You don't have to spend too much time with someone to gather pertinent information. Take the singles gimmick of speed dating, for example -- you instantly recognize whether there's a physical attraction, and within a minute of having sat down opposite this human being who's totally new to you, you've formed a fairly detailed first impression. Is this someone you could imagine taking out for dinner and a movie? Spending two weeks in Paris and the Riviera? Raising a family? You can get a pretty good sense of a person pretty quickly.
It doesn't quite work that way in mixed martial arts. The early moments of a bout might be a feeling-out period in which nothing much happens, neither fighter committing to anything other than finding a comfort zone inside the cage. Or all-out war might immediately break out when one of the combatants comes charging out of his corner looking to engage, recklessly torching his trainer's methodical game plan and rendering erroneous whatever it is that you thought you knew about this or any fighter.
Then there are those fights that end swiftly and suddenly, as the first meeting between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez did back in November 2011. When the two baddest men on the planet step into the octagon again in the main event of UFC 155 on Saturday night in Las Vegas, it might as well be the first time they've set eyes on each other. This time, though, dos Santos (15-1) will enter as the heavyweight championship, an esteemed honor that he took away from Velasquez (10-1) with a 64-second knockout.
What did we learn about these two fighters in the few seconds when we watched them in the cage together? More important, what did dos Santos learn about Cain? And what did Velasquez learn he must watch for from Junior?
Well, of course, Velasquez has to look out for the big right hand that separated him from his senses, his championship belt and his unbeaten record. But what specifically are the signposts he must follow in order to discern the road to victory? That's probably impossible for him to have learned with so little information.
Still, Cain has a plan for Saturday night. Junior has one, too. These two men could very well still each be a mystery to the other, but neither is hiding his plan.
"My fight game plan is something everybody now already knows," dos Santos said during a conference call with MMA media last week. "I will try to keep the fight standing against him again. That's what I like to do."
That comes as no surprise for Velasquez. "I know how he fights. He's got good boxing," he said, during the same call. "I've just got to fight my style of fight, which means a lot of pressure and a lot of offense."
Dos Santos gets his opponent, too, and he considers himself prepared for the best that Velasquez can dish out.
"I watched his fights a lot and I've studied him," he said. "I know his strategy, and if he takes me down and really holds me down, I'm ready for my first submission in the UFC."
Junior dos Santos by the numbers
9: Knockdowns landed in his nine UFC fights, the seventh-best total in the promotion's history (all stats by FightMetric, accounting for just UFC bouts).
6.87: Strikes landed per minute, second in UFC history. No. 1 is Cain Velasquez, at 7.47.
4.78: Strike differential (difference between strikes landed and strikes absorbed), also second in UFC history. Here, too, Velasquez is top dog, at 6.24.
88: Takedown defense proficiency, by percentage, which would place him among all-time UFC leaders except he has not had to fend off a qualifying number of attempts. Velasquez has the exact same percentage and also doe not qualify among UFC leaders.
64: The only number that matters -- how long it took him, in seconds, to take the belt away from Velasquez in November 2011.
Cain Velasquez by the numbers
6.61: Takedowns per 15 minutes during his nine-fight UFC career.
66.7: Takedown accuracy, by percentage of attempts that succeed, which ties him (with Renato Sobral) for fourth best in UFC history.
60.2: Striking accuracy, by percentage of thrown punches that land, which is second (to Anderson Silva) in UFC history.
1.23: Strikes absorbed per minute, tied for seventh (with Georges St-Pierre) in UFC history.
4.53: Average time of his UFC fights, in minutes, the 10th shortest in promotion history.
Since numbers don't tell the whole story...
What we should expect: Well, let's at least say we expect 65 seconds or more of fighting. Is that too much to ask for? No, it's perfectly reasonable. But the open question is what will happen in all of that extra time? Will dos Santos' prodigious takedown defense enable him to keep the fight in his wheelhouse? Or will Velasquez finally get to test his ground-and-pound against the jiu-jitsu acumen that Junior keeps telling us about but we've never seen? I'm expecting that the explosive Cain will get his takedown at some point, and while I don't think Junior will submit him from his back, I do believe dos Santos has the athleticism to get back to his feet.
The key will be how long it takes him to do so, and how much damage he sustains along the way. If Junior fends off takedown after takedown, the champ will remain the champ. But I don't see the fight going that way. Velasquez turns fierce once he's seized control. To get swallowed up like that is an uphill battle, especially for someone in an unfamiliar bodily position.
Why we should care: The heavyweight championship is nothing to be taken lightly. In MMA, as with boxing, this is the most prestigious belt here is.
"I think Cain Velasquez is a good professional. He doesn't say trash things to promote his fights. And he's a great fighter. So I respect him a lot as a professional."--Junior dos Santos during a conference call with MMA media last week
"I have a lot of respect for Junior, the way he carries himself in the cage and out. It's like what he said: no trash talking, just down to business -- and just very respectful of him."--Cain Velasquez during the same conference call
"I prefer to fight against those athletes -- against clean athletes, a real professional. Cain Velasquez is one of these guys. He's a real professional fighter, and that's a good challenge for me. I know he's very tough, and I know how hard I have to train to face him. And other guys, they just say things. But that is nothing behind the words. I think guys like me and Cain Velasquez are made in a gym. And the other guys are made at a laboratory."--Dos Santos, during the conference call, taking a jab at Alistair Overeem, who tested positive for testosterone after his last fight and was denied a license. He can soonreapply.
A historical note: Déjà view
Junior dos Santos has fought a rematch only once before. It was his lone defeat.
It happened back in 2007 back home in Brazil, where he was part of the Mo Team League and was sent into the ring against Joaquim Ferreira, whom he had knocked out less than eight months earlier in an Xtreme Fighting Championships fight in Rio de Janeiro. This time Ferreiro got the better of him, his armbar eliciting a dos Santos tapout 1:13 into the fight.
Does that result weigh on Junior now that he's headed into another rematch?
"No, that doesn't affect me at all," the champion said during the media conference call. "That fight was a really long time ago. And you're right: It was my only loss, and I do my best every day to make sure it stays the only loss in my career."
And on the undercard...
Bonus, babies?: Joe Lauzon has walked away with extra bonus money following eight of his last 10 fights: five Submission of the Night bonuses, four for Fight of the Night. And he's finished each of his 22 victories. His opponent, Jim Miller, is a whirlwind inside the octagon, too. And even though he has nothing to prove after losing two of three -- the losses were to lightweight champion, Benson Henderson, and his most recent challenger, the estemable Nate Diaz -- Miller no doubt will looking to take his game to a higher level in order to get back into championship contention.
Middle of the road: If only there were someone weighing, oh, about 185 pounds who had a championship belt he wanted to defend. There are two middleweight bouts that by all rights should propel a couple of winners a little closer to a title shot. Alan Belcher will be near the head of the line if he can get past onetime title challenger Yushin Okami. And Tim Boetsch could take a step forward with a win over Costa Philippou... although there was potential for even a bigger step in the right direction if Boetsch's original opponent, Chris Weidman, hadn't been replaced because of injury. Of course, none of this matters if Anderson Silva continues to deem the contenders for his belt unworthy of a defense.
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