Prior to each UFC fight card, Jay Primetown takes a look at some of the key contests at each event. In the latest installment, we look at the main event of UFC 211 as Stipe Miocic defends his heavyweight championship against Junior dos Santos. This is a rematch of their classic UFC on Fox 13 fight in which dos Santos won a close decision.
Junior dos Santos (Record: 18-4, +115 Underdog, Power Ranking: A)
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt started competing in MMA professionally at the age of 21. After seven fights, he signed a UFC contract. In his first fight in the promotion, he knocked out former champion Fabricio Werdum in just 80 seconds. He went on to win nine straight fights, the heavyweight championship and became one of the top heavyweight fighters in the modern era.
Just a couple years ago, the American Top Team-trained heavyweight was widely considered a Top 2 heavyweight in the world along with rival Velasquez. It was the second fight with Velasquez that was the beginning of a new career path. Dos Santos was dominated by the Mexican-American wrestler and took significant damage over the course of the 25-minute fight. The two fighters rematched 10 months later, and it was more of the same, with Velasquez brutalizing the Brazilian with constant pressure and damage. It was clear from that point on that damage had accumulated and dos Santos wasn’t the same fighter. It took him awhile to recover from those fights. In April 2016, he fought a very smart bout against Ben Rothwell and dominated the fight from start to finish. That fight was over a year ago, so it’s hard to say if he’ll come into this fight with the same crisp approach he did against Rothwell. When dos Santos is at his best, he’s got perhaps the best hands in the heavyweight division. His overhand is as brutal a strike as there is in MMA. It was the strike that won first won him UFC gold. His movement is still good, and he maintains some of the best takedown defense in the division. The question with dos Santos is that his past few fights have shown a different side of him. His athleticism is not the same as it was just a couple of years ago. In short, dos Santos is still a dangerous opponent, but he’s not the terrifying opposition he once was.
Stipe Miocic (Record: 16-2, -125 Favorite, Power Ranking: A)
The 34-year-old lifetime Ohio native has been on a tear, winning his last four fights since the decision loss to dos Santos in 2014. He enters Saturday’s title fight on the heels of his knockout victory over Alistair Overeem at UFC 203 in his native Ohio. It was his first title defense. If he beats dos Santos, Miocic will tie the record for consecutive title defenses at heavyweight.
Miocic is a well-rounded athlete. In addition to wrestling, he played baseball in college, even drawing interest from some Major League Baseball teams. In regards to MMA, he also has an amateur boxing background, competing in the Golden Gloves competition. Miocic has solid hands and works a very high pace for a heavyweight landing a whopping 5.04 significant strikes a minute. In comparison, he’s only absorbing 3.26 significant strikes per minute with 62 percent striking defense. Miocic mixes his striking with wrestling, scoring over two takedowns every 15 minutes inside the octagon. Miocic isn’t the division’s hardest puncher, but he moves very well and has shown an ability to avoid taking much damage. He was stunned by Overeem in his last bout, so that is something to watch for moving forward.
In what should be an entertaining main event, Miocic puts his heavyweight title on the line against dos Santos. When these two fighters matched up in 2014, they combined for a whopping 213 significant strikes. Miocic had real success early on in this fight jumping out to a lead on the scorecards, but he began to slow later in the fight, and the Brazilian turned it on to win a close decision in what was one of the best fights of 2014. In the time since they last fought, Miocic has been more active and furthermore dominant in his victories. All four of his victories have been by finish, and all came against Top-10 opposition. It really has been an impressive run and a deserving championship for the Ohio native. This is a big fight for both fighters. For dos Santos, it’s perhaps his last chance at UFC gold. If he loses to Miocic, it’s unlikely he gets another crack at the title while he’s still in the upper echelon in the division. For Miocic, he can tie the record for consecutive title defenses at heavyweight. How I see this play out is somewhat similar to the first fight. I think both fighters will be fairly cautious early in the bout. I expect some back-and-forth exchanges where both fighters have varying levels of success. Ultimately though, I think dos Santos is more cautious now than he had been when he faced Miocic. This will allow Miocic to dictate the pace of the fight more and land more punches overall. In the end, I think that’s the difference in a competitive matchup that can certainly go five rounds. I see Miocic doing just a bit more to retain his championship. While I see Miocic winning, an interesting play is the fight goes the distance prop. At +240, that’s a play worth consideration at significant plus odds.
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