Even though the heavyweights headlined UFC's debut on Fox 13 months ago; even though dos Santos snapped a punch off Velasquez's temple in 64 seconds and returned to Brazil as the newly minted UFC champion; even though Velasquez felt the sting of defeat for the first time in his career; even though their lives over the past year were molded out of what happened in Anaheim, Calif. ... the final UFC main event of
2012 doesn't claim the usual characteristics of a rematch.
This, of course, is mildly interesting for dos Santos (15-1), who at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds owns all the hallmarks of greatness.
"I don't think I'm wrong, man. It is a rematch for him," the current champion, vying for his second title defense, said with a smile Thursday.
Well, yes, it is. They signed bout agreements last year. They made weight. They showed up to the Octagon. There was a winner and a loser.
All of those are facts, preserved in HD and fight-result databases.
But here's the thing: No more than a month before the fight, Velasquez shredded an ACL. There's video floating around the Internet, which the former champion did not wish to be released, that shows him writhing around on the mat after the accident. (The videographer, Bobby Razak, said it happened two weeks to 10 days before the bout. Velasquez's trainer, Javier Mendez, pinpointed it closer to a month.) His camp hoped for the best -- hey, maybe this ACL thing won't matter! -- but Kinesiology is a scientific study for a reason. It did matter, and by the time fight week rolled around Velasquez still couldn't plant and kick properly, or fire off takedowns, or move so well from side to side.
And dos Santos, it turns out, wasn't 100 percent that night either.
So there's all this junk that wishful thinking perhaps got in the way of a fight that should have been a great heavyweight war between two top mixed martial artists in their prime. This is why, despite what happened in Anaheim, this weekend's year-end headliner at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas might feel more like a mulligan than a rematch.
"All that matters is what happens Saturday night," said the 30-year-old Velasquez.
Stakes are high.
A second loss to dos Santos, no matter how talented or skilled Velasquez is perceived to be, knocks the Mexican-American down several notches in an increasingly deep UFC heavyweight division. It may even make Velasquez the second-best heavyweight at his gym, American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., behind Strikeforce titleholder and former Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier, who just inked a deal with the UFC and will debut next year.
"If [Velasquez's] performance looks like the first one, he better start coming up with some options," said UFC president Dana White.
And dos Santos, 28, has no shortage of things to fight for. In the last year he's provided for himself and his family like never before -- "my motivation comes from that," he said -- and, as an example, can boast a sponsorship from Nike. None of that happens had it not been for his knockout of Velasquez.
Reports suggest both fighters are fit for UFC 155, and while history says it's silly to trust that's true, we have to take them at their words. If nothing else, history also says they'll show up to fight no matter what.
As professional fighters, said White, "they both have everything."
He's probably correct, so it would be wrong to label Saturday's tilt a stylistic affair. Rather, this is a mixed martial arts contest, pitting two heavyweights against each other who can handle themselves in any realm. But mysteries remain, particularly regarding dos Santos, which adds another dimension because the Brazilian was set up to reveal himself one way or the other a little more than a year ago.
"For sure he's going to try and take me down, I know that," dos Santos said. "Well, I train a lot my takedown defense. But I train a lot my jiu-jitsu, too. I'm ready to fight on the ground. If that happens during the fight, I think I will do very well. For sure my intention for this fight is to knock him out again."
Mendez, Velasquez's trainer, said their game plan hasn't changed from the first fight, which before getting caught saw the wrestler stand in front of one of the hardest punchers in the sport. Whether or not the injury had an impact on the outcome is impossible to say, and Velasquez (10-1) refuses to play into it or offer excuses.
"It is a rematch," he said plainly. "We're fighting again. I’ve been thinking about it for a year."