The fight card for
UFC 146 features several Brazilians in high-profile matchups,
but none are more high-stakes than Junior dos
Santos’ UFC heavyweight title defense against former
Strikeforce titleholder Alistair
Since joining the UFC in 2008, dos Santos has conquered a number of
talented foes, including Fabricio
Gonzaga and, most recently, ex-champ Cain
Velasquez. While “Cigano” took on legendary striker Mirko
Filipovic in 2009, the Brazilian has never faced a world-class
kickboxer in his prime. That is exactly the task he faces with his
next bout against Overeem, a grand prix champion in the world’s
most prestigious standup event, K-1.
“I think it’s the ultimate test for my striking,” said dos Santos,
who has publicly contemplated an Olympic boxing bid for 2016. “It’s
still the biggest challenge. He was a K-1 champion, which is the
greatest striking event in the world. He’s a very strong guy, good,
but I trust in myself a lot and I try for the knockout in all of my
fights. Regardless of him being a striker or not, I’m going for the
Of course, like any good champion, dos Santos has a backup plan to
surprise the Dutchman.
“Jiu-jitsu can be Plan B. I’m an MMA fighter, training in
everything,” dos Santos said. “I’m well prepared to fight, whether
standing or on the ground, and if I find it necessary to take it to
the ground, it will happen.”
Despite training alongside ground wizards the Nogueira brothers,
grappling hasn’t been easy for dos Santos. After taking the belt
from Velasquez in November, Cigano underwent knee surgery, which
delayed his return to jiu-jitsu training. Now, however, all is well
and the champ expect to be at full strength when he takes on
Overeem at the end of May.
“The preparation has already begun. I’m training hard for the
fight, feeling well. Now is the time to get strong, to then endure
the hard training and get to 100 percent for the fight,” explained
Recently, dos Santos received some praise from an unlikely source.
Middleweight contender Chael
Sonnen, known for his controversial comments about Brazilians,
named the heavyweight as a Brazilian who he admires in MMA.
“I was surprised, because he speaks ill of Brazilians and now names
me as a favorite,” said dos Santos. “For me, it’s strategy, and if
it’s working, I think he really has to do it. His focus is Anderson
[Silva], but if I serve as inspiration or anything else, if I help
him with anything, good for him and thanks for appreciating my
Dos Santos’ teammate, heavyweight Antonio
Silva, recently signed with the UFC and will also compete at
UFC 146 against Roy Nelson.
For now, the defending champ expects “Bigfoot” to be a sort of
“guardian of the title shot,” even while acknowledging that the
training partners’ paths may cross in the future.
“We will adapt to how things will be, but the important thing is to
support each other.”
Leonardo Fabri contributed to this report.