It's arguable UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos is the UFC's least-respected champion. That isn't to say he doesn't receive any respect or even a lot of respect. The question is: does he receive the kind of respect his achievements merit?
I'm not so sure he does, from me or many others. I have tremendous admiration for the heavyweight king, but part of me still feels like he isn't fully tested. Tested some? Yes. Tested quite a bit? Of course. Tested in all the kinds of ways Georges St-Pierre or Anderson Silva or even Ben Henderson have been? I can't say that he has.
Maybe Velasquez will lose in the same manner he did before. No one knows. What I do know, however, or what I am reasonably sure of is that win or lose, Velasquez has the skill set to test dos Santos in ways no previous opponents have or could. He has to take the fight deeper this time. He has to avoid many of the mistakes that cost him his title in their first meeting. Even if he does, he may not still win. But what's great about this bout isn't merely the stakes, but how the outcome may define who these fighters are for years to come if not the rest of their careers.
Can Velasquez reclaim his lost title or will dos Santos finally earn the respect some believe is missing by repeating against the former champion? I answer that question and more with predictions for Saturday's UFC 155.
What: UFC 155: Velasquez vs. dos Santos II
Where: The MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada
When: Saturday, the three-fight Facebook card starts at 6:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight FX card starts at 8 p.m. and the five-fight main card starts on pay-per-view at 10 p.m.
Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos
I'll openly state I think it's better for MMA if Velasquez wins. The greater his star power, the easier it will be to begin cracking open the Mexican market in a real way. I also believe it'll force Daniel Cormier down to 205 pounds. I further believe while the champion in dos Santos has excellent takedown defense, we haven't seen it tested over the course of several rounds by a competent takedown artist. Velasquez never tried the first time they fought. It's one thing to defend a shot or two. It's quite another to do so round over round as the type of takedown changes.
I'm siding with JDS, however, for one clear reason: Velasquez adapts to his opponents striking style over time, but has troubling getting out of the way early. Against a big puncher with quick hand speed, that's a bad combination. I don't suspect this fight will look like the first, but I cannot get away from the idea that Velasquez will have too much trouble early.
Pick: Dos Santos
I do not believe Belcher is going to get stuck behind the jab of Okami, as good as it is. Okami is also a talented grappler and position adjuster, but he's not going to catch Belcher there either. I always hate to break down fights in terms I can't quantify. When others do it it drives me crazy. But I do get the sense there's momentum behind a renewed Belcher while Okami is flagging. For Belcher, it's the second chance on a career that nearly got taken away. He's working with extreme vigor in the gym, which is paying technical dividends. Okami, while still dangerous and capable of beating most elite middleweights, seems a little gunshy and uninspired. Belcher takes this in the end with a pressure game.
The major difference between these two...well, there isn't a whole lot. If I had to pinpoint better predictors of success, though, it'd be length of bout. Lauzon likes to get into a fight and win or lose, get out of it. Miller's ended fights early, too, but he's much harder to put away early. Miller plays the long game while Lauzon tries speed chess. Lauzon's ultra-dangerous and can catch almost anyone early, but my bet is Miller outlasts him to put the pressure on deep in the second or third round.
Constatinos Philippou vs. Tim Boetsch
This fight is ultra close. Philippou is the better pure boxer and probably the better athlete of the two, but Boetsch has underrated 'utilitarian' striking. That is, it doesn't look flashy nor is it necessarily going to rock opponents, but the constant pace of it over time slows opponents down and gives Boetsch a chance to set things up. Philippou also has very good takedown defense, especially over his last few fights. This is not the same fighter who was controlled by Nick Catone. But I don't think he's impossible to takedown either. Philippou will stop a Riki Fukuda shot from the outside, but from the clinch along the fence? Especially where Boetsch does excellent dirty boxing? This one could honestly go either way, but Boetsch will be the more physical and offensively-minded of the two. That should be enough to squeak past.
I don't really know what to expect from Leben. At his best, this should be a relatively winnable fight for him. He's got good enough takedown defense and the ability to throw the lumber over the course of three rounds to make things happen for himself. Brunson is a very athletic, talented wrestler, but I don't know that's as willing to exchange where it matters to do the kind of damage necessary to win. And while I grant Brunson can get a few takedowns over the course of the bout, I don't see him getting enough to win a decision. Then again, is Leben really himself these days? I guess we'll find out.
This is an extremely close fight where both fighters are quick, courageous and technical strikers as well as adept wrestlers and grapplers. This one feels like whoever loses the quick draw challenge loses it all. I'm going to side with Pickett, if that's the case. While the two are nearly equal in ability, Pickett is the more accurate striker of the two. But more importantly, he mixes up his game more adeptly. Wineland is going to be hard to takedown, but just forcing him to react can be enough to score points and land strikes in transition. Pickett gets hit a bit much for my comfort, but I'm not convinced Wineland's going to be the guy to put him away.
*This bout is actually airing on FX. Consider it a free, extra prediction.