Junior dos Santos is in line for a quick return shot at the UFC heavyweight title… if he gets past Mark Hunt at UFC 160 on May 25 in Las Vegas.
It’s not at all surprising that dos Santos, just one fight removed from losing to current champion Cain Velasquez, hasn’t fallen far down the heavyweight ladder.
His record currently stands at 15-2, the loss to Velasquez being the only one during his UFC tenure, which spans 10 bouts and dates back to 2008. Perhaps more important than his overall record, though, is his standing in the championship ranks.
dos Santos defeated Velasquez to capture the UFC heavyweight championship at the first UFC on Fox in November of 2011. He knocked Velasquez out little more than a minute into the fight. Then dos Santos defended the belt with a second-round TKO stoppage of former titleholder Frank Mir.
Velasquez took the belt back from dos Santos at UFC 155 in December. Velasquez dominated, but couldn’t put dos Santos away, needing all five rounds to recapture the title.
Should dos Santos defeat Hunt – and especially if Velasquez successfully defends his belt against Antonio Silva on the same card – it makes sense for the UFC to put together a rubber match. But even if Silva wins, it’s difficult to deny that a victorious dos Santos shouldn’t be the top contender.
But what about Mark Hunt?
Shouldn’t he take dos Santos’ place if he pulls off the upset?
That’s what was initially thought, but it doesn’t appear that the decision is as clear-cut as we once thought.
“If (Hunt) knocks Junior dos Santos out, I mean, how is this guy not next in line? It would be crazy to think that he couldn’t,” said UFC president Dana White in early March, shortly after Hunt stepped into the dos Santos fight for an injured Alistair Overeem.
Asked if the Hunt vs. dos Santos fight is a No. 1 contender bout, White answered, “I would have to say yeah.”
He has since backtracked on that statement.
Following Roy Nelson’s victory over Cheick Kongo at UFC 159 on Saturday night, White confirmed that dos Santos still gets a title shot if he defeats Hunt, but revealed that they may have other plans in mind for Hunt should he win.
“Me and Joe (Silva, UFC matchmaker) never talk about fights the night of the fights, but we talked tonight,” said White. “And we like Roy Nelson vs. (Daniel) Cormier; or Roy Nelson – if Mark Hunt wins – Roy and Mark.”
Until a fight is signed on the dotted line, however, there is always some wiggle room.
Cormier has yet to reveal whether or not he is staying at heavyweight for his next fight or dropping down to the 205-pound division. That is a key factor in whether or not Nelson vs. Cormier could come together, although Cormier on Saturday night sounded more than open to the opportunity.
“Hey @danawhite ur right I think Roy nelson and I would be a damn good fight,” he tweeted, while the press conference was ongoing. “How about it @roynelsonmma?”
Hunt could just as easily sway consideration for a title shot to his favor if he crushes dos Santos the way that he has three of his past four opponents.
As White said, “If he knocks Junior dos Santos out, how is this guy not next in line?”
Only one this is for certain, there are several enticing UFC heavyweight match-ups coming in the near future.
(Follow @KenPishna on Twitter)