Eight years after their first bout, Junior dos Santos and Stefan Struve will collide one more time inside the UFC Octagon, and the Brazilian is glad that “Skyscraper" stepped up and accepted to fight him.
“Cigano" vs. Struve 2 will headline UFC Fight Night 105 in Halifax, Canada, on Feb. 19, and the former heavyweight champion wasn’t surprised when the promotion came up with Struve as his opponent.
"We started to consider him as an option because we were told that the UFC was trying to find a fight for me, and most of them turned it down,” dos Santos told MMA Fighting. "Some athletes said they didn’t have enough time to prepare for me, others turned it down, or were injured. When I heard Stefan Struve accepted it, I was happy because I’m recovered from my shoulder injury since October and I have no time to waste."
dos Santos underwent shoulder surgery after his decision victory over Ben Rothwell in April, and reveals that rematches with Mark Hunt and Alistair Overeem were some of the ideas the UFC had before announcing his bout with Struve.
"I was told that Mark Hunt didn't turn down the fight, but he had some issues with the UFC, some contract stuff, so the fight didn’t happen. But Alistair, yes, he turned it down,” "Cigano" said. "It looks like it was offered for him in November and then in December, and he turned it down saying that he didn’t have enough time (to prepare). I think this fight will be hard (to happen again) [laughs]. I think he knows that what happened will never happen again. He was lucky.
"I can’t just wait for a fight, for athletes to be well enough to fight me,” he continued. "I understand why they don’t want to fight me. I’m in a great moment in my career, my last fight was great, and I’m feeling this is my moment. I know how to use my strength and skill the best way possible. It makes sense for them to fear fighting me.”
When dos Santos and Struve first fought at UFC 95, the Brazilian won by knockout in just 54 seconds. Nine years have passed since that heavyweight clash in London, and “Cigano" sees both fighters as better athletes today.
"When we fought in 2009, that was his first UFC fight, and my second UFC fight. We didn’t have much experience,” he said. "I believe it will be completely different now, even though we have the same line of work. I think it’s going to be a good fight.
"He likes to grapple and has evolved his striking. And I’m a boxing guy. Years have passed and we definitely learned a lot, gained experience, and became better fighters. I believe it’s going to be a different fight, and that’s why I’m happy. It’s a good match-up, and a great show for the fans.”
He expects a different fight, but wouldn't be surprised with another sub-minute finish in Halifax.
"We never expect the fight to be over so quickly,” dos Santos said. "You prepare to be ready for five rounds. The knockout or the submission, the finish, is consequence of a work well done. In 2009, he gave me an opening and I used my hands, my most powerful weapon, and won. If he gives me space again, he will go down again, and even faster than the first time."
While it’s still unclear who will get the next shot at heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, the Brazilian says that the winner of this fight, that features the only men to beat the current titleholder inside the Octagon, would be reasonable.
"It’s a great fight for me, and it makes sense for the UFC too book this fight,” dos Santos said. "We are the only fighters to beat the current champion of the world, Stipe Miocic. (Struve) knocked him out, and I won by decision, so this fight makes sense.
"I will be the number one in the heavyweight division again. I know the mistakes I’ve done in the past, and I truly believe my skills and what I can do. I’m faster than any other heavyweight in the UFC. With or without USADA, whatever, I’m still the same.”
“Cigano" focuses on becoming the UFC heavyweight champion again, and will gain extra motivation in March, when his wife Isadora will give birth to their first child, Bento.
"Not only my career, but my entire life has been a mix of emotions and incredible moments,” dos Santos said. "That makes me stronger in a great way. I can’t express enough in words how this moment is being for me. I guess the best way to express this is inside the Octagon."
But don’t expect Bento to become a MMA fighter in the future.
"He will learn (martial arts), but won’t be a fighter,” dos Santos said with a laugh. "This life is too hard [laughs]."