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Junior dos Santos hopes to earn title shot before Daniel Cormier retires

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UFC 211 Media Day Photos
Junior dos Santos wants to challenge UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Who’s next for UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier?

Not going back to 205 pounds any time soon for a third fight with Jon Jones, Cormier, who no longer holds two belts in the promotion, will likely defend his heavyweight strap in the first half of 2019, and Junior dos Santos plans to cement his place as the No. 1 contender on March 9.

The Brazilian striker, a former champion in the UFC, is scheduled to headline UFC Wichita against 265-pound brawler Derrick Lewis. “Cigano” currently is the highest-ranked heavyweight riding a winning streak in the Octagon, and hopes to go 3-0 in an eight-month span when he meets “The Black Beast” in Kansas.

”Derrick Lewis just fought for the belt, he’s No. 2 in that ranking the UFC does, so it’s a great fight,” dos Santos told MMA Fighting. “It’s the type of challenge I was hoping for, it motivates us, so I’m happy. We’ll have a short camp this time, only two months, but it will be enough.”

dos Santos was on vacation with his family when he got a call from the UFC offering a five-round main event versus Lewis, and agreed to it before asking for his coaches’ opinions. “Cigano” is confident that eight weeks will be enough time to get him at his best on fight night to win and earn a shot at the gold.

”I haven’t thought too much about that, but I think so, yes,” dos Santos said when asked if he should be next for Cormier with a win. “Derrick Lewis is ranked No. 2, so I think I can definitely fight for the belt after this win. What matters the most is getting good victories. I’m already qualified to fight for the belt, but we obviously need a winning streak to get there.”

Victorious in his last two bouts, scoring a decision win over Blagoy Ivanov in July and a knockout against previously unbeaten Tai Tuivasa in December, dos Santos sees a fight with Cormier as one of his goals right now.

”People want to see the best fighting for the title, and I think I’ll be on my way to the belt with this win,” dos Santos said. “That makes me happy because I know Cormier is planning on retiring soon and one of my goals would be fighting him before he retires. There are several important fights I still want to do, but since he’s retiring soon, it would be a challenge that would both motivate and excite me.”

Cormier had his retirement planned for March 2019, but will push the deadline back a little bit. That gives “Cigano” some room to try to convince the promotion to give him another crack at the gold. Stipe Miocic and Brock Lesnar are two other strong candidates in this race right now.

”That would be a big challenge,” dos Santos said of DC. “He’s a great fighter, he imposes his strategy in the fight, especially his wrestling. He has good strikes, too, and since he has a great wrestling his opponents get confused and he lands his hands clean, like he did to Miocic. This challenge would excite me. Not only because he’s a champion, but because he’s a great athlete, too.”

dos Santos has shared the cage three times with another American Kickboxing Academy talent in the past, knocking out Cain Velasquez in seconds before losing a pair of one-sided bouts to the former champion.

For “Cigano”, challenging Cormier would feel like facing Velasquez one more time.

”I’ve fought Velasquez three times and (Cormier) has talked a lot of things in the past, so it would be very interesting to be able to fight him now,” dos Santos said. “If Velasquez isn’t fighting, let’s catch his professor. When I fought Velasquez, (Cormier) was very controversial, talked a lot of crap. I usually don’t care about it, don’t pay attention to idiots… Not that I’m calling him an idiot, but when you talk too much you become an idiot. There’s a bit of that to me, fighting him would almost be like a fourth fight with Velasquez.”

”Velasquez said a long time ago that this fight wouldn’t interest him anymore, kind of avoiding the situation,” he continued. “Brother, I’m fine with everything that happened. He won, great, but I’m made of truth and I’m proving that by re-building myself. How many times are necessary. Mistakes happen, we’re not perfect. Sometimes we make mistakes and pay a high price for that, but if you’re made of truth you can re-build yourself. That’s what I’m doing.

”Velasquez said (a fourth fight with me) wouldn’t interest him anymore, that it wouldn’t make sense, kind of avoiding the situation, and then he disappeared. He was out for years, and looks like he’s coming back. We’ll see what happens in the future, but, undoubtedly, I have many important fights I want to do again. Not only the rematch with Velasquez, but a third fight with Miocic… There’s a rematch with (Alistair) Overeem, but I’m giving up on that because that guy won’t ever accept it again. He was lucky that night and will never accept it again.

”My goal is to become champion, of course. With Cormier wanting to retire, I thought this fight would be very interesting. He’s an exceptional guy, a two-division champion. I wasn’t around in Fedor’s (Emelianenko) era, it would have been a great pleasure to face him, so I want to fight a two-division champion before he retires.”