The fight game has come full circle as former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos enters enemy territory to face young upstart Tai Tuivasa at UFC Adelaide.
Junior dos Santos remembers all too well what it is like to be the upstart in the UFC’s heavyweight division. In 2008, he tore through the division and left a trail of bodies not unlike his latest foe, Australian powerhouse Tai Tuivasa. Tuivasa is making a case for Breakthrough Fighter of the Year and could set himself up for a title shot in 2019 with a victory. Only one man can take a step forward on Saturday night as two of the most exciting knockout artists in the division square off at UFC Adelaide.
Junior dos Santos has endured an odyssey in recent years. “Cigano” has alternated wins and losses going back to 2012, quite a ways off from when he was in form wrecking the heavyweight division consistently. While his losses have only come to champions and contenders like Stipe Miocic, Cain Velasquez, and Alistair Overeem, the trend has put him in a precarious situation. Every fight he seems to teeter between title contention or falling far out of the picture. The bout with Tuivasa is certainly being billed as a crossroads bout, with dos Santos seemingly being set up to propel a new contender into full-fledged MMA stardom.
However, dos Santos also could also be generating steam at exactly the right time. With champion Daniel Cormier approaching retirement, there is question of what would be next for the belt around his waist. Stipe Miocic is the obvious choice to fight for a vacant title and a dos Santos trilogy wouldn’t be out of the question should the Brazilian be able to turn back Tuivasa. Even if he were not to fight for the title in his next outing, he would remain on the short list where a title fight is feasible in 2019.
Of course, the same could be said for Tai Tuivasa. Taking out a former champion and contender like dos Santos in just his fourth UFC fight would set him up for another high profile bout that would put him in title contention. Inside the cage, his power and durability is already prolific. At just 25 years old, “Bam Bam” is notoriously a training partner for legendary knockout artist Mark Hunt and has finished seven of his eight opponents in the first round.
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Outside the cage, he has single-handedly introduced shooeys to the Western MMA audience. His skills, combined with his candor, put him on the UFC’s radar and he was quickly offered a new contract early into his deal with the company. In relation to his countryman, he is faster to headline a UFC event than even middleweight champion Robert Whittaker.
Junior dos Santos will look to work behind his jab and use his speed to get in and out against Tuivasa. “Cigano” does his best work when he is able to get his offense off first and he figures to be the faster fighter in the cage to help him in that effort. His cardio has also been proven in 25-minute fights before and he could look to test Tuivasa in the later rounds.
“Bam Bam” uses his explosiveness in spurts, picking his moments to surge forward where he generates his impressive power. He must force dos Santos into the pocket where he figures to be able to overpower the former champion. He should pick his moments to push forward with his size, then wait for openings against the fence to expend his energy with powerful combinations.
Both men will be close to a title shot with a victory. Depending on the players in the heavyweight division in the new year, it’s possible that dos Santos could be challenging for the belt when all is said and done. Certainly, anything less than a title eliminator would also be a step back. Tai Tuivasa would not be far off either. Even though he is young into his career, there are virtually no options for him that don’t involve a top three opponent who would set him up for a title shot.