I guess if I’m going to start believing in Junior dos Santos, the time is now.
Dos Santos so thoroughly undressed and outclassed Shane Carwin on Saturday night at UFC 131 en route to a unanimous decision that you’d rightly get laughed out of any serious MMA discussion in the world by trying to argue anyone besides the 26-year-old Brazilian deserves to be the No.2-ranked heavyweight in the world this Monday morning.
Dos Santos appeared more technical, more tenacious and above all just flat-out faster than Carwin throughout their 265-pound title eliminator this weekend. He consistently brutalized Carwin with his jab during their 15-minute affair, using it to set him up for the right cross-left hook combo that dropped the former interim champion to one knee down the stretch in the first — the exchange that ultimately spelled the end for Carwin. Dos Santos pounced on him against the fence and tagged him with a barrage of strikes that broke his nose and possibly fractured his cheek. If the series didn’t end the fight, it effectively made the next 12-or-so minutes a moot point.
Carwin soldiered on for the duration, but with his nose crunched, his face bleeding and his eye swelling up, he was never able to mount any sustained offense. Dos Santos floated around him, cracking him with the jab. He was never able to put the American away, but the three-round beating was enough to earn him the lopsided decision and set up a championship opportunity against Cain Velasquez later this year.
Like a chump, I picked Carwin. I don’t know what my problem with dos Santos has been up to this point, except that his takedown defense and ground game had been unproven and his string of previous victories over Mirko CroCop, Gilbert Yvel, Gabe Gonzaga and Roy Nelson didn’t exactly knock my socks off.
For the record, his defense against Carwin’s wrestling looked pretty good on Saturday. He consistently fended off takedown attempts and was able to quickly regain his feet on the unusual occasion when Carwin was able to put him down. Heck, dos Santos even broke off a couple of his own double-legs late in the fight, as if to add insult to Carwin’s already obvious injury.
So, yeah, like I said, I guess I’m a Junior dos Santos guy now. Except for one thing: I don’t think it’s right that oddsmakers opened dos Santos as the early favorite over Velasquez immediately following UFC 131. Velasquez is the champ after all, he’s undefeated and he just beat the guy who beat the buy that dos Santos beat.
Dos Santos looked admittedly great against Carwin, but the challenge he inherits against Velasquez is a dramatically different one. Where Carwin proved to be a stagnant, easy target, the champion should be able to match dos Santos for athleticism, speed and endurance. He also still strikes me as the more complete fighter, given his wrestling base and the effective striking we saw against Brock Lesnar last October.
Could dos Satnos win that fight to become the UFC heavyweight champion later this year? You bet he could. For my money, it’s a pick ’em, especially considering Velasquez will be coming off more than a year of inactivity.
Yet as much as I now believe, I guess I still need to see more from dos Santos. At least one more. What’s that thing Ric Flair always says about being the man?