Everything you need to know about this weekend's big fight.
Cain Velasquez is favored to keep his belt in Saturday's bout against Junior dos Santos. (Donald Miralle/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos were made for each other. They were made for this moment in time, this moment extended over time. They were made for the ongoing opportunity to create memorable moments together.
When Velasquez, the UFC heavyweight champion, steps into the octagon with Dos Santos for the main event of UFC 166 on Saturday at Toyota Center in Houston (10 p.m. ET, PPV, $54.99) it will be their third meeting in under two years, each with the championship belt on the line. They have become, in essence, a two-man heavyweight division.
Styles make fights, and the contrasting approaches Velasquez and Dos Santos bring to mixed martial arts has so far produced a couple of thrilling, yet vastly different clashes that have injected this trilogy-completing fight with intrigue and appeal. Which is a good thing, because if these big boys didn't have each other, Velasquez and Dos Santos would have no one to truly challenge them.
The 31-year-old Velasquez (12-1 overall, 10-1 in the UFC) is in his second stint as UFC heavyweight champion, having recaptured the belt last December from Dos Santos, who'd taken it from him back in November 2011. Cain, who stands at No. 4 in the SI.com pound-for-pound fighter rankings (and No. 5 in the UFC media-voted tally), made his first successful title defense in May, smashing Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva for the second time in a year, needing just 1:21 to do so. No sweat.
Dos Santos (16-2, 10-1 UFC), No. 2 on the SI.com heavyweight list and also behind only the champ in the UFC rankings, earned this shot at his old belt by knocking out Mark Hunt on the same May card where Velasquez battered "Bigfoot." (In fact, Cain's and Junior's last four fights -- including the two meetings -- have been on the same cards. They can't get enough of each other.) Dos Santos, 29, finished Hunt with a spinning heel kick, which is notable enough for a fighter known for the attack of his hands, not his feet. Even more remarkable: The Brazilian did it in the third round, a time by which heavyweights typically are slow and sloppy, not pulling off acrobatic finishes. Something for the champ to think about.
So the stage is set for Act Three.
In addition to the pay-per-view telecast of the five-fight main card, four prelims will be shown on Fox Sports 1 (8 p.m. ET) and the card's other four will stream on the UFC's Facebook and YouTube pages (6 p.m.).
It was big. The first time Velasquez and Dos Santos stepped into the octagon together, it was a big event. It was for the UFC heavyweight championship that Velasquez had earned a year earlier from Brock Lesnar, and in combat sports there's nothing quite as grand as a fight for the heavyweight belt.
It was even bigger. The bout was the main event of a fight card at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., that served as the debut of the UFC's landmark seven-year contract with the Fox television network. Though there were 10 bouts on the ledger that evening, including a lightweight No. 1 contender showdown featuring future champion Benson Henderson, Fox elected to devote the entirety of its hour-long telecast to the battle of big boys.
It was not so big, though, in terms of heft inside the cage. It pitted a couple of 240-pounders, reversing what appeared to be an emerging trend in the sport. Until Velasquez came along, the UFC heavyweight division was starting to look like one of those World's Strongest Man competitions, with guys like Lesnar and Shane Carwin sweating in a sauna to get to 265 pounds by weigh-in.
And it was not so big in terms of time. Dos Santos knocked out Velasquez in 64 seconds, leaving the TV analysts to blather on even longer than TV analysts usually blather on.
The second meeting was bigger. It lasted around 25 years. At least that was what it felt like to Dos Santos, who withstood a blistering, bloating beatdown that actually clocked in at 25 minutes. That's the one that remains a big memory for both fighters, one that Cain hopes he can turn into a déjà vu experience and that Junior wishes to put in the deep, forgotten past.
Official weights announced at Friday's weigh-in (4 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 2)
Other Numbers To Count On
8: Significant strikes needed by Dos Santos to quickly finish his first meeting with Velasquez, according to Fight Metric statistics.
111: Significant strikes landed by Velasquez in the five-round rematch, to 57 by Dos Santos. Round 2 saw a 24-2 strike differential, and Cain had four of his 11 takedowns during those dizzying five minutes.
11: Knockdowns landed by Dos Santos in his 11 UFC fights, the most in the promotion's history. Velasquez has eight, tying him for eighth.
6.50: Significant strikes landed per minute by Velasquez, making him No. 1 in UFC history. His 4.91 differential (strikes landed vs. strikes absorbed) is also the most ever. Dos Santos is at No. 4 in significant strikes per minute, at 2.78.
