Junior dos Santos isn’t as good as he used to be, but he has the chance Friday to prove he is much better than many people think.
It’s hard to gauge how well Junior dos Santos could perform this weekend.
Sure, that same statement could be said for any veteran who is appearing for the first time in over a year, but there’s more to the story here.
Dos Santos had an ugly exit from the UFC that saw him take numerous losses. It was a year-and-a-half of brutality for him, as he dropped four consecutive bouts due to strikes.
These were hard defeats for someone who was once a champion. But in hindsight, this was a four-fight string of names that were too much for the vet to handle.
Current champion Francis Ngannou, former interim titleholder Ciryl Gane, and ranked contenders Jairzinho Rozenstruick and Curtis Blaydes. These are dangerous names, and looking back it’s not surprising that they handled dos Santos the way that they did.
Near the end of his run in the UFC, dos Santos was positioned as a tough gatekeeper for names that wanted to rise up the division. It was an arguably unfair treatment to the former champ, giving him one contender after another despite it being clear that he was not on their level. These losses on paper are concerning and certainly bring into question how much more damage – if any – he should be allowed to take going forward.
But it’s also not the fairest illustration of who he is as a fighter currently. In his mid-to-late 30s and more than a decade into his career, dos Santos couldn’t beat some of the top names in the division. When you put a diminishing fighter against a division’s best, they’re not going to look that good. Could he have taken some of the lower-ranked talents? We never got to know the answer to that question, because he wasn’t handed that opportunity.
Dos Santos is not the fighter we used to know, that we can agree upon. He’s not boasting a belt and knocking out the Frank Mir’s and Mirko Cro Cop’s of the world anymore. He never will be again, and that’s okay. But he’s likely also not a broken down and beat up fighter that his most recent appearances reflect.
Friday will be the ultimate litmus test for dos Santos. He’ll be appearing for the first time since his UFC stint on Eagle FC 47, facing Yorgan De Castro.
De Castro had a short UFC run, attaining one win and then suffering a trio of losses. He has recovered recently on the regional scene, using his wrestling to dominate Danyelle Williams for a unanimous decision win, then scoring a quick submission victory over Shaun Asher at Eagle FC 44 earlier this year.
De Castro is most certainly a challenge for dos Santos. It’s possible that he emerges victorious on Friday night and adds a big win to his resume. This is not an easy fight for either heavyweight. But it’s worth noting here that this matchup isn’t as cutthroat for dos Santos on paper. He’s no longer facing someone who is in the title conversation in the biggest organization in the sport.
Friday is an opportunity to show that, while dos Santos can’t hang with the greatest names at heavyweight (and to his credit only a select few can), he’s still a threat that can compete in the sport.
The end of dos Santos’ UFC run left a bad taste in the mouths of many. Could it be indicative of the end of his career, or is it proof that he should hang up the gloves? Possibly. His fight on Friday has the chance to further that argument or be a strong antithesis for “Cigano.”