside from Velasquez, Hunt was easily the most dangerous and experienced striker Junior had ever faced. Only the best strikers on the planet can out-box Mark Hunt, and Dos Santos proved himself worthy of this status by being the first man to knock Hunt out in the UFC. He reminded us once again why the stand-up war is his domain because if the surging Hunt couldn’t out-point or stop Junior Dos Santos on the feet, it doesn’t look like any other top contenders will be able to either.

If only Cain Velasquez was willing to stand with Junior Dos Santos.

In their first meeting, Cain Velasquez stood right in front of Junior Dos Santos and got knocked out within a matter of minutes. In their second meeting, Cain used his incomparable cardio to constantly make Junior move while pressuring him against the cage; causing Dos Santos to slow down and become increasingly vulnerable to Cain’s takedowns and punches.

We can assume that the latter strategy will be repeated when Dos Santos and Velasquez fight for a third time.

But Junior Dos Santos just beat Mark Hunt! Shouldn’t that mean his hands could just as easily win him his belt back?

Not exactly. Cain Velasquez will want no part in trading strikes with Junior and judging by what we saw Saturday night, Dos Santos doesn't quite yet have the accuracy and speed to derail the ruthless mobility of the heavyweight champion.

Velasquez's game plan in their next fight will most likely be the complete opposite of what Hunt did at UFC 160. He won’t give Junior any opportunities to let off any big punches or even set them up. Velasquez will immediately close the distance and grapple with Dos Santos, wisely taking him out of his element and preventing him from regaining the composure necessary to deliver one of his signature blows.

While Dos Santos unquestionably deserves a ton of credit for defeating Mark Hunt, the victory doesn’t mean that Junior will now have an answer to Cain’s aggression and wrestling. It just solidified the fact that Junior Dos Santos is probably the most difficult heavyweight to overcome in a battle of strikes. Just like their second fight, Junior’s elite boxing will be of little use after the distance has been closed and Cain has him pinned up against the cage before throwing him onto his back.

It was against the cage where Cain landed that huge right hand that put Dos Santos in La-La land for the majority of their first rematch. Junior obviously did a good job of protecting himself from Hunt’s most powerful shots but just like his last fight with Cain, it was when Junior was backing up against the cage when he got caught with Hunt’s cleanest punches. If Hunt had better cardio, he would have just repeatedly rushed Junior when his back was to the cage, launching more of the wild flurries that were successful early on. Hunt tagged Junior a number of times when he was back pedaling towards the cage with his chin straight up, so it should come as no surprise when Velasquez scores from this position as well.

And unlike Hunt, Velasquez won’t get tired after two or three of these rushes. One would think Junior would have at least learned how to cover up or counter when he’s backing up by now, but as we learned at UFC 160, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Junior also had to wait until Hunt was clearly within his range to fire off his overhand right or left hook. As we already established, Junior will have a maximum of two or three seconds to explode before Cain closes the distance and puts him either against the cage or on his back. Hunt stood in front of Dos Santos because he was trying to measure his strikes just like Junior was but Dos Santos still needed Hunt to basically become a sitting duck before letting off one of his signature punches.

To give us the notion that he has the speed and accuracy to catch Cain when he’s coming in, Junior would have punished Hunt whenever he engaged or was stood still for just over a few seconds. Junior made great use of his jab when Hunt inched towards him but he’ll need more than that to stop Cain, who will be sure to shoot or tie Junior up before he can carefully pick his punches.

These flaws are what separates Junior Dos Santos from legendary strikers like Anderson Silva or Chuck Liddell. Junior is an amazing boxer but he’s not the total package just yet, hence why he will continue to fall victim to Velasquez’s pressure-filled grappling. Anderson Silva’s strikes are so quick and precise that he only needs a split second to find his mark and end the fight. Chuck Liddell used to knock guys out when he was walking backwards as his opponent furiously pushed forward. This is the kind of stand-up skills a striking specialist must have to rule his division. Wrestlers with unbelievable cardio like Cain Velasquez are the hardest fighters to knock out and until Dos Santos perfects his offensive to mimic that of Silva or Liddell, he will not yet possess the tools to defeat the heavyweight champion.

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