22: Knockouts between them in 31 career bouts, 12 for Dos Santos and 10 for Velasquez. Junior has 11 first-round finishes, Cain nine.
Dos Santos becomes champion with a 64-second KO:
Velasquez recaptures the belt with a five-round beatdown:
Velasquez is a sharp striker, but grappling is his most withering weapon against Dos Santos. He learned that in their first meeting, getting caught by a looping overhand right that separated him from his senses and his championship belt. In the rematch, though, Cain used his aggressive takedowns -- and the threat of same -- to take Junior out of the fight.
The challenger established right from the start that he would be coming forward and trying to take Dos Santos to the canvas. The two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler did so twice in the fight's opening 15 seconds, and even though the champ immediately bounced back to his feet both times, the tone had been set. Dos Santos was going to have to fight a wary fight, guarding against takedowns. He backpedaled in the face of an onslaught. And that allowed Velasquez to get the better of the fighting, both on the mat and on the feet.
Before the first round was over, Cain had battered Junior and knocked him down, had transformed his face into a swollen mess and his spirit into that of a beaten ex-champion. It wasn't official until five rounds had been fought and the lopsided judges' decision was announced, but make no mistake: Cain Velasquez regained the heavyweight belt in the very first round, making the fight his fight.
"After my last fight with Velasquez, I was too swollen. My face was completely deformed. I went to the hospital. I had no cuts against Cain Velasquez. He hits like a girl. We say in boxing about people who 'catch,' who have that punch that you really feel or that cuts your face or knocks you down. He hit me a lot during the five rounds, but did not open anything, although I finished very swollen and had to go to the hospital." -- Junior dos Santos in a radio interview, in Portuguese, with Programa Panico in Brazil
"Why is that going to bug me? I know what I did in the second fight. I'm going to do it again in the third fight." -- Cain Velasquez, asked about the Dos Santos comment in an interview on Fight Hub TV
"This third fight is going to be completely different, I think so, from the other fights, because now Cain Velasquez knows more about me, I know more about him and we are, I think, more prepared to fight each other." --Dos Santos, during a conference call with the MMA media last week
"Being the third one, this will kind of settle the whole, the trilogy itself. So I think that's it. I think there will be other opponents that need to be fought and everything else. And I think it will just be the end." --Velasquez, during the same media call
"I don't think it's going to be the last one. ... In the future, soon or late, we're going to be fighting again. I think Cain Velasquez is a great opponent and a great fighter. He is going to try to keep himself in a good position all the time, as a champion or in a good position in the rank, and I'll do the same with myself. So I think we're going to see each other again." --Dos Santos
"I know what it feels like to lose a belt. Those feelings are still in me, and I don't want to go back to having those feelings again. So that's what keeps me hungry right now. It's to stay on top. I don't want to lose what I have." --Velasquez
Velasquez is a favorite at all sports books checked, with odds ranging from -205 (bet $100 to win $48.78) to -250 (bet $100 to win $40). Odds on Dos Santos range from +196 (bet $100 to win $196) to +175 (bet $100 to win $175).
All Dos Santos needs is one opening and the belt can be his again. Let's make that our baseline: Junior has what it takes to knock out Cain, as we saw two years ago.
But Velasquez went through that concussive experience and has relived it hundreds of times since in film sessions. He understands that you can't stand in front of Dos Santos. He put that understanding on display last December, and he will do so again on Saturday night.
One difference: The champion will finish the job this time. Velasquez by TKO.
Velasquez (left) dominated from start to finish in the December 2012 rematch with Dos Santos. (Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
The Tweet Beat
Join the conversation about Velasquez vs. Dos Santos on Twitter. Track the hashtags #CainJDS and #ufc166 to see who's tweeting what about Saturday's fight. And get blow-by-blow coverage on SI.com via a live blog.
· Non-PPV fights (8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1): Tim Boetsch vs. C.B. Dollaway, middleweight; Nate Marquardt vs. Hector Lombard, welterweight; Sarah Kaufman vs. Jessica Eye, women's bantamweight; George Sotiropoulos vs. K.J. Noons, lightweight.
· Facebook/YouTube fights (6 p.m. ET): T.J. Waldburger vs. Adlan Amagov, welterweight; Tony Ferguson vs. Mike Rio, lightweight; Jeremy Larsen vs. Andre Fili, featherweight; Dustin Pague vs. Kyoji Horiguchi, bantamweight.
· Mike Goldberg will handle blow-by-blow and Joe Rogan analysis for the PPV and prelims on Fox Sports 1, Facebook and YouTube. An hour-long postfight show begins at 1 a.m. ET on Fox Sports 2.
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.