By Matt Larkin
All that hype for the UFC’s big heavyweight title fight on FOX – and the landmark MMA moment was over almost as quickly as it started. Challenger Junior Dos Santos floored champion Cain Velasquez with a right hand a little more than a minute into their bout. Now that “Cigano” reigns supreme as the world’s undisputed top heavyweight, it’s time to ask: can anyone beat him?
The winner of Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem will get the next shot but I don’t think either has the goods to beat the champ. Lesnar is just too uncomfortable being punched. His wrestling won’t matter because Dos Santos’ boxing is too quick and powerful. I think he would hurt Lesnar before Lesnar could score a takedown. Overeem is arguably the closest to JDS’ equal in the striking game but he’s slower and has faced highly inferior competition during his hot streak.
Who does that leave? Josh Barnett would be an interesting challenger if he came over from Strikeforce. But, again, if big guys like Velasquez and Shane Carwin couldn’t take Dos Santos down, can Barnett do it? Though he has power, he also wouldn’t hold a candle to Dos Santos’ boxing in the standup game. Same goes for promising Strikeforce wrestler Daniel Cormier.
The winner of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Frank Mir’s fight on December 10 will rise significantly in the heavyweight rankings. We can forget about a Big Nog/Dos Santos fight. They train together and the Black House guys are adamant about never fighting each other. Mir’s skill set makes him an intriguing contender. His boxing has improved significantly in recent years and he’s obviously a master submission artist. But, again, can he get Dos Santos to the ground?
A sleeper pick could be Cheick Kongo. He has the size, chin and striking accuracy to go toe-to-toe with champ. We can forget Fabricio Werdum, Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson for now, as Dos Santos destroyed all three already.
To me, the best – and perhaps the only – bet to beat Dos Santos is the man who just lost to him. Cain Velasquez didn’t even attempt a takedown on Dos Santos and got knocked out before he could get a feel for the big Brazilian. I chalk it up to ring rust. Velasquez hadn’t fought for more than a year after having shoulder surgery. If he can work his way back to No. 1 contendership, he should be better prepared next time to use his outstanding wrestling and give Dos Santos a proper test.
But if Velasquez can’t return to beat Dos Santos one day, I’m not sure anyone can.