Josh Gross
Friday March 19th, 2010

Of the many things Junior dos Santos takes with him to fight, compassion isn't one. That, said the 25-year-old heavy-fisted Brazilian, is reserved for sparring partners. And even then, not so much.

"The goal is never to hurt someone you're sparring with," said Dos Santos, who ranks alongside Cain Velasquez, 27, among mixed martial arts' fastest rising heavyweights. "But sometimes, when that happens and I hit someone and I can tell they didn't take the punch well, of course it makes me feel bad."

Since joining the UFC in 2008, Dos Santos has provided no quarter to his opposition. Fabricio Werdum went down to a huge uppercut in 81 seconds. Stefan Struve lasted less than a minute. Veteran Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic made into the third round, but endured an obscene amount of damage to do so. And, in January, he violently put away Gilbert Yvel at 2:07 of the opening round.

Sunday in Broomfield, Colo., former UFC heavyweight title contender Gabriel Gonzaga will meet dos Santos in a bout that was originally set for UFC 108 -- until Gonzaga (11-4) fell prey to staph infection. The Brazilian pair have reunited for an intriguing co-headliner on UFC's debut card on Versus (9 p.m. ET).

"I want to fight against the best," dos Santos, 11-1, said through his manager and translator, Ed Soares. "If Gonzaga happens to be on my path to what I want, which is to be UFC champion, that's who I'll face and that's who my focus will be on."

The 6-2, 260-pound Gonzaga has split his last six fights, and while losses to Randy Couture, Fabricio Werdum and Shane Carwin can be understood, there's little to take away from his wins over Justin McCully, Josh Hendricks and Chris Tuchscherer.

Junior dos Santos they ain't.

Power, speed and athleticism -- discovered by Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in 2006 after his second career fight, Dos Santos may not reside among today's crop of gigantic heavyweights, but he doesn't anticipate some sort of career handicap as a result.

"I feel that my weight is ideal for heavyweight," said the 6-4, 235-pounder, who is currently ranked eighth by SI.com. "They may be bigger. They may be heavier. But I'm quicker. And just because they're bigger doesn't mean they're stronger."

People who regularly see Dos Santos in the gym, where he's most often described as a tireless worker and brute, can't speak in more glowing terms. He might bust up a sparring partner once in a while like a kid that doesn't know his own strength -- and in some ways that's exactly what he is -- yet Dos Santos is proving to be much more than a Luiz Doria-crafted boxer.

Doria, whom Soares likened to a Brazilian Freddie Roach, is best known for his work with former world junior lightweight and lightweight boxing champion Acelino "Popo" Freitas. The pair have worked beautifully together since since Nogueira, who employed Doria to improve his striking, introduced them four years ago.

In Dos Santos' lone loss, a tapout to armbar in 2007 against Joaquim Ferreira (8-4), his striking wasn't the issue. The submission portion of MMA is still considered the young heavyweight's least refined area, though working with the Nogueira brothers has helped bridge the gap. While he continues to progress on the ground, it seems Dos Santos' main intention is not to go there. Not unless he wants to, at least. Nowhere has his game improved more over the past 18 months than in the wrestling department, which should come in handy against Gonzaga, a big Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who would like nothing more than to work from top position.

"I've taken to it very easily," he said. "It's a lot of hard work but it comes to me naturally and I feel confident with my progress."

On March 27 in Newark, N.J., as part of UFC 111, Frank Mir and Shane Carwin fight for the right to meet UFC champion Brock Lesnar -- "he's very strong," said Dos Santos -- later this summer. A win over Gonzaga would likely keep dos Santos even with Velasquez (8-0), whom Soares expects to emerge as the Brazilian's fiercest rival, in the UFC's heavyweight pecking order.

"Cain is a great fighter," Dos Santos said. "He's coming off some big wins, especially the win off Nogueira. I think he has some momentum. And I think he has some luck on his side. I feel his fight with Nogueira, there was a lot of luck involved in that. But he's a great, strong fighter and he's well-rounded."

Eventually, said Dos Santos, he wants be remembered in the same vein as Nogueira and the man who has reigned atop the division for a decade, Fedor Emelianenko.

"Those two have have been the face of what the heavyweight division is made of," he said. "Where would the heavyweight division be without Rodrigo and without Fedor? That's my goal. That's why I work so hard. To potentially be an idol or hero to somebody the way that Nogueira is a hero to me."

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