It’s hard to imagine that there are less than two weeks left in the year 2012. It’s also awesome to imagine how close we are getting to UFC 155 and the main event between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez for the UFC Heavyweight Title. In anticipation of this fight, here are the five greatest UFC moments experienced by the champ, JDS:
5. Following Up Debut: UFC 95 (February 21, 2009)
A common theme in sports is how hard it is to follow up initial success. This theme did not apply to JDS, whose sophomore performance did not disappoint. At UFC 95, dos Santos hammered the seven-foot Stefan Struve, sending his long limbs flopping all around the cage en route to his second consecutive easy knockout win. This validated JDS as a true prospect, and quickly quieted any talk that he might be a one hit wonder who had gotten by Werdum more because Werdum was out of shape than because of his own ability.
4. First Successful Title Defense: UFC 146 (May 26, 2012)
It has long been said that you aren’t a true champion in the UFC until you have had a successful title defense. JDS was put to the test in May against former champion Frank Mir after Alistair Overeem tested positive for a banned substance. Some wondered whether Mir would be able to test dos Santos on the ground, and thus neutralize his crushing hands. This did not come close to happening, however, because JDS was able to shrug off Mir’s takedown attempts with ease. As a result, he was also able to batter Mir with strikes, eventually leading to a knockout victory mid-way through the second round.
3. Earning Number One Contender Status After Stint on TUF: UFC 131 (June 11, 2011)
In early 2011, it was announced that JDS would be coaching The Ultimate Fighter opposite Brock Lesnar, with the coaches squaring off at the end of the season in a title eliminator bout. With this, dos Santos received mainstream exposure in a way he had not previously enjoyed, as being involved in anything Lesnar-related ensured the full focus of the UFC hype machine. The season itself was fairly forgettable, but nonetheless allowed dos Santos to contrast perfectly with the prickly Lesnar and come off like a genuine guy who was concerned with the improvement of his charges on the show.
Although Lesnar was forced to pull out of the bout at the end of the season due to illness, the UFC honored its initial promise that JDS would fight in a title eliminator at UFC 131. Standing in for Lesnar was former title contender Shane Carwin, and the fight served as the first pay per view main event in dos Santos’ career. JDS justified this position in a big way, battering Carwin for 15 minutes en route to a clear decision win that left Carwin’s face a bloody mess. The only reason JDS wasn’t able to get the finish was Carwin’s iron will and desire. Notwithstanding that, the fight made clear that JDS was the rightful number one contender for Cain Velasquez’ title.
2. Debuting with a Bang: UFC 90 (October 25, 2008)
In late 2008, the UFC heavyweight division was in flux, as Randy Couture, Lesnar, Mir, and Big Nog were set to have a de-facto four-man tournament to crown a unified champion. Fabricio Werdum was the odd man out, but nonetheless was the consensus fifth best guy in the division and the most likely to get a title shot once things sorted themselves out. While such sorting was occurring, Werdum was booked against a debuting JDS as UFC 90. Although it seems unbelievable now, JDS was a 5 to 1 underdog against Werdum, and not many people gave him much of a chance. Undaunted, JDS landed a crushing uppercut that floored Werdum less than 90 seconds into the fight. The fight earned the UFC-rookie a knockout of the night bonus and announced his presence as an up-and-coming force.
A personal aside about this fight. I remember watching the weigh-ins while I should have been studying during my first year of law school. I knew absolutely nothing about JDS, and I knew how good Werdum was. Going only off how the fighters looked at the weigh-ins, I emptied my entire online account on a JDS-Anderson Silva parlay. JDS looked ripped as normal and Werdum looked infamously chubby. Needless to say, I had money to let me do all sorts of other things that semester when I should have been studying.
1. Winning the Heavyweight Title: UFC on Fox 1 (November 12, 2011)
When the UFC announced a groundbreaking deal with Fox in late 2011, speculation began immediately on what fight would headline the promotion’s first show on the network. Fans and media wildly guessed that it could be just about every fight imaginable. What the UFC settled on, however, shocked the sports world, as it was announced that UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez would defend his title on free television against JDS in the only bout to be televised on that first show. The build up was intense and again allowed fans a chance to see how humble of a guy JDS is outside the octagon.
By the time the fight rolled around, the sports world was talking. In what would turn out to be the most watched live MMA fight in U.S. history, JDS shockingly clipped the champ and scored a knockout win just one minute into the fight. The victory not only crowned JDS as the best heavyweight in the world, but validated him in the eyes of all of the sporting world. The quick knockout made him the undisputed baddest man in MMA in these fans’ minds.
Arguably, this is the biggest moment ever to occur in the UFC, period, thus it is the easy choice for number one on this list.