Is UFC heavyweight contender Junior dos Santos dreaming or awake? And either way, how does he know it?
If you heard dos Santos on Wednesday's media conference call to promote UFC on Fox 1, you'd wonder if he's living in a dream. His expressive words of glee, gratitude, serendipity and achievement signal a man who has been transformed and perhaps a touch overwhelmed by life's swift and rare fortunes.
For example, how does he view the idea of his fight airing on Globo, one of the biggest television networks in all of Brazil? " I'm very, very, very happy to be a part of this event. Everything that the UFC has brought to my life has been wonderful."
How does dos Santos feel about whether by fighting in Brazil he'd ever catch the UFC's attention? "Everything truly happened very fast for me so I didn't have too much time to think or to doubt. I just always gave 100 percent, which is what I always do. I kept working really hard."
What about his outlook on rising to the heights of MMA from an impoverished background? "I thank god every day for all of that and I want to continue to change it, to win the heavyweight title will just help me to continue on that path to better my life and better my family's life."
As the heavyweight contender nears his fight with UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez on November 12th, dos Santos' is both navigating the waters of his evolving life to progress while simultaneously absorbing the impact. For any man, it creates a heady, trance-like experience. At those strange, transitive junctures, you're never really able to inventory each moment. You simply realize over time you where there and now you're here.
But the trance or dream dos Santos is experiencing isn't the same as distraction. The siren song of media, money and fame have sent many a fighter's ship crashing into the shore. For dos Santos, they're merely wallflowers; a part of the overall experience on a journey that is not yet finished.
More importantly, he's as elated by the progress of his personal path as he is for the difficult and perhaps most arduous road of his career that lies ahead. With elation, there's no illusion for the Braziian. He knows why he's here. He knows where he wants to go. He may be living his dream, but he doesn't want it to end. To hear dos Santos tell it, he's as grounded in the reality of what he must do to excel as in any point in his life.
"It's been a really great camp. I'm feeling fantastic," dos Santos explained. "I've been training for about three months in Bahia and it's been very tough and vigorous training since I've been getting prepared for a five round fight. I've been doing two sparring sessions a week for six rounds each each plus my physical strength and conditioning training has been very, very rigorous."
If there's any suggestion dos Santos isn't preparing properly or doesn't know how to do so, it isn't from an improper understanding of the challenge that awaits him in Velasquez.
"I know Cain's been out of the Octagon for a while, but I also know that Cain's a phenomenal fighter," dos Santos contended. "Both of us look to fight. We're not fighters who dodge fights when we get in that cage. He's a professional and I'm sure he's gonna bring his best inside that Octagon and he's gonan be ready. I don't want to fight an injured Cain Velasquez. I want the best Cain Velasquez and that's what I'm preparing for. I don't think Cain would take a fight if he weren't capable of giving his all. It will be his first title defense and it's a very big fight for him so I will look forward to meeting up with the champion Cain Velasquez at his best, that's the guy that I want to fight.
Perhaps most importantly, dos Santos is neither made anxious nor encumbered by the timing of this bout. Despite changes to both venue and date of the contest, dos Santos doesn't appear to be particularly hampered by delays. In the larger context of his career journey, he's still on the right side of fate. "At the end of the day, every man needs luck and I'm a lucky guy," dos Santos quipped.
"Good things have been happening to me. Initially, I was frustrated when Cain was injured, but all of these good things happened as a result of that. I got time to be on TUF, I got time to work more on my strategy, I got a great fight against Shane Carwin and now I get to be on the UFC's debut on network TV and fight against Cain Velasquez."
"Physically, I feel so good and I want to show great things in there," dos Santos explained. "Waiting, it was hard, but in the interim, the UFC gave me a lot of great opportunities and the greatest opportunity is now, fighting a great champion like Cain Velasquez for the title on open network TV on the UFC's debut on FOX. It's a really exciting time and I want to go in there and show my best."
If dos Santos believes in anything, it's that life is a true meritocracy. Garbage in is garbage out, as is the opposite. So while dos Santos might be entranced by his rapid career ascension and or thankful for the social mobility he's achieved, he isn't mystified as to the reasons for his success. He's a modern day Horatio Alger, albeit one who has sojourned from the slums of Bahia. And that's precisely the determinative worldview he'll need to take the next step in his journey.
"Truly I am very proud," dos Santos admits. "I'm very proud to be a part of history. I'm proud of my work and I'm proud of myself and the dedication that has brought myself to this point."
"I believe that we reap what we sow and people wind up getting what they deserve. It's true I came from a very humble family with a difficult childhood, but going through that made me a better person, makes me the person that I am today. I'm grateful, I know the value of everything I've achieved and I'm just very thankful for all the opportunities that have come my way. My life has already changed a lot for the better. It's changed for me and it's changed for my family."
On November 12th, a win over Velasquez to crown himself the new UFC heavyweight champion can usher in and solidify one more critical change: this dream dos Santos is experiencing will become his living reality.