(PhatzRadio / MMA) — Forget about avenging a close friend’s loss — heavyweight beltholder Junior Dos Santos wants to win his first title defense in the Ultimate Fighting Championship strictly for himself and his family.
“People want to talk about the storyline of revenge or things like that,” says Dos Santos, scheduled to face former champ Frank Mir on May 26 in Las Vegas. “That’s a non-issue for me. That’s not why I’m there.”
Dos Santos originally planned to face former Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem on the Memorial Day weekend show. But UFC eventually removed Overeem from the card after a surprise test for banned substances found him with a testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio much higher than the maximum permitted for fighters in Nevada.
Already scheduled to face fellow-ex-champ Cain Velasquez in a title-eliminator fight on the May 26 card, Mir was an easy choice to replace Overeem. Mir over the past two years has beaten a trio of noteworthy fighters, most recently in December when he defeated Dos Santos’ mentor, Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira, by breaking his arm with a grappling hold.
But Dos Santos doesn’t view that result as motivation.
“For us who know Minotauro, it was really sad to see that,” Dos Santos says. “But that has absolutely no bearing on my fight against Frank Mir. I fight because I am a fighter. What I’m there to defend is my belt, is my title. I fight because of my own determination, my desire to win.”
Q: When you first heard about Overeem’s test results, what went through your mind?
Dos Santos: It wasn’t really a big surprise for me. I don’t know. I’ve heard lots of stories about people getting caught in drug tests. You hear through the grapevine that people use substances that are performance enhancing, so it wasn’t a big surprise.
That said, I don’t use and I’ve never used any performance-enhancing substance whatsoever.
Learning that my opponent had tested positive for (an elevated testosterone-to-)epitestosterone ratio — and because of that, there was a suspicion or a possibility that he may have been using something performance enhancing — was a little bit nerve-wracking, only because it meant to me that if I were to still fight him, I would be fighting somebody that may have been using performance-enhancing substances.
So it was a tough phase not knowing a little while what was going to happen with that fight.
Was there any disappointment in not being able to face Overeem?
No, it wasn’t a disappointment. I don’t choose my opponent. I never have. I never will. Whomever the UFC decides I should fight, that’s the person who I’m going to be ready to fight.
I was getting ready to face Overeem. I consider myself a striker. He’s a striker. I thought that would have been a great fight for me, a fight that I really wanted to win, sort of prove my dominance in the stand up.
But the minute they changed my opponent to Frank Mir, my energy went 100% to Frank Mir. That’s who I’m preparing to fight now.
Mir was widely viewed as the logical choice all along as a replacement. How much did you think about facing him before he was officially announced as your new opponent?
I considered Frank Mir, like most people, the logical choice to substitute for Overeem just based on the rankings and the current status of the heavyweight division and whatnot.
But it was still difficult because we know that people don’t always follow the logical route. So even though Mir was the logical choice, I didn’t know for sure if that fight was going to be the substitution or not.
At the end of the day, I’m the holder of the belt. That belt means a lot to me. It’s a lot to put at risk to, a little over one month before the fight, still not know who the opponent is, who you need to be preparing to face. So it was tough.
How does having an abbreviated period for training hurt your preparation?
It didn’t hurt my preparation at all. It changed my camp. It changed my preparation, but it didn’t hurt me, I don’t think.
It isn’t any person who can come in and be prepared to change up their entire preparation so close to a big championship fight, but we’re here. We’re fighters. We’re ready to do anything.
I did have my camp all set up to fight against Overeem. I had to make a lot of adaptations and changes. … But we did what we could and we came up with a new strategy.
Mir’s style is actually something that I’m a little bit more used to facing in my opponents. He’s a ground fighter, jiu-jitsu game primarily, and I’m a little more used to facing somebody like him than I am somebody of Overeem’s style.
What distinguishes Mir’s jiu-jitsu from that of others in MMA?
Mir does set himself apart.
I always consider my next fight my hardest fight, and I trained harder than ever before for this fight. The more I advance in my career, the harder I train, the more I push myself.
Frank Mir sets himself apart. He is a very explosive fighter. When he attacks, he attacks to submit. He’s not somebody that you can play around with. He’s a guy that you have to take extremely serious all the time.
He’s extremely dangerous in his submissions. I’m preparing to face him in that way, to just take this fight extremely seriously, knowing how dangerous he is on the ground.
When you describe him as explosive, are you saying he’s not as deliberate as some of the other grapplers you’ve fought?
No, no. Frank Mir is very deliberate. He’s excellent technically.
What I mean when I say explosive is, he is extremely fast to explode into a position and to exploit a weakness. When he sees an opening or a weakness in somebody’s position, he can explode right into the position he needs to be in to get into leglocks, the armlocks and the americana (armlock).
Sometimes you see Mir and he looks a little bit tired or he looks a little bit worn down, and it’s almost like he’s doing that to take you off guard, so that you let your guard down, and as soon as you show him that one weakness in that position, Frank Mir can just explode into where he needs to be to exploit that.
