Just six short days after UFC on Versus 2, the UFC returns in force with a card that shows just how deep the promotion’s roster is. UFC 117: Silva vs. Sonnen in Oakland, California features top talent in every UFC division including “Pitbull” Thiago Silva (15-2), Matt Hughes (42-7), “Cacharrao” Ricardo Almeida (12-3), “The Carpenter” Clay Guida (26-11), Chael Sonnen (24-10-1), and “The Spider” Anderson Silva (26-4) in addition to a stellar heavyweight bout between “Big Country” Roy Nelson (15-4) and “Cigano” Junior dos Santos (11-1). The fight between Nelson and dos Santos will not only answer the lingering questions about both men as top competitors but will also determine the next challenger for the UFC heavyweight crown. Nelson, a Renzo Gracie black-belt and former member of Ken Shamrock’s Lion’s Den, comes into the Octagon fresh off a 39 second blow-out KO of “Skyscraper” Stefan Struve (16-4) after winning The Ultimate Fighter season 10. Junior dos Santos, a dangerous KO artist out of the Nogueira brothers’ elite Blackhouse camp, brings with him a 5-0 UFC record, all by TKO or KO and all but one in the first round. The questions surrounding both men involve the quality of competition. “Cigano” has only faced two ground specialists, both of which had a synaptic misfire that resulted in them deciding to stand with the Brazilian bomber. “Big Country” hasn’t faced a fighter with any claim to the top twenty since he got leveled by “The Pitbull” Andrei Arlovski (14-8) in 2008. On August 7, 2010, we will see the true measure of both men.
At First Glance: Nelson is a good all around fighter and an absolute prodigy on the ground, and that’s bad for “Cigano.” Dos Santos has faced two BJJ wizards in Fabricio Werdum (14-4-1) and “Napao” Gabriel Gonzaga (11-5), but neither attempted to take him down. With his only loss coming by way of armbar and his opponent having good enough striking to survive long enough to work for the takedown, it doesn’t look good for dos Santos on the surface.
Inside and Out: Despite how it looks at first glance, there are actually two major advantages for Junior dos Santos that lurk just beneath the surface: Roy Nelson’s strong chin and his own practically unknown ground game. These look like advantages for Nelson but Bruce Lee once said a man’s strength is his weakness and this is a prime example. “Big Country” has a very strong chin and he tends to rely on that to get past hard hitting heavyweight strikers. The problem with this is that “Cigano” hits hard, really hard, and if Roy relies on stiff whiskers to survive he’s in for a big surprise. Another underrated advantage dos Santos has is that he is a BJJ brown belt under big Nog and yet we’ve never seen him work on the ground. This means that Roy doesn’t have any footage of Junior’s MMA jiu-jitsu game to study while the team at Blackhouse has plenty of material to dissect the ace grappler’s methods. These advantages amplify ten fold when they work in tandem. If Roy relies on his chin to get him inside for the takedown, he’ll get rocked. Once rocked, he’ll grapple from muscle memory, mechanically doing what he’s most familiar with, and that is exactly what Blackhouse will have Junior prepared for.
The Wild Card: The unknown in this match is Junior dos Santos’ ground game. The closest we have seen to “Cigano” working jiu-jitsu is a brief exchange against Gabriel Gonzaga where he quickly gave up his back in order to stand up. Roy Nelson is not only a Renzo Gracie black belt, but is also a world class competitive grappler with a ton of experience using that grappling in an MMA setting. He also has a very well respected fight IQ. Nelson isn’t going to fight this fight where dos Santos wants. If “Cigano” can’t stop the double leg, Nelson will make it a short night.
The Verdict: At the end of the night, the questions are how will Roy Nelson fair against top level UFC competition and can Junior dos Santos stop a world class grappler who actively seeks to take the fight to the ground? The answers will most likely be well and no. It’s hard to see dos Santos keeping this fight standing against a crafty veteran like “Big Country” who will be using every trick in the book to put “Cigano” out of his comfort zone. While neither Roy Nelson, nor the MMA world at large knows just how skilled dos Santos is on the ground, it’s a safe bet that “Big Country” is better. Barring that perfect storm of unknowns coming to fruition with the powerful striker rocking Nelson before easily countering his defensive grappling assault, dos Santos will be controlled and submitted. Look for Nelson to get the takedown before forcing dos Santos to give up his back for the rear naked choke. Roy Nelson by 2nd round RNC.