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Junior dos Santos: I Will Be the Heavyweight Champion on Saturday

Junior dos SantosJunior dos Santos

truly appreciates the magnitude of what's about to happen to him on Saturday night. Though the Brazilian heavyweight has swiftly picked up the English language like something out of a Rosetta Stone ad, his grasp of American culture might still be a tad hazy.

UFCCain Velasquez

on FOX is a very big deal, but still seems unclear about the exact ramifications of it all.

"I have no idea what that means for sure yet," dos Santos told MMA Fighting on Tuesday afternoon. "I know it's going to be huge for our sport, for all of MMA, and for the UFC. I'm just happy to be here and I want to do my best to win this fight."

What it means, of course, is that dos Santos is about to become a significant part of MMA history. The sport has had primetime network TV exposure in the past, but nothing like this. As if fighting for a UFC title wasn't enough, dos Santos is about to help the UFC expose its product to millions of viewers, many of whom will likely have never watched an entire MMA bout before. Talk about pressure.

Because dos Santos' meeting with the champ is the only fight scheduled for Saturday night's hour-long broadcast, the stakes couldn't be higher for this fight. If it's a dud, the whole sport may be judged by it. If it's a thriller, dos Santos and Velasquez will likely be heroes not just to their bosses at the UFC, but to the multitudes of other pro MMA fighters -- present and future -- who are hoping that a successful debut on FOX will be the rising tide that lifts all ships.

Just thinking about it might be enough to give a normal person a panic attack, but the nerve-wracking immensity of it all doesn't seem capable of reaching dos Santos.

"I know it's an important show, it's an important fight, for me and the whole of MMA, but I'm feeling no pressure," he said. "Actually, I'm feeling the same pressure that I had for other fights. ... For me, it's going to be the same thing. I'm really happy with where I am now, fighting for the title, and it's more important than everything. I will keep my focus on the fight, on Cain Velasquez, and I'll try not to think about that other stuff."

It's a smart approach, since Velasquez's non-stop motor will probably provide dos Santos with plenty to think about once the cage door closes. The champion is far from the biggest or strongest man in the heavyweight division, but what he lacks in size he has more than made up for with speed and pace.

Once the former All-American wrestler gets started, he doesn't stop. He hardly even slows down, and there aren't many big men in the sport who can keep up with him. To make sure that he's one of the few who can go step-for-step and blow-for-blow with the champ, dos Santos had his conditioning coach adjust his training, he said.

To prepare for a fast-paced title fight that could, at least theoretically, go five rounds, dos Santos never sparred less than six rounds in training, he said. And while UFC president Dana White once criticized him for beating up on opponents early and then coasting in the later rounds, the Brazilian now says he's "more prepared for this fight, and I train a lot to keep fighting like in the first round for the whole [fight]."

"Cain Velasquez has really good stamina. For the heavyweight division, it's very different and that makes him very dangerous for this division. But you know, he seems like an unstoppable guy, and that's going to be my challenge. I'm going to do my best to stop him."

And how does he plan to do that, exactly? Fortunately for dos Santos (or maybe unfortunately, depending on how you think about it), he's not one of those fighters who needs to keep his game plan much of a secret. He wants to stay off the mat against the decorated wrestler and put his boxing skills to work, and he doesn't much care who knows it.

"I don't know how the fight will be, but I would love to fight standing with him," dos Santos said. "I think he's going to try and take me down and make his ground-and-pound. He's very good at ground-and-pound and I think he will try to do that. But I'm going to try very hard to keep this fight standing, because I want to knock him out and I will try my best to knock him out on Saturday."

It's a feat that none of Velasquez's other opponents have accomplished, but that doesn't mean it can't be done. Whether it ends via KO or not, dos Santos insisted, "I will win the title. I'm really confident [that] I will be the heavyweight champion on Saturday."

He's known nothing but success so far in the UFC, but a win would vault him to heights that even dos Santos seems incapable of imagining just yet.

As he put it, "When I started, I had dreams to fight in the UFC and be one of the best fighters in the world one day. But I never thought I could be here at this point right now. I'm just enjoying everything. I'm really prepared for this fight, and for sure it's going to be huge."

How huge? That's a question still waiting for an answer.

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