Junior dos Santos (right) lost his UFC title to Cain Velasquez in 2012. | Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Junior Dos Santos flattened heavyweights left and right between 2008 and 2012 in the UFC, scoring seven knockouts in nine octagon appearances from his debut win over Fabricio Werdum and his title defense over Frank Mir. A decade after losing his belt to Cain Velasquez, a man he defeated in 64 seconds a year before, “Cigano” realized he wasn’t living up to his full potential.
Ready to make his first walk to a non-UFC cage in nearly 15 years, facing Yorgan de Castro in the main event of Eagle FC 47 this Friday in Miami, Dos Santos said on a recent episode of MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca he’s predicting a stoppage victory in under 10 minutes, and it could come by way of submission, after de Castro started working on his wrestling skills with UFC legend Jon Jones.
“Cigano’s” sole submission victory in MMA happened in his second professional bout in 2006, tapping Eduardo Maiorino with a guillotine choke in just 50 seconds in Brazil. Not using his jiu-jitsu since — outside of the defensive side of the martial art — is part of “mental blocks” he was able to find since his departure for the UFC, he explained.
“There’s always that thought of, ‘What if this happens?’ You can’t give that too much attention,” Dos Santos said. “Those are mental blocks that hold you back and not let you show your entire game. For example, I love doing jiu-jitsu. I love to grapple and everything else, but I would always avoid [doing it] in the UFC. One of the absurd mistakes I was able to see during this past year, [reflecting] about the Cain Velasquez fights, especially the second one.
“He tried five or six takedowns early in the fight and I defended every single one of them. Hit his face on the mat and I walked away. I walked to the other side of the octagon and gave him space to get up comfortably, whenever he felt well, and continue. Several other mistakes, too, but that’s one that feels like a slap to the face. Like, ‘What the f*** are you doing?’
“His face hit the ground, all I had to do was take his back, get on top, get the mount, and embrace the situation. I went far away to avoid the ground and wrestling because he was a wrestler and my goal was to box, to use my boxing. That became a [mental] block because it wasn’t allowing me to use everything I got, my entire arsenal.
“And it was simple, especially in the second fight, but also in the third. So many situations I could take his back or mount or put my knee on his belly and hit. Side control and do something, even if it was only to score points. But I didn’t do that. I walked far away and gave him the opportunity to get back up comfortably, whenever he felt fine, breathe the way he wanted, and then go back to the fight.
“Wow, I can’t even explain that without feeling weird. Absurd mistakes that experience and this moment of reflection I’m living right now made me see it clearer. And I don’t want to make more mistakes like that.”
Don’t get him wrong, “Cigano” still prefers to knock people out and definitely wants to shut the lights off of de Castro in Mami, but knows he needs to be smarter and not “expose myself too much become you can get caught, especially at heavyweight.”
De Castro won back-to-back fights since leaving the UFC in 2021, while Dos Santos looks to snap a four-fight knockout skid to Francis N’Gannou, Curtis Blaydes, Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Ciryl Gane. The Brazilian hasn’t won since 2019, when he was coming off knockout wins over Derrick Lewis and Tai Tuivasa.
“You can’t simply go out there like crazy and brawl,” Dos Santos said. “It’s not a brawl, it’s a fight. You have to impose your strategy and technique over your opponent, and that’s what I’m expecting from myself. I never had a time out like I had now.
“The only times I had breaks [from fights] was due to injury, so I had to worry about physical therapy and how I was going to be when I returned. I always had this pressure and concern, you know? The time off I took now, a little over a year, was excellent for me to recover the balance of things in my career and my life and come to the conclusion that I love being who I am and love being a fighter, and that I will want to fight a lot.”