Mir said to me that if this fight goes to the later rounds, he will have an advantage. I assume you think he’s wrong; why, in your view, would he be incorrect in saying that?
Absolutely I disagree with that.
Frank Mir is dangerous. He’s a fighter that needs to be taken seriously. But he’s also a fighter that talks too much. His style of promoting fights is to just talk a lot.
He previously said that he was faster than me. That’s only in his dreams.
Of course, he isn’t faster than me. I’m faster. For sure I hit harder. And if the fight goes to rounds three or four or five, for sure I take the advantage.
Mir views himself as a good boxer for MMA. How would you rate his striking compared to other heavyweights?
Like I just said, he talks way too much. It’s just the way he likes to promote fights.
Mir’s boxing is reasonable. It’s OK. He takes advantage sometimes, just from the fact that he’s left-handed, but he’s really just pretty average with his boxing.
Any heavyweight hits hard. All heavyweights hit hard. But compared to other heavyweights, compared to me, compared to my boxing — I’m faster than him; I hit harder than him; and I’m better technically.
One thing that Mir has said is that he believes he matches up, generally speaking, better against strikers than against wrestlers. Would you agree with that?
I don’t really agree.
I think when Mir’s in a good spot in the fight — when he’s in a good moment and in a good position — he’s very dangerous. But Mir doesn’t really know to get through rough spots in a bout.
When he gets in those rough spots, his courage goes out the window; his aggression goes out the window.
MIR: Dos Santos an easier match-up than Cain
What happened against Nogueira in his last fight was really an anomaly, because Mir got caught standing up. He got caught. He was ready to go down, ready to go out; and he was able to get through that and come back. That never happens in Mir’s fights.
Usually when Mir gets into a little bit of trouble during a fight, he can’t come back from it.
Why do you think that fight with Nogueira turned out the way it did?
Minotauro (Nogueira) made a mistake.
This is sort of what we were talking about earlier. Mir was smart. He was able to see the mistake and exploit it, and just exploit the mistake that Minotauro handed him.
What we saw there is exactly what I was describing earlier, where we see sometimes Mir looking tired, looking beat down; he looked almost ready to give up. But when he saw that slight opening, that slight mistake from his opponent, you can see that he’s technically very, very good. He just exploded right into the moment and got into the position he needed to be in to exploit that mistake.
There seems to be a natural storyline with Mir, given his win against your mentor and the manner in which he won. At the time, how much did the result bother and how much have you kept that in mind as you’ve been training to face Mir?
His last fight and the way that he beat Minotauro, it doesn’t really affect me. We’re fighters. We’re there to fight.
Part of the beauty of our sport, part of the beauty of MMA, is that you never know how a fight is going to go. You never know how it’s going to end.
With that fight, Mir saw his chance and he took advantage of it. He did what a good fighter does.
For us who know Minotauro, it was really sad to see that. It was sad for his Brazilian fans, especially for those of us who know him personally and are with him in training settings. It was sad for us to see him lose that way. But that has absolutely no bearing on my fight against Frank Mir.
I fight because I am a fighter. What I’m there to defend is my belt, is my title. I fight because of my own determination, my desire to win. I’m there for me. I’m there for my family.
People want to talk about the storyline of revenge or things like that. That’s a non-issue for me. That’s not why I’m there.
How would you have assessed Mir’s chances against Cain Velasquez if that fight had happened?
The favorite would be Velasquez for that fight, but of course, Mir has a chance. In any fight, either person can win. … Mir has a solid chance because Velasquez has fantastic takedowns, but once Velasquez would get Mir on the ground, you know, the ground is where Mir can really exploit those weaknesses.
So absolutely I think he would have had a chance. But I still think Velasquez would have taken it.
The May 26 main card is nothing but heavyweights. When UFC told you you’d be headlining an all-heavyweight card, did you think it was a good idea or were you taken aback?
I don’t really think too much about those things, about the card arrangements and stuff. But I think an all-heavyweight card is going to be really good for the category.
I think it’s going to be a great night of fights. The heavyweights always bring it and there’s going to be lots of knockouts and submissions, just finishes generally.
There’s another added plus, which is that it’s going to be kind of convenient for scheduling the next fights. Because we’re all fighting on the 26th and we’re all going to be, I guess, ready to fight again around the same time.
I guess you can go from one all-heavyweight card to another.
Typically when someone wins a title, more attention and acclaim comes with that. What kind of attention do you find yourself getting these days in Brazil and North America, and what sorts of opportunities have come your way since winning the belt?
In the way of opportunities, not too much has changed. I’d say the change comes more in recognition. I’m a lot more recognized by people, a lot more famous. Here in Brazil I’ve been doing a lot of TV shows and guest appearances in variety programs, news programs.
I haven’t been in North America too much since winning the belt, so I’m not really sure how much it’s changed there. But here in Brazil it’s definitely a lot more famous, recognized. People stop me in the streets. Lots of autograph requests and things like that.