This is the third installment of London-based writer Brian Mallon's column on the Ultimate Fighting Championship for The Asahi Shimbun. Brian has been a martial arts practitioner, UFC fan and journalist for many years. The bi-weekly feature will appear every other Monday.
In this week’s column, we look back at the biggest stories to emerge from a watershed night of heavyweight fights in Las Vegas. We profile the man set to face Wanderlei Silva later this month and look forward to a frenetic main event in Florida this weekend.
Sometimes fighters work their way into the public consciousness gradually, through improved performances and fighting more high-profile opponents. Others grab fans' attention through explosive standout performances. Junior Dos Santos’ knockout of Fabricio Werdum in his UFC debut in October 2008, certainly falls into the latter category.
Although not all of his victories in an unbeaten Octagon career have been so dynamic, Dos Santos has proceeded to charge through a who’s who of the heavyweight division with ever increasing confidence. “Cigano” has indeed grown into the role of the organization’s heavyweight champion.
Some would say that as a consequence of being featured as a coach in season 13 of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality TV show and increasing exposure in the sports media, Dos Santos is well on his way to becoming perhaps the most popular fighter on the fight promotion’s roster.
In a similar manner to welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre, fans have gravitated to Dos Santos’ clean, affable, approachable persona.
When allied to the fact that the 193-centimeter, 108-kilogram Dos Santos is a veritable striking machine, it is easy to see why the self-effacing Brazilian’s fan base is rapidly expanding.
Rarely has a heavyweight champion shown his softer side so much as when Dos Santos, basking in the glory of his first title defense, beckoned 9-year-old compatriot Breno Ferreira to the cage at the MGM Grand last weekend. Holding Ferreira aloft as a symbol to other children in South America that with hard work and application anything is possible, Dos Santos could be the face of mixed martial arts for years to come.
For Dos Santos right now, the world is his proverbial oyster. Following Cain Velasquez’ summary dismissal of the threat posed by hulking opponent “Bigfoot” Silva in the night’s co-main event, I would have backed the Mexican-American against any heavyweight in the world.
Against Dos Santos however, I am not so sure. A Velasquez vs. Dos Santos rematch is the logical next step in an intriguing heavyweight division, and one that we will examine in detail prior to what will be another titanic affair.
Meanwhile, Roy Nelson once again proved that when and where it matters most, he delivers. His portly physique, curious sound bites and infamous mullet have all grabbed headlines, but when the bright lights are on him, Nelson can cut it with the best of them.
Being one of only two fighters to take Dos Santos the distance, Nelson’s chin, heart and resolve can’t be questioned. In his one-punch knockout defeat of Dave Herman in the very first round, Nelson reminded Zuffa executives that he remains a genuine player in the land of the giants.
Ultimate Fighter Brazil coaches Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort will have to wait a little longer for their hugely anticipated rematch. This follows Belfort suffering an injury during training last week. The announcement of Belfort’s withdrawal has since been greeted by derision and palpable disappointment from his fierce rival, “The Axe Murderer.”
Company stalwart Rich Franklin has stepped into the breach to face Silva. Although Belfort will be sorely missed from the UFC 147 for obvious reasons, “Ace” does represent an able replacement, and with it the opportunity to garner a definitive conclusion to his and Silva’s first meeting. Both protagonists are in the twilight of their careers with title runs at either 185 pounds (83.9 kilograms) or light heavyweight unlikely.
Franklin’s re-emergence later this month after a 16-month layoff from the sport will prove to be another memorable night in the career of a fighter who became a firm fan favorite through an exciting fighting style and understated commitment to meet all comers.
Franklin gave up a stable career as a high school math teacher to enter the unpredictable world of prize fighting. Articulate, dedicated and possessing a shrewd fighting brain, his resume includes victories over Chuck Liddell, the late Evan Tanner and Kanagawa’s Yushin Okami. He will provide a stiff test for the Pride FC veteran and may well stop Silva inside the distance via a knockout.
In Florida this weekend, a rematch of one of the year’s most entertaining scraps takes center stage. Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson takes on the crafty Ian McCall.
Their first encounter was a back-and-forth contest that eventually ended in a controversial draw. The winner of this weekend’s main event will face Joseph Benavidez to determine the UFC’s inaugural flyweight champion. The pace and foot movement of these 125 lb (56.6 kilos) dynamos will again be something to behold.
I do believe that Johnson had the victory within his grasp in the pair’s first meeting. I believe he will make no mistake this time around and will book a date with Joseph Benavidez to determine the UFC’s inaugural flyweight champion later in the year.
Join us in our next edition for an in-depth profile of Nagoya’s Hatsu Hioki prior to his pivotal bout against Ricardo Lamas in New Jersey.
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