Junior Dos Santos was once considered to be the baddest man on the planet.
Entering the UFC in 2008, the man dubbed as “Cigano” quickly made a name for himself, blasting heavyweight great Fabricio Werdum with a brutal uppercut to score a first round knockout victory at UFC 90.
He then soared through the heavyweight ranks with lightning speed both in and out of the Octagon, as he possessed a speed that was typically unseen in a man of his size. This speed coupled with his polished boxing technique and brutal knockout power made Dos Santos a force to be reckoned with.
The Brazilian slugger followed up his win over Werdum with six consecutive victories over the course of two years, with four of those coming by way of stoppage over the likes of Stefan Struve, Mirko Cro Cop, Gilbert Yvel and Gabriel Gonzaga.
This win streak earned Dos Santos a title shot against Cain Velasquez at UFC on FOX 1 in Nov. 2011, which he used to cement himself as the best heavyweight in the world, knocking out Velasquez with a perfectly placed right hand in the opening round. “Cigano” then went on to finish Frank Mir at UFC 146 in his first title defence.
Since then, however, his career has been filled with ups and downs, as he has split wins and losses and taken a tremendous amount of damage, while slowly becoming less and less active.
Dos Santos would go on to lose his title in his rematch with Velasquez at UFC 155, as he was beaten to a pulp over the course of five rounds. He bounced back with a spinning hook kick knockout over Mark Hunt six months later to earn a third crack at Velasquez, but the trilogy bout didn’t go much better than the rematch did. At UFC 166, Dos Santos took just as much damage if not more than he did in his previous meeting with Velasquez and he didn’t make it to the final bell, losing in the fifth round.
Many had questioned the amount of damage Dos Santos was taking and how much he had left in the tank. 14 months later, however, he returned to meet Stipe Miocic in a bout that turned out to be a back-and-forth five-round slugfest full of blood and a tremendous amount of heart from each fighter. Dos Santos wound up taking home a decision victory, but he once again left the Octagon looking bruised and battered.
A year passed before “Cigano” made the walk back to the Octagon, this time suffering a violent knockout loss to Alistair Overeem at UFC on FOX 17 in December 2015. At this point, the doubts regarding the state of Dos Santos’ career from fans and media began to grow. He wasn’t too old to compete by any means, but the damage that he had taken in his career up until this point seemed to be catching up to him.
Then, however, came his most recent win, a five-round domination of the then surging Ben Rothwell last April. Dos Santos showed up in vintage form, looking fast, powerful and accurate, as he picked apart “Big” Ben for the duration of the fight.
That performance was so impressive that it earned Dos Santos another title shot and he will rematch Miocic this weekend for the heavyweight belt in the main event of UFC 211 live on pay-per-view from Dallas, Texas.
With this fight, Dos Santos has the chance to bring his career full circle and get back to where he once was: the pinnacle of the sport. Not too long ago, many had written the Brazilian off, some even suggesting he hang up his gloves for good. But Dos Santos has continued to fight on, even relocating to American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida to sharpen his skills.
If “Cigano” can once again topple Miocic and get his hands on heavyweight gold, he’ll add another accomplishment to his storied career. At 33 years of age, he could even begin a new chapter of his career, completing a comeback that few saw coming.
As we’ve seen him do many times before, Dos Santos is just one punch away from reviving a legendary career.
Michael Henken, Pundit Arena