BROOMFIELD, Colo. — Only one man has been lucky enough to make it out of the first round with Junior dos Santos in his UFC career. Gabriel Gonzaga fared no better.
Dos Santos, a fighter who has quickly established himself as perhaps the best heavyweight striker in the division, scored another dramatic knockout victory at “UFC on Versus” to vault himself into the heavyweight title picture.
Dos Santos knockouts usually come out of nowhere, and this one was no different. After peppering Gonzaga with body shots early in the round, dos Santos landed a crisp left hook that sent Gonzaga staggering to the canvas. Dos Santos quickly followed up with several punches on the ground to Gonzaga, who did a good job of protecting himself from the blows. One of the punches penetrated Gonzaga’s defensive efforts, however, and that was all it took to turn out the lights on the man who once challenged Randy Couture for the heavyweight championship.
“I wanted to vary up my strikes and hit him all over his body. I like to hit the body because it makes them lose their conditioning,” said dos Santos. “Nothing surprised me. Everything Gonzaga did tonight was in my strategy for the fight.”
Talk after the fight immediately turned to the possibility of matching dos Santos with Cain Velasquez this summer, with the winner emerging for a title shot. “That fight is definitely going to happen,” said Dana White. “We have a serious lineup of heavyweights now, where back in the day we didn’t have much. Mir and Carwin get it started next weekend, and we’ll see how things play out.”
A bout between dos Santos and Velasquez would match up the two latest arrivals to the UFC heavyweight elite, fighters who were once considered prospects. Velasquez receives most of the hype from the fans and media, but dos Santos sports a resume far more impressive in terms of competition and results. Dos Santos said he welcomes a fight with Velasquez or anybody else the UFC has to offer.
“I will fight the best. It doesn’t matter who it is,” said dos Santos. “Cain is a very tough fighter. He’s great, and that would be a great fight.”
Dos Santos sports a brown belt in jiu-jitsu, and coach Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira says he’s excellent on the ground. We saw a a brief glimpse of it against Gonzaga, when dos Santos was able to immediately scramble back to his feet after being taken down early in the first.
“I didn’t have to use my jiu-jitsu. I’m a standup fighter, but I feel like I would have surprised Gonzaga on the ground,” said dos Santos. “I will always try to keep a fight standing, but I’m comfortable if they decide to go to the ground.”
It’s clear that going to the ground is going to be the best option for heavyweights standing across the cage from dos Santos, because attempting to trade strikes with him is a sure ticket to an early exit. Gabriel Gonzaga learned that the hard way. Dos Santos will be a genuine threat to anybody in the division as long as the fight stays on the feet, from Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir all the way to Cheick Kongo and other title contention onlookers.
Mir and Carwin will meet next Saturday for the UFC interim heavyweight championship. The winner of that fight will be in line to face the returning Lesnar this summer in a title unification bout, which leaves Velasquez and dos Santos on the outside looking in, at least until later in the year. It only makes sense to match them up, to let the two best heavyweight prospects on the planet slug it out for a title shot.