How fatherhood has changed Junior Dos Santos: ‘It’s something I think I’ve needed’ (Yahoo Sports Special)

(The following report comes from content partner Yahoo Sports, written by Kevin Iole.)

In the glow of victory, fighters often thank a host of people who got them ready to compete. Often, they run through far more names than most people want to hear.

Not often, though, does one of those fighters thank his mother-in-law.

But if Junior Dos Santos gets past the powerful Francis Ngannou on Saturday at UFC Minneapolis (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), he may set a new standard for thank yous.

Because Dos Santos, a former UFC heavyweight champion, said he couldn’t have taken the bout had his mother-in-law not come to the U.S. from Brazil to help his wife after the May birth of their son, Bento.

Dos Santos is generally a yes man — when the UFC offers a fight, he’ll usually say yes first and ask who later — but he had to work things out when the fight with Ngannou was offered.

“We figured it all out before I accepted the fight, all the back-and-forth and everything we’d have to do,” he said. “I got lucky. This is an important fight, of course, and everything worked out perfectly. I’m thankful to my mother-in-law, who came in from Brazil and made it possible for me to accept this fight. I couldn’t have accepted it without her being there to help my wife.”

It’s a massive bout for Dos Santos, who lost the heavyweight title to Cain Velasquez in 2012 after one successful defense and has gone 0-3 in championship bouts since.

“Cigano” hasn’t been promised anything, but Stipe Miocic is ranked No. 1 and he’ll fight champion Daniel Cormier for the belt in a rematch at UFC 241 in August. Ngannou is ranked No. 2 and Dos Santos is third.

It figures the winner would get the next title crack.

“I want my next one to be for the title and that’s what I am expecting, but until you sign the papers, you don’t know for sure,” he said. “I just want to keep fighting and keep winning and if I do, I know good things will happen.”

Dos Santos is in the frame of mind to perform at his best. He’s now the father of a son as well as a daughter, Maria, and said having the responsibilities fatherhood brings has made him a different man.

He’s at peace and eager to show he’s the No. 1 heavyweight in the world.

“I thought I knew what happiness was before, but I realize now that I’ve had my kids, I didn’t,” he said. “I’m so blessed. I’m so happy, I can’t even tell you. Having a family brings a lot more responsibility, but it’s something I think I’ve needed.

“I am determined to be the best I can be. I always have felt like if I could put things together, I can be the champion again and stay there for a long time. I can beat all those guys. But becoming a father and understanding what all of that means, it’s pushed me more than I could say.”

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He’s about a 2-1 underdog to Ngannou, who is coming off a first-round KO of Velasquez. One of Dos Santos’ issues in the past is that he’s gotten hit far too often, especially by guys whose boxing isn’t nearly as technical as his.

Getting hit a lot by Ngannou means an almost-certain loss, and that hasn’t escaped Dos Santos’ attention.

“I was impressed by what he did [in the win over Velasquez],” Dos Santos said. “We all knew this guy has crazy power, crazy KO power. My God, he can hit. He’s probably the most dangerous guy in the UFC with all that power and he’s awkward and coming at you with these crazy punches from angles you’re not expecting.

“But the point of boxing is to hit and not get hit, and I consider myself a boxer. I have all these other skills, but my talent is really my ability to box. I can move better and I can create better angles and I can do more than he can. I really believe that.”

Tune in Saturday, June 29, for UFC on ESPN 3: Ngannou vs. dos Santos full live results from Minneapolis, Minn., on Heavyweight contenders Francis Ngannou and Junior dos Santos square off in a five-round main event with the winner looking to get the next shot at the UFC heavyweight championship.

COMING UP: UFC 239 Jones vs. Santos and Nunes vs. Holm – The first face-offs

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