Hyoung Chang, Denver Post
Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010 | 11:16 p.m.
CONORD, Calif. — At 26 years old and standing just one win away from a shot at the UFC heavyweight title, Junior Dos Santos knows he’s had an accelerated path through mixed martial arts.
But the thought of competing for a UFC belt this early in his career does anything but intimidate Dos Santos.
At Wednesday’s open workouts at the UFC Gym in Concord, Calif., Dos Santos (11-1) seemed at ease and lighthearted in his final preparations for a No. 1 contender bout against Roy Nelson (15-4) at UFC 117 this weekend.
When asked how he felt about the pace at which his career has taken off since joining the UFC in 2008, Dos Santos smiled and said it’s simply a result of the work he’s put in.
“I’ve worked hard for this,” Dos Santos said. “My team has worked hard for it. We deserve this.
“I don’t feel pressure for this fight. I feel very comfortable.”
As impressive as Dos Santos has been this early in his career, it’s unlikely success has gone to his head considering how much catching up he has to do among his own teammates.
The Brazilian fighter trains with middleweight champion Anderson Silva and former heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Watching his teammates claim belts before him has cleared a path for Dos Santos to do the same and given him extra confidence — even as he takes on opponents with twice as many fights on their record.
“It’s awesome to train with Nogueira and Anderson,” Dos Santos said. “They are MMA stars and I feel good for this. I want to be an MMA star, too.”
Should Dos Santos get past Nelson on Saturday, he’ll face the winner of the heavyweight title fight at UFC 121 between Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez.
Dos Santos says he wouldn’t prefer one or the other as an opponent in his first championship bout and had a hard time predicting the winner of their Oct. 23 fight.
Eventually, he did lean toward Lesnar to be the belt holder when he makes his way to it.
“Both guys are good fighters,” Dos Santos said. “Brock is a strong guy, very dangerous. Cain is fast and, in my opinion, has the best cardio in the heavyweight division.
“It doesn’t matter which of them wins, but maybe Brock (is my pick) to win the fight.”
The word on Dos Santos is, even though he hasn’t had to show it in the UFC, he’s got a terrific ground game.
If all goes well for the young contender, his jiu-jitsu game will remain a secret to the heavyweight division.
Although Dos Santos said he’s prepared for wherever the fight leads, there’s no doubt he’ll be looking to keep Saturday’s fight with Nelson standing.
He also went on to say that while Nelson might be the best wrestler he’s ever faced in an actual fight, training with former NCAA Division-I national champion Mark Munoz has him well prepared to defend a takedown.
“I think he’s going to try to fight standing up first and then, when he feels like he can’t stay standing with me, he’s going to try to put me down,” Dos Santos said.
Nelson has been surprisingly dominant on his feet since joining the UFC, posting knockout wins over Brendan Schaub and Stefan Struve in his first two fights.
Even so, it seems likely Nelson will take his chances with Dos Santos’s rumored ground game over his already proven striking abilities.
The challenge then becomes getting him there, which Nelson says he’ll have to do intelligently.
“I think if I just go in thinking I have to wrestle, it’s going to be an easy fight to stop me,” Nelson said. “It’s not that hard to stop a takedown if that’s all you’re doing. You have to threaten to punch somebody.
“I plan on going in there and giving him what he’s going to be scared of. Who’s scared of getting taken down? It doesn’t hurt.”
Last Time Out:
Dos Santos: First-round win by KO over Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC on VERSUS: Vera vs. Jones.
Nelson: First-round win by KO over Stefan Struve at UFC Fight Night 21.
The Lines: Dos Santos, minus-350; Nelson, plus-250
Dos Santos: On Nelson’s kind words toward him in the lead-up to the fight. “He’s a good guy. I know the good things he thinks about me. But on Saturday, I don’t want to think about he’s a good guy. I want to think he’s bad.”
Nelson: On what’s on the line in this fight. “I’m just having a good time. There’s not really that much on the line. If it were for a bigger contract, there would be something definitely on the line. It’s kind of like football — you’re going to get paid the same regardless.”