Junior dos Santos (20-5) would not have taken a fight with Derrick Lewis at UFC Wichita, otherwise known as UFC Fight Night 146, if he was not sure it would put him right back in line for a UFC title. The taste of victory must still be on his lips after a swooping right hand felled Cain Velasquez for the heavyweight crown in 2012.
“Derrick Lewis is ranked No. 2,” dos Santos told MMA Fighting. “So I think I can definitely fight for the belt after this win. What matters the most is getting good victories. I’m already qualified to fight for the belt, but we obviously need a winning streak to get there.”
Against Lewis, the Brazilian blockbuster headlines the UFC’s fourth installment on ESPN+. Dos Santos may be rated No. 3 in the world, behind Lewis and Stipe Miocic, but both of those men are coming off losses.
Dos Santos, on the other hand, scored two consecutive victories in the second half of 2018. Most recently, a volley of punches from dos Santos put an end to Tai Tuivasa’s undefeated record.
A longtime contender after a short run as champion, defending the belt once, dos Santos has come up short in two more cracks at the belt, losing to Miocic in 2017 and dropping the rubber match with Velasquez.
With his blood rival still on his mind, dos Santos said a fight with Velasquez’s mentor and current heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier only made that much more sense.
“If Velasquez isn’t fighting, let’s catch his professor,” dos Santos said. “Fighting him would almost be like a fourth fight with Velasquez.”
At 35, dos Santos is actually younger than both Miocic and Cormier. This despite winning his first title eliminator, roughing up cataclysmic hitter Shane Carwin, back in 2011.
Now a win over the No. 2 contender surely gives dos Santos a better claim than Miocic, who hasn’t competed since being crumbled by Cormier, and Brock Lesnar, who MMA Fighting also reported is being considered. Following a failed drug test in 2016, Lesnar’s last official win would date back to 2010, when he defeated the aforementioned Carwin—a representative of the division’s bygone era.
Dos Santos, to his credit, has not only traversed the transitional period MMA has seen in the sport’s maximum division, but himself propelled it forward with three colossal matches with Velasquez.
With Cormier’s looming retirement, an empathic win over Lewis should put dos Santos at the forefront to again carry the heavyweight torch.