Unless you’ve been locked in a closet for the last week with no internet reception, you’re probably aware that the UFC’s inaugural event on network television transpires this weekend, headlined by a gargantuan heavyweight showdown between Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos.
A convincing argument could be made for JDS boasting the single most remarkable contender streak in UFC history. If you’ve failed to be impressed by Junior’s seven consecutive triumphs since entering the UFC back in October 2008 — and the level of competition they came against — then you’re evidently not a very excitable person. In fact, it’s likely that you possess the same stoicism characterised by “Cigano’s” adversary this weekend, Señor Velasquez.
You see, unbeaten runs aren’t common in the UFC. This isn’t the world of boxing, where fighters are fed 20 journeymen before they get thrown to the lions. And that’s precisely why the MMA community purrs over such immaculate resumes. So which UFC fighters built up the most impressive win streaks en route to their first title shot? These five come to mind…
1. Junior Dos Santos
Since he burst onto the global MMA scene with an emphatic knockout of Fabricio Werdum at UFC 90 in October 2008, Junior “Two Saints” has blitzed his way through the heavyweight division with consummate ease. Four of his seven UFC scraps have concluded via first-round T/KO, with Fabricio Werdum, Stefan Struve, Gilbert Yvel and Gabriel Gonzaga feeling the full force of Cigano’s fury.
He also made Mirko Cro Cop cry uncle, and most recently dominated Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin, who both withstood an inhumane amount of punishment in their one-sided decision losses. Lesser men (i.e. you or I) would have succumbed to Junior’s pre-fight gaze, never mind his onslaught of significant strikes. What renders Dos Santos’s UFC tenure so incredible is the fact that he seemingly hasn’t been troubled in the slightest. He has dominated a “who’s who” catalogue of the division’s most dangerous challengers and decorated veterans without losing a single round.
2. Cain Velasquez
Cain’s contender run leading up to his UFC 121 title match against Brock Lesnar last year was also extraordinary, perhaps only marginally less so than Junior’s, owing to the calibre of victims on his professional MMA resume. Six straight victories in the UFC is no joke, even if you’re defeating fighters that are languishing in the lower echelons of the division. Velasquez clinched his title shot with a first-round steamrolling of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 110. Before that, he scored notable wins over Ben Rothwell and Cheick Kongo. But unlike Junior, Cain has at least been hurt momentarily in the UFC, getting dropped twice by Kongo at UFC 99, the sole evening on which Velasquez has been made to compete for three full rounds.
3. Jon Fitch
Jon Fitch is simultaneously the most overrated and underrated fighter in the UFC. While that’s clearly an oxymoron, you understand my sentiment. He employs a “style” of fighting that gets fans cheering — for referee standups.
But whether you love the Vegan mean-mugger or not, the one thing you absolutely cannot refute is his unerring capacity to grind out results, as attested to by his phenomenal Octagon record both before and after his UFC 87 title shot against Georges St. Pierre in August 2008. Quite simply put, unless your initials are GSP, you ain’t emerging from the Octagon victorious against Monsieur Fitch.
After joining the UFC in late 2005, Fitch amassed a staggering eight-straight wins (including the scalps of Thiago Alves and Diego Sanchez) within a two-and-a-half year period, earning a shot at GSP’s coveted title, but as anticipated, Fitch suffered a humbling one-sided loss to “Rush.” Had Fitch prevailed, he would have surpassed Royce Gracie‘s streak of eight straight wins (a record that has since been broken by Anderson Silva, currently on fourteen as of November 2011).
But a true champion is one who can rebound from a defeat. And rebound is exactly what Fitch has done, subsequently embarking on a six-fight unbeaten streak which has captured the attention (if not the imagination) of most except the most important man in the business, Uncle Dana. The problem with Fitch 2.0 is that he appears even fonder of the decision victory. Prior to the GSP affair, he actually finished 50% of his fights. Following the GSP loss, this percentage has plummeted to 0%.
On the next page: Our picks in the lightweight and light-heavyweight divisions…