Friday, Dec. 28, 2012 | 2 a.m.
He’s a peaceful giant, a calm warrior.
UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos is perhaps the most mild-mannered fighter to ever set foot in a cage. That’s why so many heads turned in the packed MGM Grand Studio A ballroom Wednesday when dos Santos cut off UFC 155 opponent Cain Velasquez at the end of a press conference.
Velasquez (10-1 MMA, 8-1 UFC) was saying Saturday’s main event, which comes 13 months after dos Santos (15-1 MMA, 9-0 UFC) knocked him out at UFC on Fox 1, was a rematch for both fighters when the champion interrupted.
“I don’t think I’m wrong, man,” dos Santos said. “It’s a rematch for him.”
Dos Santos’ insistence may have sounded tacky, but he has a point. Most of the time, rematches are more beneficial for the loser of the first fight.
And the challengers have responded accordingly. The UFC has staged 38 main-event caliber rematches in its history with the original victor only holding a slight edge with 18 wins to the loser’s 17 victories and three draws.
That’s quite impressive when considering the original loser is usually the underdog in the second fight. Velasquez can see where there might be an advantage for the fighter who was embarrassed the first time around.
“Maybe,” Velasquez said as he shrugged. “I definitely have been motivated for this fight, thinking about it for a year.”
Dos Santos has not spent his entire year since their first fight thinking about Velasquez. This fight is significantly more important to Velasquez.
If dos Santos loses, the score is tied at one between the two best heavyweights in the world, and a trilogy sets up nicely. A Velasquez loss, on the other hand, could knock the former champion out of contention for as long as dos Santos reigns over the division.
“If his performance looks like the first one,” UFC President Dana White pondered out loud about Velasquez, “he better start coming up with some other options.”
Dos Santos doesn’t believe he can top the 64-second knockout over Velasquez from November 2011. The champion won't consider the first fight irrelevant, but several Velasquez supporters will go that far.
They’re further fueled by a video, leaked earlier this month and since taken down, showing Velasquez suffering an apparent knee injury shortly before the fight. Dos Santos also hurt his knee before UFC on Fox 1, but that kind of injury likely would affect Velasquez more by limiting his explosive wrestling style.
“I don’t think you throw the first fight out,” White said. “I mean, he won by knockout. It would be pretty weird to throw that first fight out. But I think there’s no doubt you’re going to see a different Cain Velasquez this fight.”
Even some of the fighters who lost a second straight bout to the same opponent improved drastically in the rematch. Anything less than that would devastate Velasquez.
He’s tailored his training to what he learned in the first dos Santos fight and already started thinking about the prestige that would come with a trilogy bout.
“Getting that rematch, to me, means everything,” Velasquez said.