Next month, Junior dos Santos will turn 35 years old.
And while that isn’t a bad number for a heavyweight, it does mean that “Cigano” is reaching the end of his fighting prime.
The former UFC heavyweight champion looks to make it two wins in 2018 when he takes on Tai Tuivasa Saturday night at UFC Fight Night 142. The main card airs live on FOX Sports 1 from Adelaide, Australia.
This past July, dos Santos (19-5) topped Blagoy Ivanov for his first win since the spring of 2016. The Brazilian is 3-2 over his last five including a decision victory over former champion Stipe Miocic, but he’s also suffered knockout losses to Miocic and Alistair Overeem during that time.
With a very winnable bout on his hands, now is the time for dos Santos to make a push to the top of the heavyweight division and compete for gold again. Otherwise, he’ll likely find himself as nothing more than a gatekeeper in the lands of the big boys until he opts to retire or sign with Bellator or ONE Championship.
Dos Santos will go down as one of the all-time greats even if he doesn’t reach that top level once more. He claimed his only title in 2011 when he knocked out Cain Velasquez in just 64 seconds on the first-ever UFC show on FOX. A successful title defense over Frank Mir followed before Velasquez got his revenge in a bloody, nasty five-round battle that is still taking a toll on JDS after all these years.
At the time of that bout, dos Santos had avoided any serious damage, but Velasquez peppered him for 25 minutes, and while he went out on his shield by surviving, the bruises continue to keep him from being the Cigano of old.
Dos Santos has twice since challenged for the belt, dropping a third meeting with Velasquez when he was stopped in the fifth round after another hard battle, and again in 2017 vs. Miocic.
UFC Fight Night 142 Fight Card
MAIN CARD (FOX Sports 1/10 p.m. ET)
Heavyweight: Junior dos Santos vs. Tai Tuivasa
Heavyweight: Mark Hunt vs. Justin Willis
Light Heavyweight: Tyson Pedro vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
Welterweight: Jake Matthews vs. Tony Martin
Featherweight: Suman Mokhtarian vs. Sodiq Yusuff
Light Heavyweight: Paul Craig vs. Jim Crute
PRELIMINARY CARD (FOX Sports 1/8 p.m. ET)
Welterweight: Yushin Okami vs. Alexey Kunchenko
Flyweight: Wilson Reis vs. Ben Nguyen
Welterweight: Keita Nakamura vs. Salim Touahri
Flyweight: Kai Kara-France vs. Ashkan Mokhtarian
PRELIMINARY CARD (UFC Fight Pass/7 p.m. ET)
Lightweight: Mizuto Hirota vs. Christos Giagos
Lightweight: Alex Gorgees vs. Damir Ismagulov