Tucked neatly between Christmas and New Year's Day is UFC 155, a rematch of the world's top heavyweight Junior dos Santos, and the man who held the claim just before him, Cain Velasquez. It's a fight that is reasonable in its construction, though it leaves something lacking in the buildup. You see, both dos Santos and Velasquez are nice guys, the polite types who hold doors for women and the elderly regardless of whether or not they're in a rush.
As observers, we're intrigued because of their histories, but also because we're not quite sure the first go-round between them, a 64-second knockout win by dos Santos, was indicative of any real talent gap between them. On that night, it was a chasm, but hardly anyone thinks dos Santos will steamroll Velasquez the same way, including the champ himself.
Still, it's been a quick turnaround, with just 13 months and one fight apiece separating the original bout and rematch, and the looming specter of Alistair Overeem out there in the ether, haunting the division.
For a time, Overeem was certain he would be fighting on Dec. 29, a setup that would have been fine with dos Santos, who in August reportedly told UFC president Dana White that he'd prefer to fight the "Demolition Man" over Velasquez.
In a Wednesday conference call, dos Santos reversed course, taking a shot at Overeem in the process.
"I prefer to fight against clean athletes and real professionals," he said. "Cain is one of these guys. He’s a real professional fighter and that’s a good challenge for me. I know he’s very tough and I know how hard I have to train to face him. The other guys, they just say things but there’s nothing behind the words. Guys like me and Cain Velasquez, we are made at the gym. And guys like the other guy, they are made at the laboratory."
The words are no doubt reference to Overeem's testosterone use, which he claimed came through a shot from his doctor without his knowledge of the contents. Nevertheless, it resulted in a nine-month suspension, which he is still serving. That suspension is what has him unable to fight dos Santos, otherwise the two behemoths would have likely been exchanging words on a day like today.
Instead, in a call that was otherwise filled with respectful words and standard pre-fight cliches, it was the only bomb lobbed in anyone's direction.
The words could reignite the stalling rivalry between the two, which has gone back and forth in the media for a few months, with Overeem saying in November that dos Santos was "afraid of me."
For his part, JDS said that he expects Antonio Silva to upset Overeem's title chances when the two meet in February, believing he "has more technique and is more complete." But if the favored Overeem does manage to win, dos Santos' preference to fight against "clean" athletes won't preclude him from stepping into the cage with one of the few fighters he has anything negative to say about. Instead, the fans might actually get to see the good guy face off with a guy he doesn't really like. And wouldn't that be something?
"I'm not thinking about that," he said when asked who he saw as his next contender. "Actually, I don't care about that. I don't choose opponents. Whoever the UFC puts in front of me, I’ll be ready to face."