by Steven Marrocco – MMAWeekly.com
It’s been a quick trip up the ladder for UFC heavyweight Junior Dos Santos. He was a virtual unknown in America when he took on ground wizard Fabricio Werdum at UFC 90. One right uppercut later, Dos Santos was on the map, flooring Werdum in 81 seconds.
UFC president Dana White said betting lines changed days before the fight when people caught a glimpse of Dos Santos hitting pads.
The 25-year-old native of Salvador, Brazil, breezed through Stefan Struve in 54 seconds at UFC 95, and was scheduled for further seasoning against Justin McCully at UFC 102. Then, in July, one call changed everything.
“I got a call from the UFC offering me Cro Cop (at UFC 103), which blew my mind,” Dos Santos told MMAWeekly.com. “It took us a few days to sort out everything, and the UFC kept pushing, and we decided that we should take the fight.”
Regardless of the pressure that would rest on his shoulders, Dos Santos couldn’t turn down the opportunity to face the feared striker.
The fight takes place Sept. 19 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, second billed to Rich Franklin vs. Vitor Belfort.
“I like the challenge and I like the fact that it’s such a big idol in the sport,” he said.
And when you have the Nogueira brothers and Anderson Silva in your corner, it helps to keep nerves at bay.
Dos Santos believes a victory will put him in line for a title shot, though he’s in “no hurry” to get one.
At Blackhouse gym one balmy day in Gardena, Calif., Dos Santos ran a gauntlet of conditioning and striking exercises, culminating in an ice bath he wasn’t too happy about. On the mitts, he practiced rapid-fire combinations as his trainer walked him down. He expects those combinations to come in handy against Cro Cop.
“I’m gonna go in there confident that my boxing is going to win the fight.”