With Junior Dos Santos's violent stoppage of Gabriel Gonzaga at last night's UFC on Versus, the hype behind the 25-year-old Black House product has reached a fever pitch if it already hadn't. Now there is no question who the heavyweight division's top Brazilian is, if there was uncertainty following Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera's loss to Cain Velesquez at UFC 110.
During the week of UFC 103 back in September, Nogueira told me Dos Santos would unquestionably wear the heavyweight title belt one day.
He saw that day in the distance, as at the time he was coming off a win over Randy Couture and still felt that he was in the title mix himself. In their two-man totem pole, Nogueira held the top position. At least that's how they saw it. But the reality is different now. Nogueira is no pushover, he's a legend who deserves every accolade thrown in his direction. At 33 years old, Nogueira may even defy critics and stage a second act. But after losing two of his last three, after seeing how his previously iron chin is no longer holding up under heavy fire the way it once did, it's fair to say that Nogueira has been leapfrogged by Dos Santos in his standing in the MMA world's heavyweight division.
Noguiera is one of the sports most storied fighters, and his legend is well cemented. But his time at the top of the division has waned, and he has passed the torch onto his protege Dos Santos. "Cigano" seems to be an inverse of Nogueira; whereas the 33-year-old veteran always had brilliant jiu-jitsu and fair boxing, Dos Santos possesses elite striking and power coupled with a supposedly decent BJJ game. Though he is only a purple belt and has yet to display his grappling in the Octagon, we can be sure Dos Santos is no scrub under the guidance of the Nogueira brothers.
Noguiera's preeminence at the top of the division spanned a decade and included titles in both Pride FC and the UFC. Aside from Fedor Emlianenko, he is the greatest heavyweight of all time. Fedor's reputation essentially rests upon his victories over Noguiera, to put in perspective how successful Big Nog was in his heyday. There is no doubt Noguiera has held the line as the greatest Brazilian in the division until this year, and now he passes it along to Dos Santos.
Time will tell if Dos Santos is more than just explosive hands. His pedigree is pristine. He's still young with upside and room to learn. And, as he proved in beating down a fellow Brazilian (who was once considered a possible heir to Noguiera) last night, he is merciless. And in a division with monsters like Brock Lesnar, this is what the new era demands in championship material.