In professional sports it's very tough to be the second best. While the athlete or team will always be remembered for being “close” to the top or for having the “potential” to be the best, they will never be remembered for beating the best and wearing the championship crown. Junior dos Santos now finds himself in that position after being dominated by Cain Velasquez for the second time at UFC 166. The Brazilian heavyweight is in a tough spot that will hamper him for some time to come.
Other than a brief moment during the opening seconds of this past Saturday's main event, “Cigano” has been dominated by Velasquez for nearly 10 straight rounds of mixed martial arts action. His 2011 victory over the current heavyweight champion more and more seems to be due to Velasquez’s inability to move correctly because of his knee injury. Dos Santos swore to come back and be better than ever after this most recent loss, but where is that going to leave him when it comes to the mix of current heavyweights on the UFC roster? The answer is a very precarious position.
The heavyweight division is perhaps the weakest across all the weigh classes within the sport. While the division does have its stars, the depth of talent from the top to bottom just isn't the same. Looking at the top 15 fighters within the division, dos Santos has already defeated five of those competitors; that lists includes the man due to receive the next shot at the title, Fabricio Werdum. So that leaves dos Santos in a waiting game, one where he must continue competing and winning in order to remain relevant, just in case someone defeats Velasquez and separates him from the title. But what kinds of matchups are appropriate for one of UFC’s biggest stars?
Well, there's still a chance that dos Santos and Alistair Overeem can be paired together at some point in the future. The excitement of having two big, hard hitting heavyweights in the cage will always be appealing to the matchmakers and fans of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. And if Overeem can dispatch Frank Mir at UFC 169, this bout could be made later in 2014.
However, the UFC will likely avoid pairing dos Santos with some of its surging heavyweight talent. The winner of the Josh Barnett vs. Travis Browne fight at UFC 168 will find himself on the short list of title contenders at heavyweight. JDS has the ability to beat both of these fighters, and would likely be favored in any matchup. For that reason, expect the UFC to keep him away from both of them, so that he doesn't spoil their future contendership matchmaking plans.
In fact, dos Santos will have to worry about the negative aspects of being booked this way, as one can expect to see him matched up in a similar fashion to the way Jon Fitch was booked throughout his UFC run. Fitch was the second best welterweight on the roster for a long time, and he proved so by beating nearly every opponent placed in front of him. Still, the UFC never provided him with a second title shot, and jettisoned him the first time an opportunity arose. Dos Santos's fighting style should keep him out of the “boring” category, but he's still too dangerous to even be used as a gatekeeper within the division. Matchmakers would not want him knocking out all the opponents they put in front of him if they are looking to develop these fighters into future title contenders.
Losing to Cain Velasquez in such a one-sided fashion was a very bad thing Junior dos Santos’ UFC tenure. Now Joe Silva and the crew have no choice but to keep him out of the title picture for an extended period of time while also not allowing him to beat heavyweights they want to see become challengers. That leaves JDS with less room to maneuver in a division where he's expected to “reign” as second best for a long period of time.