The rumors of a summertime bout between UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem have already begun heating up. Whether the fight ends up being this summer or another date altogether, one thing that’s for sure is that the two eventually will meet and, barring any freak injuries, it will be the next fight for both competitors.
While we’re all waiting for the UFC to officially announce what will surely be a highly competitive striking battle, I think there’s a man waiting in the wings that poses an even bigger threat to Overeem’s possible reign atop the heavyweight division. That man is none other than the man dos Santos beat to earn that big, shiny belt – Cain Velasquez.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not ruling out a dos Santos win over “The Reem” once they lock horns and start throwing haymakers. I think dos Santos has a pretty good chance of connecting with Overeem and hanging onto his belt. He’s a great striker – probably the best heavyweight boxer in MMA. But what we’ve seen of “Cigano” so far in the Octagon is pretty much limited to standing strikes and a bit of takedown defense. He’s yet to be tested on the ground, and who knows how much wrestling, if any, the Brazilian has in his arsenal. He’s limited in the ways he can beat Overeem, and his main weapon is the same weapon that could end up putting him on his back, gazing up at the lights, if Overeem connects with one of his K-1 level strikes.
But why Cain Velasquez, you ask? That’s a fair question. The former champ didn’t exactly look impressive in his loss to dos Santos at UFC on Fox in November. In fact, he looked downright … ordinary. What makes me think he’ll have a better time against a beast like Overeem? There are a few factors to consider if Overeem gets past dos Santos and Velasquez gets another shot at gold.
Cain Velasquez knows damn well that he put on a poor performance at UFC on Fox. It’s eating him up inside. We all know this. But what might be eating him up inside even more is the fact that he failed completely to implement his game plan during the dos Santos fight. He failed so miserably, in fact, that he even had UFC president Dana White scratching his head at the post-fight press conference wondering, “Why didn’t Cain shoot for a takedown?”
If you think he’s going to go into his next bout and look to stand and bang, especially if it ends up being against a high-level striker like Overeem, you’re out of your mind. Cain will be in hard-core wrestling mode. He’ll look to avoid strikes and immediately get the fight to the ground, with him on top, in a nice ground-and-pound position. And what did we all say was Overeem’s biggest weakness? That’s right, girls and boys: a skilled wrestler who can put him on his back and punch him in the face. A guy who can wear on the big, muscle-bound “Demolition Man.” Those were the exact keys to victory that everyone thought Brock Lesnar would use to dismantle Overeem. Apparently, however, no one told that to Lesnar, as he only attempted one half-hearted takedown.
Velasquez is a great wrestler. He’s showed it in previous matches in the UFC, and he showed it against Lesnar, who many thought was an even better wrestler. When he’s healthy, motivated and following his game plan, he can dictate where the fight takes place – and that’s exactly the kind of fighter you need to beat someone like Overeem. When Velasquez comes back, that’s exactly the kind of fighter I expect him to be – a hungry, focused, wrestling machine. Don’t forget, as well, that Velasquez has some power in his hands. He’s quick and accurate and used his fists to finish Lesnar. Where Overeem wasn’t worried about Lesnar’s striking at all, he’ll have to keep an eye on Velasquez’s punches. It’s just another element that he has to be aware of in a fight that I expect would be a lot more competitive than the one you witnessed at UFC 141.
Do I think there are other fighters that could possibly give Overeem trouble as well? Sure. I think any heavyweight with a solid wrestling game might be tough for “The Reem.” I think Daniel Cormier would make it a fight, as well as someone like Josh Barnett. I guess we’ll find out if and when those guys make their way over to the UFC. For now, however, I think Velasquez has the best shot of anyone directly in line for a shot at Overeem.
We’ll find out, of course, when Junior Dos Santos and Alistair Overeem finally do step into the Octagon across from each other later this year. I think it’ll be a good fight – and one that “Cigano” can win. But I still think that if you’re looking for someone to beat “The Reem,” then you’re looking for someone like Cain Velasquez.