This stat may very well define Junior dos Santos' career

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports

Statistics are frequently meaningless when it comes to the fight game. Stats can’t measure courage, determination, power and conditioning. They’re just a barometer and provide a broad overview of a fight, or fighter.

In Junior dos Santos’ case, though, the stats tell a story, and it’s not a good one for his dreams of regaining the UFC heavyweight championship.

Dos Santos, who challenges Stipe Miocic for the belt on Saturday in the main event of UFC 211 at American Airlines Arena in Dallas, is 12-3 in the UFC. He began 9-0 and has split his last six matches.

In his nine wins to kick off his UFC career, dos Santos landed a total of 408 strikes and absorbed 142. That’s an average of 45 punches landed and 16 absorbed, and it’s pretty obvious why he began his career 9-0.

Here’s where the trouble for dos Santos may lie: In his last six bouts, in which he’s gone 3-3, the striking numbers have turned against him. He’s landing at a better rate — he’s connected on 479 strikes in his six most recent bouts, averaging 79.8 per fight, which is above his career average. But he’s absorbed 461, an average of 76.8. And in his three losses, he’s been out-struck a combined 266-125.

That is why, on the debut episode of UFC “Embedded,” dos Santos said, “I got more mature now. I got more experience. So I think I’m going to be able to fight with a little more caution, with a little more intelligence, using all my skills to win this fight.”

Will former UFC heavyweight champ Junior Dos Santos win back the title on Saturday? (Getty)
Will former UFC heavyweight champ Junior Dos Santos win back the title on Saturday? (Getty)

The heavyweight division is the one division where you don’t want to get hit. And dos Santos’ strikes absorbed rate has gone up considerably the deeper he’s gotten into his career. He took 20 or more blows in just three of his first nine fights, but has taken 20 or more in all of his last six.

Even worse for him, he’s taken 77 or more blows in a single fight in four of his last six.

Against heavyweights who can punch, that’s a deadly flaw.

Dos Santos, though, doesn’t feel much in the way of pressure, and he’s convinced that he’s solved whatever technical problems he has had with his move to the American Top Team.

He rightly points out that he’s faced an extraordinary level of opposition, and the facts back that up. He faced future UFC champion Fabricio Werdum in his debut in the promotion, and overall has fought five men who have held the title (Werdum, Cain Velasquez three times, Shane Carwin, Frank Mir and Miocic). In those seven bouts, he’s 5-2, so he’s fared well.

Though the division is quickly becoming one of the best in the UFC, with challengers like Francis Ngannou and Derrick Lewis on the rise, dos Santos doesn’t feel at all like this is his last shot.

“Oh my gosh, of course not,” he said. “I’m just 33 years old and I’m on top of this. I’m fighting against the top guys since the beginning, since I arrived here in the UFC in 2008. I was fighting with the guy who was supposed to fight for the title. Since then, I’m on top of this division. So it’s one more step in my career and I have no doubt that I’m going to become champion.”

But in a division filled with viable contenders, if dos Santos doesn’t get it done on Saturday, he’s going to have to go on some kind of a streak in order to get another shot. Guys like Werdum, Ngannou, Lewis, Ben Rothwell, Alistair Overeem and Velasquez, if he can ever get healthy, are all viable title contenders.

The key against any of them is limiting the amount of times they can land. Miocic is a brilliant athlete, but he packs an enormous amount of power. Though dos Santos out-landed Miocic 123 to 89 en route to victory in their compelling 2014 bout, he can’t afford to be hit again by Miocic so frequently.

While each man has a well-rounded game – dos Santos is noted for his jiu-jitsu and Miocic for his wrestling – they’re both strikers at heart. And Miocic is at the peak of his powers now. If he lands 89 times on dos Santos, it’s probably going to be a long night for the Brazilian.

Dos Santos, though, has learned the value of positive thinking, and while facing an athlete with the advanced and frequently fearsome capabilities that Miocic has can be troubling, all dos Santos sees is blue skies ahead.

“I feel this is one of the best moments of my life,” he said. “I’m feeling well, like I said. I’m feeling stronger. I’m feeling very healthy and I’m feeling this is my time. I’m feeling things are working very well for me and I’ve put good work in in the gym. I’m ready for this fight.

“I respect Stipe a lot and the way I’m going to show him my respect is to give my best during the fight. So I’m ready for this.”

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