Velasquez redeems himself for all to see
December, 30, 2012
By Chuck Mindenhall
LAS VEGAS -- When the first fight between challenger Junior dos Santos and UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez was made in November 2011, the question was simple: Could dos Santos keep the fight standing?
Knowing what they knew about Velasquez at the time, a lot of people were skeptical that he could.
When they met at the rematch at UFC 155 on Saturday night, 13 months after the belt changed hands, the question became: Could Velasquez get the fight to the ground?
In each case, the challenger carried the burden of answering the question. And in each case, the answer was something not altogether expected.
Velasquez recaptured his heavyweight belt with a one-sided, unanimous decision over Dos Santos (50-45, 50-44, 50-43). Not only did the fight last the entire five rounds -- something that Dana White said he'd have wagered big sums of money against never happening -- Velasquez consistently beat dos Santos on the feet. And he took dos Santos down. And he dominated all phases.
In the world of black and white imagination, this wasn't the fight people expected. Wasn't Velasquez's best chance to take the fight to the floor and work his ground and pound? The thinking was he didn't want to stand and trade with dos Santos, a superior boxer with heavy hands who needed a shade over a minute to knock out Velasquez the first time.
What a difference 13 months and 64 seconds makes.
"A lot of people are always [saying] 'take him down, take him down' -- but it's not like that," Velasquez told ESPN.com after the fight. "If your opponent knows you're going to take him down off the bat, then of course he's going to defend it. But if you throw stuff up top, throw punches, and then go for the takedown? It's a set-up. It makes it so much easier for you.
"So, with him knowing that I wanted to take him down and then throwing stuff up top, it threw him off."
Velasquez crashed home a big overhand right that dropped dos Santos midway through the opening round. From that moment on dos Santos was in survival mode, similar to the position Brock Lesnar found himself in against Shane Carwin at UFC 116.
Only in this fight, dos Santos never truly recovered. He took a beating -- even through chants of "Cigano" by the Brazilian faithful who were on hand hoping to see him tie the UFC heavyweight record with a second title defense, and even in the first round when he was fresh.
White said afterwards that he thought dos Santos, who demonstrated his heart and mettle in defeat, might have broken his jaw in the second round.
But that first big right hand changed the course of the fight.
Ed Mulholland for ESPNCain Velasquez, left, silenced any and all doubt by dominating Junior dos Santos over five rounds in the rematch last year.
"It was hard, you know, I know I hit him with a good shot," Velasquez said. "He went down. It was hard. I really wanted to keep a lot of weight on him and keep him down, but also throw a lot of power in my punches. And I couldn't get the amount of power that I wanted to knock him out on the ground, so I tried to be smart. When he recovered I slowed down a little bit."
Now Velasquez has regained his title, and it looks like his first title defense could come in a marquee matchup against Alistair Overeem. That is, if Overeem gets by Antonio Silva in February.
"We'll see what happens," White said when pressed on Overeem as the next challenger. Velasquez called it a "great opportunity" when asked about it himself.
But to be fair, the new (old) heavyweight champ was still putting all the pieces back together on having become a redemption story.
"I keep going in and out of what I just did, and I'm not really believing at this moment," Velasquez said. "That's it, man, just a lot hard work to get back to this point."
And as for the rocky road it took to return to glory?
"Knowing what I can do and knowing that I didn't do it in the first fight, and it being a doubt in so many people's minds, and me hearing it over a whole year or so ... all it comes down to is doing the hard work in the gym and translating that in the Octagon."
How's that for a stand-up reaction to a year's worth of doubt?