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
Cain Velasquez by the numbers
Since numbers don't tell the whole story...
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.
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...