Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011 | 6 p.m.
- UFC on FOX 1 breakdown, betting odds and picks
- Heavyweight championship bout slated for inaugural UFC on FOX card
- Junior dos Santos proves worthy of chance at Cain Velasquez
- UFC announces landmark television deal with FOX
- Cain Velasquez out for six months, discusses injury at UFC 125 Q&A
- Velasquez goes from Hispanic hero to icon with first round TKO of Lesnar
- Brock Lesnar, Junior dos Santos tapped as next The Ultimate Fighter coaches
- UFC coverage
- All MMA/boxing coverage
Frustration at the beginning of the year has now simmered down to satisfaction for the two best heavyweights in mixed martial arts, Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos.
The two were supposed to fight in early 2011, but a Velasquez shoulder injury that required surgery pushed back the bout. Dos Santos was “outraged” by the delay at first, and Velasquez was devastated he would have to take the longest hiatus of his career right after becoming the UFC heavyweight champion.
It all worked out positively, however, as Velasquez (9-0 MMA, 7-0 UFC) and dos Santos (13-1 MMA, 7-0 UFC) will meet Saturday in Anaheim, Calif. in the first fight of the UFC’s network television deal with FOX. UFC President Dana White has called the heavyweight title bout “the biggest fight in UFC history.”
“Waiting, it was hard,” dos Santos said. “But in the interim, the UFC gave me a lot of great opportunities. The greatest opportunity is now.”
Dos Santos earned a title shot 14 months ago by beating Roy Nelson at UFC 117. The time in between ended up serving as an unexpected blessing for the 27-year old from Salvador, Brazil.
His profile experienced a major boost when the UFC gave him a coaching gig on “The Ultimate Fighter” against arguably the most popular figure in the sport, Brock Lesnar.
Although a scheduled fight against Lesnar fell through, dos Santos pummeled replacement Shane Carwin in a more violent manner than anyone ever had before.
Dos Santos also endeared himself to a new set of fans by learning English. When he arrived in Las Vegas to shoot “TUF,” dos Santos had to rely heavily on a Portugese translator to answer questions from the media.
By the time he completed the show, and after watching a lot of episodes of “Family Guy” to help with the process, dos Santos had a much-improved grasp on the language.
“All these opportunities that have come into my life have really been all for the better,” dos Santos said. “They’ve all brought me good opportunities. At the end of the day, every man needs luck. And I’m a lucky guy. Good things have been happening to me.”
Velasquez’s layoff allowed him to take part in more of the UFC’s publicity efforts. But it was hard for Velasquez, often referred to as the most dedicated and hard-working heavyweight on the UFC’s roster, to stay out of his home gym at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif.
One of Velasquez’s trainers at AKA, Javier Mendez, remembered a depressing sight shortly after the fighter underwent torn rotator cuff surgery.
“You see him over there with his arm in a sling, kicking the bag and everyone else can do everything,” Mendez said. “You know it’s eating him up to be on restriction. He did as much as he could.”
Mendez said Velasquez learned to stay away from the gym if it was too hurtful to be in the environment. Velasquez started spending more days with his wife and young daughter. He enjoyed the most leisure time of his life.
“I did things to keep me busy,” Velasquez said. “I did stuff to keep my mind off of being hurt and stayed positive.”
Velasquez also listened to every suggestion from his doctor. Some fighters spurn professional advice in an attempt to get back to competition sooner. Not Velasquez.
When he was told he should prolong his rest and rehab period, that’s what Velasquez did. That’s why his return came a month later than a long-rumored Oct. 8 booking at UFC 136.
“It just took time for it to get better, but I’m happy I went to the doctor,” Velasquez said. “I’m happy I went through it and didn’t rush it.”
White might choose to believe that it all happened for a reason. Without the headaches the heavyweights went through earlier this year, they wouldn’t have gotten the reward of headlining what will be the most-viewed mixed martial arts contest ever.
“If you’re in this position where it’s the biggest fight in UFC history and the biggest moment in mixed martial arts, these are the two guys you want to step out there and fight,” White said.