Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Training camps, especially those of the championship variety, exhaust fighters in every imaginable way.
There’s the mental anguish, the physical strain and, in the recent case of Cain Velasquez, the visual hardship. Ahead of his third heavyweight championship clash with Junior dos Santos Saturday in Houston, Velasquez has worn out his eyes like never before with hours of studying video from their previous fights.
“We look at the film and get new stuff from the film as far as what we can improve on, what we do good, what we need to keep and what we need to change in there,” Velasquez said. “We’re always watching it.”
Like architects designing a landmark skyscraper, Velasquez and dos Santos are taking no chances and calculating every move in preparation for UFC 166. As they should.
Each has shown they’re capable of wrecking the other within the last two years; dos Santos by demolishing Velasquez in 64 seconds at UFC on Fox 1 and Velasquez by deconstructing dos Santos for 25 minutes at UFC 155.
That makes for a fundamental difference compared to other title fights, which are billed and promoted based on potential.
Alexander Gustafsson was supposed to test Jon Jones because of his size and reach. Johny Hendricks can beat Georges St. Pierre, it goes, with his punching power and wrestling. Anderson Silva is, well, Anderson Silva and shouldn’t have a problem with Chris Weidman if he takes him seriously this time.
None of these hypotheses are needed in the case of UFC 166. It’s a known fact that Velasquez and dos Santos are the two best heavyweights in the world and the only fighters to beat each other in the UFC.
“It’s an honor to be competing at such a high level with this guy,” dos Santos said.
Never have two fighters concurrently at the top of a division distanced themselves from the competition as much as Velasquez and dos Santos. Their combined record against anyone in the UFC other than themselves is 18-0 with 15 finishes.
Velasquez holds the heavyweight record with eight career wins by knockout. Dos Santos is second with seven.
They’re taking part in the 13th trilogy in UFC history, but only third where all meetings have featured a title on the line. And it’s the first trilogy that never involved an “interim” championship.
“The third fight is going to be completely different from the other fights,” dos Santos said. “Because now Cain Velasquez knows more about me, I know more about him and I think we are more prepared to fight each other.”
When the UFC first booked the two against each other, people speculated it would mark the first of as many as five or six meetings, but UFC President Dana White has helped cease that talk minimally, hinting that this might be the final time Velasquez and dos Santos share the octagon.
He’s gotten uniformity from his champion.
“I think this is the one that settles it all,” Velasquez said. “Obviously, you have to wait and see, but I think this will be the end of it.”
That would be a harsh fate for the loser, considering neither Velasquez nor dos Santos will be remotely close to an underdog against anyone at heavyweight for the foreseeable future. Dos Santos isn’t buying it.
“He is going to try to keep himself in good position all the time as a champion or in a good position in the rankings and I’ll do the same with myself,” dos Santos said. “So I think we’re going to see each other again.”
Expecting more fights down the line, however, gives dos Santos no solace. He’s gotten ready as if this is his last shot.
Nearly every fighter before every bout declares he’s coming off of the best training camp of his career. It’s extraneous information when what are really needed are details of how a fighter has gone above and beyond.
Details like staying at the gym extra after a hard day’s worth of training to review film of the last fight one more time — something dos Santos has done just as often as Velasquez.
“I did a lot of things wrong and he did very well,” dos Santos said. “He got a good performance in that fight and I use it to watch to learn more about him and more about myself too.”