Tuesday, 28 May 2013 09:06
If Hollywood ever decides to make an MMA-themed sequel to the 1993 Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day, Cain Velasquez might just be the perfect guy for the lead role. After all, since defeating Brock Lesnar for the UFC heavyweight championship in October of 2010, Velasquez has only faced two opponents despite setting foot in the Octagon four times: Junior dos Santos and Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva.
Velasquez must have felt a tinge of deja vu upon defeating Bigfoot in the first round of their match at UFC 160 this Saturday. The only difference between this bout and their last meeting was this time around Velasquez set the finish up with a straight right to Bigfoot's jaw rather than a takedown followed up by some face-rearranging ground and pound. Other than that one wrinkle in the script, Velasquez/Bigfoot II largely felt like a rerun of a TV show with an ending wasn't exactly hard to predict of the first time around.
The champ's next title defense looks to be yet another repeat: a rubber match with dos Santos. JDS looked impressive defeating a recently resurgent Mark Hunt by way of a slick spinning wheel kick landed in the waning minutes of their co-main event battle this past Saturday night, so it's not like he's exactly an undeserving challenger or anything. Still, thanks to the UFC's matchmaking it does feel a little bit like Velasquez is treading water rather than testing his skills against new challenges. That's not necessarily a bad thing though when it comes to both business and building a legacy.
From a box office standpoint Velasquez/JDS III is undoubtedly the biggest match possible at heavyweight right now. The first fight between the two in the main event of UFC on FOX 1 was witnessed by more people than any MMA bout in North American history with 9.5 million people seeing the one minute match.
Thanks to that fight and the weeks of excellent buildup that preceded it, including promotional pieces that aired after Sunday afternoon NFL games, both Velasquez and JDS appear to have become two of the bigger stars in the company right now, and undoubtedly the two most popular heavyweights. Their second match netted 590,000 buys on pay per view, which is more than any UFC card that didn't feature Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva, or Jon Jones in the main event ever since Brock Lesnar fell from his perch as the king of PPV after losing the heavyweight crown to Velasquez. What's more, dos Santos and Frank Mir drew a more than respectable 560,000 buys in the main event of UFC 146 (also the same card that featured Velasquez's first destruction of Bigfoot).
There's a level of intrigue surrounding a third showdown between the two most dominant heavyweights of the modern era that simply wasn't there with the Bigfoot fight. Both Velasquez and dos Santos have so far proven themselves unbeatable inside the Octagon when facing anyone except each other, and the results of their past two encounters were so wildly divergent there's still plenty of room for speculation as to how a third fight between the two would go down.
Considering the vital role first round equilibrium-upsetting haymakers played in both fights -- one for dos Santos that led to the knockout and one from Velasquez that JDS seemed to never fully recover from -- it might be tempting to assume whoever lands the first big shot will walk away the winner. Both scenarios are certainly likely enough, but it's also possible we could see a back and forth affair that looks nothing like either of the prior fights between these two.
Whatever the case may be, judging from the long history of rematches of money fights doing as well or better than the original, the match should do very good business. The feud between these two is well on its way to becoming the most storied in UFC heavyweight title history considering the accomplishments and superlative talent of both men. If the promotion of the bout strikes a chord with fans, it's possible a third fight could serve to make Velasquez and JDS even bigger stars, especially if they both look competitive against one another this time around. What's more, winning this feud might just be what it takes to get the victor to the next level as a drawing card.
Let's just hope by the time all the dust settles from Velasquez/JDS III we have a clear cut #1 contender at heavyweight who is riding a stronger win streak like Bigfoot was coming into UFC 160. While Bigfoot's third round dismantling of Alistair Overeem was undeniably spectacular, the only other fight separating him from his epic beatdown at the hands of Velasquez was a fluke victory over a one legged Travis Browne. Not exactly the kind of run that makes fans buy into the idea a journeyman challenger has a legit chance to upset a superlatively talented champion.
On the bright side, it certainly was a nice change of pace for a contender to come into a title shot having won his last fight, considering that Bigfoot was the first challenger for a UFC title to do so this year on PPV. However, it would be even better if the outcome hadn't felt like a foregone conclusion from the moment the fight was announced. Velazquez and JDS may be yet another rerun, but at least with these two it feels like there is unfinished business to settle and a chance they could flip the two familiar scripts from their past fights and give us something entirely new.
Of course there will always be people who whine about the UFC booking yet another rematch. However, with two talents like Velasquez and JDS, is it really worth complaining no matter how many times we see them go at it? Rivalries like this don't come around very often after all. One day we'll likely look back at Velasquez/dos Santos as a legendary heavyweight feud; why not enjoy it to the full while it unfolds in real time?