Photo Credit: Kelly Ross – USA TODAY Sports After his 2017 rematch defeat to Stipe Miocic in his fifth UFC heavyweight championship match – Brazilian striker, Junior dos Santos was more or less written off as a possible future contender. The 35-year-old has since gone on to score a 3-1 record over the next two years. Before his June defeat to Francis Ngannou last year – dos Santos had finished Tai Tuivasa, and Derrick Lewis, after a comfortable unanimous decision win over Blagoy Ivanov. Three of the division’s most dangerous boxers had been bested and dos Santos was fast-tracking his way back to the top of the pile. Ahead of his UFC Fight Night Raleigh main event against Curtis Blaydes this weekend, the Santa Catarina native has cemented his status within the top five of the ranks, holding the number-four spot. Make no mistake about it – Junior dos Santos is still one of the most dangerous contenders at heavyweight today. Evidence firmly suggests that Junior dos Santos is one of the most polished, and technical natural boxers the UFC has ever had – with a good case to back up such a point. Over the course of his twelve-year stint with the organization, dos Santos has handed defeats to the who’s who of heavyweight contenders. Fabrício Werdum, Gabriel Gonzaga, Cain Velasquez, Frank Mir, Mark Hunt, Stefan Struve, and Shane Carwin to name a few. Along with the previously mentioned Ivanov and Miocic – that’s seven former world champions lodged on JDS’ win column. The American Top Team mainstay has achieved phenomenal success in the promotion but is undeniably best known for his trilogy of bouts with Cain Velasquez between 2011 and 2013. Before his rematch defeat to Velasquez, dos Santos had established an incredibly notably nine-fight unbeaten run in the UFC – including an earth-shattering championship claiming stoppage of Velasquez in just over a minute. Timing an overhand right beautifully early on, dos Santos clipped Velasquez just behind the ear and sent the wrestling expert to the canvas. At their UFC 155 rematch the following year, it was Velasquez who reigned supreme as he managed a unanimous decision shutout – setting up a highly-anticipated rubber-match. Despite dropping a second defeat to American Kickboxing Academy staple, Velasquez – in a hugely damaging contest, dos Santos vs. Velasquez is still to this day, viewed as one of the most competitive and best trio of bouts in mixed-martial-arts ever. Saturday marks not only dos Santos’ first bout since battling a gruesome staph infection in his lower leg – but also the first time he’s paired with an out-and-out wrestler since his rubber-match with the previously noted, Velasquez. Curtis Blaydes has made short work of some of the division’s most punishing strikers, namely, Alistair Overeem, and Mark Hunt. Blaydes’ struggles – came in both contests with the aforementioned bruiser, Francis Ngannou. The Cameroonian holds the moniker as arguably the hardest-hitting heavyweight in mixed-martial-arts history, displaying that power against dos Santos himself. The Brazilian has much superior technique in his striking ability and if he can time Blaydes entry for the takedown, similarly to Ngannou, this stands at the veteran’s best chance of success come Saturday night in Raleigh. Worry for dos Santos comes in the form of Blaydes wrestling, no doubt. In his rematch with Velasquez, he was taken down a staggering eleven separate times. Team Elevation finisher Blaydes also possesses some of the most damaging ground-and-pound, especially when compared to Velasquez’s top game. Simply put, this is a classic example of a high-level striker, versus a wrestling and grappling standout. If a takedown is landed is not even a question in this matchup in my opinion. Unless dos Santos can close distance, safely, and time shots, Blaydes will coast to a successful takedown. The Illinois native has done that a truly mind-boggling forty-seven times previous, over the course of just ten Octagon appearances. ➜Twitter:https://twitter.com/Ross_Markey
Senior writer for FightBook MMA. An aspiring mixed martial arts reporter based in Ireland. Producer of news articles, interviews, opinion features, and exclusive features such as, ‘The Fallout’, ‘The Breakdown, and, ‘This Week In MMA’.