The Rear Naked Column 10.24.13: Brains Before Balls, Please!
Posted by Samer Kadi on 10.24.2013
Despite suffering a second loss to him at UFC 166, Junior Dos Santos has declared his interest in another shot at Cain Velasquez in the future! 411's Samer Kadi looks at why another fight is a bad idea and more!
Joe Rogan described it as the greatest rivalry in heavyweight MMA history, and while it doesn't exactly face stiff competition for the honor, it could very well be. For three years now, Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos have been the undisputed best heavyweights in the UFC. They have proven to be miles ahead of their peers, making their freshly completed trilogy an inevitability. Three title fights in two years serve as a testament to the pair's superiority, and as a pile of shattered victims was left in their wake, it quickly became apparent that the only threat to Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos are one another.
However, a combined 49 minutes of action showed a very noticeable discrepancy in the extent of said threat (albeit not to the point of no-reciprocity), as two cringe-worthy beat-downs suggest Cain Velasquez poses far greater menace to his Brazilian rival than vice-versa. While each has displayed a tangible ability to triumph over the other, their rivalry has quickly grown one-sided, with Velasquez demonstrating his superiority in a terrifying way -- one that makes you fear for Dos Santos' health should they lock horns again.
Understandably, given his competitiveness, heart, fearlessness, warrior spirit, and the fact that he actually holds a win over his foe, Junior Dos Santos has declared his intentions to earn yet another crack at the champion. In that regard, it is far from baffling to understand the motivation -- as an athlete whose ostensible purpose in the sport is to be the best, it is only natural for Dos Santos to seek redemption against the man who twice pummeled him. And yet, for the sake of one of the most likable men in the sport, let's hope this doesn't materialize.
As fans, we take certain aspects of the sport for granted, while neglecting to give much thought to others. We enjoy the action, relish in the violence, and understandably so. After all, that is an integral part of MMA's appeal. Likewise, getting punched in the face is part of the job description. Fighters are well aware of the risks, but perhaps not even they fully ponder the long term consequences. That is not to suggest that professionally trained mixed martial artists should start thinking twice before they take a call from Joe Silva; far from it. However, there comes a time when pride, ego, competitiveness, and the desire for a challenge ought to take a backseat for reason, rational thinking, and responsibility.
Yes, MMA fans can be cruel, and throw around terms like "scared" and "ducking" with typical uninformed trigger-happiness. And yet, is there anything cowardly about not stepping inside the cage for a fourth time with a man who spent 48 minutes out of a total 49 bashing your brains in?
Junior Dos Santos is still the most well-equipped fighter to beat Velasquez. However, if the last two fights are any indication -- and they are -- that doesn't say much. The former champion was reduced to a practice dummy, where his toughness was almost counterproductive. "Cigano" would have likely been better off had their rematch last December ended after Cain dropped him in the first, or if the Texas doctors showed competence and actually brought the contest to a halt at the end of the third round last weekend. Dos Santos reportedly does not remember most of his fight with Velasquez, and thought he was stopped in the second round -- an occupational hazard to be sure, but one that is far more serious than we are willing to admit. There comes a moment when a line has to be drawn, and potentially taking years off his career lifespan in feint hopes of landing another perfect overhand right is far from sensible.
Fighters do not need to be overprotected. After all, most of Jon Jones' opponents run the risk of spending a night at the hospital by the time "Bones" is done rearranging their faces, but that shouldn't deny them the chance for glory. It is merely a risk they have to bear to become the best. The same of course, applies to Velasquez's opponents. The heavyweight champion brings a similar brand of brutality to that of Jones, and stepping in the cage with him means a potentially bitter experience, as Dos Santos found out on a couple of occasions. And therein lies the rub: Dos Santos has had his chances, and twice was on the receiving end of a sanctioned bludgeoning session. Allowing that again would verge on the sadistic. Meanwhile, while other heavyweights are unlikely to fare much better, their imminent beat-down remains a conjecture, as opposed to a probability backed up by data.
MMA is a relatively young sport still. Unlike boxing, and with the exception of a few notable examples, we have yet to see what becomes of our heroes long after they've retired. We don't necessarily have an "exhibit A" to pinpoint when attempting to highlight the long-term effects of partaking in the battles we so deeply enjoy. In fact, de-facto prototypes Wanderlei Silva and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira are very much active still. One can only speculate as to what becomes of "Minotauro" fifteen years for now.
We only tend to discuss the effects of battle wounds when they start affecting fighters' performances, but very seldom before. It took Wanderlei Silva going unconscious with alarming regularity for his "punch card" to be analyzed. Ill-advised gym wars, coupled with years of frantically intense battles inside the ring are the culprit, but they were only touched on after rearing their ugly head later in his career. This of course, is understandable, as fans cannot be expected to have an athlete's career longevity in mind while celebrating his exploits. However, managers, agents, match-makers and most importantly, the fighters themselves could perhaps take reasonable measures to ensure coherent post-retirement speech.
Naturally, the issue is far trickier than the above might indicate. Lyoto Machida, Georges St-Pierre, and a handful of others are an exception, not the rule. Not everyone can be expected to possess the defensive chops to avoid punishment like they do, nor can fighters be expected to mimic their games. In fact, both fighters are seen as promoters of the "safe" approach that is so deeply -- and at times, so unfairly -- frowned upon in the MMA world. For every Lyoto Machida, the sports needs a Diego Sanchez. Unfortunately, ten years from now, Machida could well speak better English. This isn't to suggest that Sanchez needs to alter his fighting style. Doing so in light of his battle with Gilbert Melendez would be a tad hypocritical, given the unequivocal praise we've been heaping on both men for their part in arguably 2013's most thrilling bout.
Fighters putting entertainment before reason is an inevitability of the sport, and a welcomed one at that. The brutality of Dan Henderson's iconic battle with "Shogun" Rua made the fight what it was, and not a single fan's enjoyment was reduced due to the excessive violence. As such, preaching all of the above sounds admittedly contradicting. However, if Diego Sanchez putting his health on the line for the purpose of entertainment is praise-worthy, Junior Dos Santos taking a fourth fight with Cain Velasquez isn't. For the sake of preserving his career, chin, and physical abilities, Dos Santos should stay away from another potential beating that accomplishes very little. Doing so would actually enhance his chances of ever becoming the champion again, as it would simply allow him to live and fight another day. And at 29 years of age, Dos Santos will have plenty of other days.