BURBANK, Calif. (AP) — If Junior Dos Santos ever ended up in the same ring as Wladimir Klitschko, the UFC’s heavyweight champion is pretty sure he knows what he’d do to the biggest man in boxing.
“I could beat that guy, man,” Dos Santos said. “Maybe not easy, but I could knock him out.”
It’s not bravado or comedy from the unbeaten Dos Santos, who has emerged as one of mixed martial arts’ top attractions with an all-around game built on a foundation of stand-up fighting. The 6-foot-4 Brazilian bruiser is among the best boxers in his sport, and he’s confident he could hold his own with Klitschko, the three-belt heavyweight champ.
“I watch a lot of fights with Wladimir, and I see a lot of holes,” Dos Santos said, warming to the idea while he downs a 22-ounce steak with asparagus and mashed potatoes for lunch in a Burbank restaurant filled with well-dressed professionals from the film studios and media companies within walking distance.
“Wladimir, the Klitschkos, they’re amazing,” he added. “I like to watch them fight, especially Wladimir, but it’s kind of boring. They are really good at what they do, but they are very careful. They don’t go to the fight to finish the fight. They stay there in that safe strategy all the time. It’s not the Mike Tyson time. Guys don’t finish fights.”
Dos Santos isn’t starting a boxing career any time soon, however. He’s preparing for his next title defense in a rematch with Cain Velasquez at UFC 155 in December, and he already has an eye on a 2013 showdown with Alistair Overeem, the suspended contender Dos Santos labels “a liar.”
“I love who I am, and I want to stay in MMA,” he said. “Boxing is going down.”
Dos Santos is emerging as a global MMA star, and he intends to raise his profile next year by spending more time in the U.S. He’ll train more frequently in San Diego, the home to several expatriate Brazilian MMA luminaries, improving his already strong English and attempting to expand his fan base.
A part-time move to California also will allow Dos Santos to improve his wrestling, which he freely acknowledges isn’t the strongest aspect of his MMA game. Dos Santos has trouble finding suitable training partners for wrestling in Brazil, where jiu-jitsu and striking are kings.
The champion’s tendency to hurt his training partners didn’t help, either: One wrestler who was scheduled to spend six weeks in his camp last year made it through only three days before quitting.
“I’m having a hard time finding a guy like Cain to train with in Brazil,” Dos Santos said. “I want to take care of my career and learn everything.”
Dos Santos has done nothing in his relatively short MMA career to suggest he’s lacking any knowledge.
After a series of first-round knockouts and two gritty decision victories, he claimed the title in October 2011 with a brutal knockout of Velasquez 64 seconds into their bout in the UFC’s first prime-time network show. Dos Santos followed it up with a second-round victory over Frank Mir in his first title defense, dominating the MMA veteran and former champ.
Dos Santos initially was slated to defend his belt against Overeem last May, but the Dutch kickboxing champion tested positive for elevated testosterone levels, earning a suspension through December. If Dos Santos beats Velasquez, his next defense is likely to be against Overeem — and that doesn’t sit well with the champ.
“He doesn’t deserve to fight for the title,” Overeem said. “He just failed the drug test. That’s trash. That’s very bad. He shouldn’t fight for the title, but I want to fight with him. He lied. He lies a lot. I want that fight. I would enjoy to fight with him, but it doesn’t mean he deserves to fight for the title.”
He’ll first give a rematch to Velasquez, even though the former Arizona State wrestler was steamrollered by Dos Santos in his only career defeat. Dos Santos will begin his camp for Velasquez in Sao Paulo at the training complex of Corinthians, Brazil’s richest soccer club, before flying to Las Vegas on Christmas Eve.
“Some people are asking me if the fight was too fast, but I don’t think so,” Dos Santos said. “And if he gives me the opportunity again, it’s going to be even faster.”
Tickets went on sale for the UFC’s traditional year-end Las Vegas show on Friday.
Until he gets a shot at a Klitschko, Dos Santos will enjoy the smaller fruits of his MMA labor. He recently paid for surgery for his mother on her varicose veins, a memory that left him with a broad smile.
“That was one of those moments where you stop and say, ‘Yeah, life is good for me,’” he said.