LAS VEGAS -- There’s a theory among heavyweights that Junior dos Santos is vulnerable on the ground. It’s only a theory because nobody he faces is able to take the fight there. Dos Santos’ ground game remains a mystery because he has proved himself to be particularly invulnerable to wrestlers.
Yet wrestlers, as everybody knows, are stubborn optimists.
That’s where Cain Velasquez is heading into his rematch Saturday night at UFC 155 -- in the “retest phase” of a popular theory. The last time the former champion fought dos Santos he was dropped in 64 seconds in a nationally televised bout and coughed up his belt. It wasn’t the showing Velasquez wanted. And yet the asterisks hit the floor just as immediately as he did.
Velasquez, usually a raging bull -- like the one that nearly exsanguinated Antonio Silva in May -- had an injured knee coming into that fight. It was thought to be an ACL, and ACLs are necessary to execute singlet-minded game plans. (Or so you might think: Dana White told the media that Ricco Rodriguez once fought without the benefit of his anterior cruciate ligament ... but that's an exception).
Realistically, the subplot of UFC 155’s main event boils down this: Would a healthy Velasquez have gone so gently into that good night, or was that first fight a fluke? At the end of 2012 dos Santos finds himself in the business of putting such flukes into reproduction, while Velasquez tries to become the first man in the UFC to make dos Santos fight from his back.
“I’d definitely like to test it out,” he told ESPN.com with a sheepish grin.
And if that doesn’t work, Velasquez -- who trains with a similarly immovable object in Daniel Cormier at AKA -- will just have to improvise.
“I’ve seen the fight go so many ways in my head,” Velasquez said. “A TKO, a knockout, a submission, a five-round, grueling, back-and-forth kind of thing ... I’m going to take it however I can get it.”
Theoretically, there’s a way to beat dos Santos in there somewhere. It's Velasquez’s task to provide the blueprint.
Lauzon and the 'calculated risk'
Joe Lauzon was expecting to face Gray Maynard at UFC 155. Yet Maynard injured his knee and morphed into Jim Miller (par for 2012, injury-wise). What does the switch ultimately mean? For those looking closely, it means a battle of excellent, will-dictating scramblers is now on the docket for Saturday.
Lauzon -- one of the game’s great opportunists in capitalizing on mistakes -- now fights a guy who rarely makes them. If it sounds like a mean game of the old kinetic chess, it very well could be. An aggressive, cerebral grappler such as Lauzon -- who often sees things unfold in the cage in what he calls slow motion -- against a subtle, hard-nosed grappler such as Miller.
Miller is more of a thwarter; Lauzon a pouncer. Neither lets mistakes pass unpunished. And yet Miller has always been more of a quiet taker, while Lauzon’s style of grappling has earned him more end-of-the-night bonus money than anybody other than Anderson Silva.
Why is that?
“I think I’m not afraid to lose, that’s the big thing,” he told ESPN.com. “A lot of guys will be in position, but they won’t go for something because they’re worried about losing. But if I’m in that position, I’ll go for things. I think it really helps to set up my submissions with a lot of punches.”
Dos Santos doesn’t see 'rematch'
At the UFC 155 prefight news conference, the word “rematch” was obviously hot on media lips -- even if the first match between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez was a 64-second piece of anticlimactic history.
People are enamored with rematches, no matter the context. There’s a romance to the idea of rivalry.
Yet, even though Saturday’s main event is technically a rematch, the current champion, dos Santos, distinguished the difference of perspectives between himself and the challenger.
“I think it’s more a rematch for Cain Velasquez than it is for me,” he said. “For me it’s another fight, and every fight -- I take my next fight as my toughest fight ever. So I get very well prepared for all my fights, [and] I that’s how I am now. I am 100 percent [ready] to go there and keep my belt.”