Junior dos Santos is going through a unique moment in his professional MMA career. A former UFC heavyweight champion, and once seen as one of the most feared fighters on the planet, “Cigano” has now lost three in a row in the octagon, most recently a second-round finish to Jairzinho Rozenstruik at UFC 252 in Las Vegas.
In his first interview since losing the heavyweight clash at the UFC Apex on Aug. 15, dos Santos told MMA Fighting he was “negatively surprised” by the outcome.
“We know a fight is a fight and everything is possible, but I was feeling great, one of the best shapes I’ve ever had,” dos Santos said. “There’s always that pre-fight tension, but I was very confident. And maybe I didn’t follow the strategy, which was to vary my attacks instead of doing what I do best, which is my boxing.
“I found the distance, I was seeing everything clearly, everything was going well, and all of a sudden… It’s that heavyweight thing, especially against Jairzinho, who hits really hard, one of his punches grazed and you go out for a brief moment and that’s enough to take you out of your game and your opponent uses that to finish the fight. I was doing really well and it was unfortunate that I lost.”
Dos Santos gives Rozenstruik all the props for the victory, but will sit down with his team to reflect about what he has to change in his life and training to get past this “bad phase” in his career.
“A difficult moment. I’m going through a weird moment where it’s very difficult for things to go right,” dos Santos said. “We have to evolve. Sometimes we can’t even understand what needs to be changed or not. Regardless of that, man, it’s obvious that we’re analyzing my reaction to his movements in there, but it’s hard to come to a simple answer, you know? I really call it a bad phase.
“We obviously have to learn and try to absorb as much as we can to get better for the fight. And maybe we need to work more on not giving openings to our opponents, you know? Follow the plan we had instead of letting the fight go, using more kicks, boxing, wrestling and even jiu-jitsu.”
Dos Santos admits he himself “questions” how the loss happened while feeling as prepared as ever for UFC 252, and considers this setback more “frustrating” than previous knockouts to Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes because he was actually winning the contest before the stoppage.
“It is more frustrating because things were going well and I was feeling great in every aspect of it, so this result made me really upset, you know?” he said. “Jairzinho has his merits, of course, everybody knows he has heavy hands. What happened against Ngannou and Blaydes was that I exposed myself too much, exposed myself to their attacks instead of following the strategy. There was a mistake made, which I don’t think happened in this fight.”
Cigano would like to get back in camp and return to the octagon “as soon as possible,” but his team thinks otherwise. Dos Santos says he was given a one-month medical suspension by the Nevada Athletic Commission following the event and will use that time to reflect about his next step in the company.
“It really bothers me because it’s the third consecutive loss,” dos Santos said. “I know what I’m capable of and I know my skills, I see myself in great shape both technically and physically as an athlete, and not having positive results makes no sense.”
The American Top Team heavyweight rules out retiring from the sport, and isn’t interested in taking a tune-up fight to get back on the winning column before considering being matched-up against another top contender.
“Like I said, if you follow my training, my day-to-day as the athlete I am, you can’t not be impressed,” dos Santos said. “I take care of myself, I train really hard, the level of competition is high. I just don’t know why (I’m not winning). We need to work to understand why the result is not happening.
“Maybe there are some tiny mistakes that we aren’t noticing and have to be fixed, and we will work on that. I’m feeling great, so I think it would be a huge waste to consider (retirement) at the moment. Of course, (I lost to) tough athletes, knockout artists, but it’s hard to say now… I plan on moving forward and working hard to get better, and showing that I’m living an excellent moment.”