Former heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos returns to the octagon for the 21st time this weekend when he takes on rising contender Curtis Blaydes in the main event of UFC Fight Night 166. Dos Santos is coming off a TKO loss to Francis Ngannou last summer but now he is looking to get back into the title picture with a win over the highly touted Blaydes.
After a seven-fight win streak with wins over Fabricio Werdum, Mirko Cro Cop, and Roy Nelson, Dos Santos earned himself a title shot against Cain Velasquez that would main event the first UFC on Fox event in 2011. It took him just one minute to dethrone the champion and he did it with one of the most perfect overhand rights you will ever see. This timeless punch has been a staple of his offense ever since. Although the big overhand right catches your attention, it’s the setup that allows it to land. Both Velasquez and Mark Hunt bit on the feinted jab and attempted to land one of their own which allowed Dos Santos to step in with the overhand right and land it just over the top of their outstretched lead hand.
Another technique dos Santos has built his career on is the rear hand uppercut. This may look like a lucky shot but when you watch closely you see the intelligence behind it. Notice how he doubles up on the jab and throws the uppercut as Werdum attempts to counter the jab with a big overhand right. A lot of his punches look like he is just swinging for the fences, but he has clever setups behind them and is always looking to draw a reaction out of his opponents to set up strikes. He has become a bit less thoughtful as he ages, but he has more experience than anyone in the division and opponents must be wary of the tricks and setups he has learned over a 16-year career.
One of the finest moments of his career came in the first fight with Stipe Miocic in 2014. Miocic was rushing forward with his usual long 1-2s and lead hooks all night and had dos Santos working off his back foot for most of the fight. But he got too aggressive against the crafty veteran and ran into a beautiful counter left hook. Notice how dos Santos throws the left straight while switching to southpaw and then ducks under Miocic’s left hook before coming back up with one of his own. Dos Santos has always struggled to work backward but this left hook again showed how clever he is. He knew Miocic would come in with the simple 1-2-3 combo and used this counter to exploit his tendency to overextend on it.
Then almost exactly four years later, Junior dos Santos finished Tai Tuivasa with the exact same combo, but this time from the opposite stance. Dos Santos uses this combo against aggressive opponents to get off the cage but it can also finish a fight as he did against Tuivasa.