Heavyweights Velasquez, Dos Santos set to settle score

HOUSTON — Former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos could be forgiven if he did everything possible to forget the five-round beating he took from Cain Velasquez in losing the belt in December.

Instead, dos Santos has chosen to view the tape of that fight so often that he can rattle off the criticisms of his performance from color commentator Joe Rogan.

He expressed his annoyance at some of those comments, but not once during all of those viewings did dos Santos think about muting the sound. It was just one more thing adding fuel to his drive to reclaim the belt.

“I like to watch and learn, and I made so many mistakes in that fight I can learn from,” dos Santos said. “Now I see it as a good experience because it will make me better in the future.”

He will meet Velasquez for the third time tonight in the main event of UFC 166 at the Toyota Center. Dos Santos hopes this fight looks more like the first meeting when he took the belt from Velasquez with a 64-second knockout in 2011.

That fight ended when dos Santos floored Velasquez with one punch. Both sides agree that’s his best chance to win this time as well.

“That’s what I need to beat him,” the 29-year-old dos Santos said.

Velasquez, 31, says he has nothing else to worry about.

“(A one-punch knockout) is the only way he can beat me,” Velasquez said. “We’ve got to use our game plan of being aggressive and in his face the whole time to just take that away from him.”

Velasquez has been watching the second fight quite often himself. As well as things went for him that night, he says he has picked up some things on film that he could do better.

While there might be some risk of complacency from watching himself have so much success in that fight, Velasquez is not concerned.

He was devastated by losing his belt to dos Santos in the first fight and has steamrolled his opponent in the three fights since, including the rematch with dos Santos.

“I know what it feels like to lose a belt,” he said. “Those feelings are still in me, and I don’t want to go back to having those feelings again. That’s what keeps me hungry right now. It’s to stay on top. I don’t want to lose what I have. So I’m not satisfied as far as where I am right now. I know this is the position I want to stay in.”

His good friend and training partner, Daniel Cormier, a heavyweight who also will be in action tonight against Las Vegan Roy Nelson, said any notion that Velasquez could be satisfied with his impressive win over dos Santos is ridiculous.

Cormier believes dos Santos is putting a lot of stock in the fact that despite the one-sided nature of the fight, Velasquez didn’t knock him out.

“You won’t even recognize the guy that fought last December to the guy that’s going to fight (tonight),” he said. “I just think that there are a lot of mistakes being made (in dos Santos’ camp). They’re not prepared for a better, stronger, hungrier, harder punch. Because if he didn’t hit hard in December, when he gets hit (tonight) it will feel like they’re fighting a completely different person.”

Both fights included extraneous storylines. Both fighters entered the first fight with significant injuries, and dos Santos was dealing with a messy divorce leading up to the rematch.

It appeared everyone would be heading into the rubber match 100 percent mentally and physically, but dos Santos showed up in Houston this week with a scar over his right eye. He said he was cut in training and required stitches less than a month ago.

Dos Santos insists it won’t be an issue.

Still, the issue might not be fully settled. Though Velasquez insists he will dominate dos Santos again and put the rivalry behind him, these two appear to be the world’s clear-cut top two heavyweights, particularly with Cormier already announcing he will drop to light heavyweight after tonight to avoid fighting Velasquez. It’s difficult to imagine the paths of dos Santos and Velasquez not crossing again regardless of tonight’s outcome.

The two featured heavyweight fights headline a pay-per-view card that airs live at 7 p.m. A lightweight bout between Diego Sanchez and top contender Gilbert Melendez also is scheduled.

Four fights from the preliminary card will air live on Fox Sports 1 (Cable 329) at 5. The remaining fights from the preliminary card will stream live on Facebook and YouTube at 3.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.