Heavyweight title challenger confident he’ll find success on FOX
Junior dos Santos is excited.
Euphoric, actually. His word, not mine.
“I was elated, euphoric,” said dos Santos, speaking with Heavy MMA shortly after UFC President Dana White made the historic announcement. “This is the single best opportunity the UFC could have offered me, and I am so grateful for it.”
The scope and importance of the moment is not lost on dos Santos. In addition to recognizing the importance of this bout for himself and his career, the 27-year-old also sees the bigger picture.
“It’s huge. It’s as big as it gets; a title fight on prime time TV on Fox. It’s a huge moment in my professional career, and it’s a huge moment for the UFC and for the sport of MMA.
“The sport has struggled with mainstream acceptance, and sometimes it still feels very much like a niche. Having the heavyweight title championship live on Fox is a tremendous opportunity for the growth of MMA, the growth of the UFC, and it opens up a lot of big opportunities for us, the athletes.”
Originally expected to take place at UFC 139, the company’s debut in San Jose, California, the shifting of the bout up a week will have no impact on the challenger. Like Velasquez, dos Santos was already in the early stages of his training camp, kick-started by helping his mentor prepare for UFC 134.
“I was part of Minotauro’s training camp for UFC Rio, helping him to prepare for his bout against Brendan Schaub. We were training at the Team Nogueira training facility in Rio de Janeiro, and a lot of excellent fighters were there everyday; Erik Silva, Anderson Silva, Minotouro, Bigfoot (Antonio Silva), JZ (Gesias Cavalcante). We were sparring daily and, even though my focus was helping Minotauro prepare, it got me a good head start on my own training camp for UFC on Fox.
“As soon as Minotauro won, and UFC Rio was over, I headed back home to Salvador, Bahia and got right back into my regular training with Coach Dorea, my personal trainer Andre Luiz, my jiu-jitsu coach Yuri Carlton. Minotauro will be coming to Salvador to help my camp. I’ve been training with Damien Maia, who is getting ready for his next fight too, and jiu-jitsu coach Ramon Lemos will be arriving here shortly.”
The 13-1 dos Santos will remain in Brazil throughout his training camp. While there are places he could train in the States—facilities he could use, friends and teammates he could work with—the comforts of home will keep him in Salvador until fight week. It’s something dos Santos believes his American colleagues who fought at UFC 134 in Rio have a better understand of now.
“I think some of the American fighters at UFC Rio may have had a taste of what we (non-Americans) go through when we have to go to the States to fight. The food is different, you’re sleeping in a hotel, you’re far from family; all of those changes in routine can really impact your preparation.
“I remember at the press conference for UFC 134 Forrest complained he couldn’t find Pepto-Bismol in Rio. It’s little day-to-day things that when you’re in a different country, far from home, can really have an impact.
“For me, Salvador is my home and my foundation. I like to sleep in my own bed, I like to have my wife taking care of my diet, I like to see my friends on the weekend. So I prefer to have my training camp here.”
While dos Santos has been impressive since bursting on the scene with his then-stunning upset of Fabricio Werdum at UFC 90, he used his bout at UFC 131 to unveil a new weapon in his arsenal—his wrestling. Already established as the best boxer in the heavyweight division, dos Santos teased his talents on the ground with a pair of perfectly executed takedowns on Shane Carwin in the third.
“I knew I had won the first round pretty clearly. The second round I thought I had won but it wasn’t as clear. In the third round, I thought I had an opportunity to show people that I am not just a boxer.
“It’s easy to get pigeonholed into one style, but the truth is I train a lot of jiu-jitsu and wrestling. I’ve taken to wrestling the same way I took to boxing; it feels natural to me and I am learning fast. Maybe on Fox November 12 you guys will get to see some more of my ground skills.”
There is no maybe about it.
Facing Velasquez, a former Junior College National champion and two-year standout on an Arizona State wrestling team that also featured Ryan Bader and C.B. Dollaway, dos Santos will most likely be given the opportunity to showcase his abilities on the ground. When it happens, he’s prepared.
“I see a tough fight ahead for both of us. I am sure we will each be each others biggest challenge to date. He’ll be looking to take me down and pound me, and I’ll be looking to knock him out.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if Cain takes me down 10 times, I will get up 10 times. But if I land 10 punches, I’m not sure I see Cain getting back up.”
Don’t let dos Santos’ confidence in his own abilities read like a lack of respect for the current heavyweight champion.
Despite the fact that Velasquez will have been out of the cage for just over a year and returning from surgery, “Cigano” expects Velasquez will be at his best come fight night. He’ll need to, because dos Santos intends to do the same, and leave Anaheim as the new UFC heavyweight champion.
“Cain is a tremendous athlete, and a great fighter. I doubt he’s been twiddling his thumbs the whole past year. He strikes me as a guy who probably made his way back to training as soon as he was cleared, and there is no question he will be as ready as me on November 12. He’s a professional fighter with a huge opportunity in front of him, just like me. I have no doubt he will be giving his best, as I will be giving my best.
“I will be fighting the #1 UFC heavyweight title-holder; I assume he will be bringing his A game, and I will be there with my A game to get my belt.”