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PHOENIX (AP) — Junior Dos Santos is facing much more than a daunting challenge from Stipe Miocic when he returns to the octagon.
The former UFC heavyweight champion realizes he must revive his career after two losses to Cain Velasquez, who took his belt in 2012 and defended it in 2013.
To have any chance for another shot at the title, Dos Santos (16-3) must put together another string of victories, starting in the main event of Saturday's show in Phoenix.
"Every athlete in the UFC, they want to fight for the title," Dos Santos said. "I'm not different. No matter what happen, with Velasquez, I won the first one (fight with Velasquez) then lost the next ones. I really believe I can be the champion again. I really believe if I put my mind in the right place, if I train hard and if I have a good support by my side, I can be the champion again and I can stay there for a long time."
Dos Santos hasn't been in the octagon since his second loss to Velasquez 14 months ago — mostly because of a hand injury.
Dos Santos said his hands, which have earned him 12 career stoppage victories with outstanding boxing skills, are "more than 100 percent." But in order to get another shot at Velasquez, Dos Santos wants to become a well-rounded fighter who can handle any heavyweight's challenges.
"I'm really confident with my boxing skills," he said. "But I have jiu-jitsu. I have wrestling. I have muay thai. Why don't I use that too much with my fights? I want to be confident. I want to learn how to be confident to use those things in my fight. If my boxing is not working that well, then let's do jiu-jitsu. You know? Try to find some holes in my opponent."
Dos Santos and Miocic (12-1) are headlining a heavyweight-stacked card for the UFC's first live show in Arizona.
Struggling contender Alistair Overeem (37-14) is taking on 7-footer Stefan Struve (29-6), who hasn't fought since March 2013 after getting treatment for a heart condition. Heavyweights Gabriel Gonzaga and Matt Mitrione also meet on the Fox show, while popular lightweight Nate Diaz came in five pounds heavy for his bout with Rafael Dos Anjos at Friday's weigh-in.
Although Dos Santos' place among the world's best heavyweights isn't in doubt, Miocic hopes to join him with an upset victory. The part-time firefighter and paramedic from Cleveland who has won three straight fights expects "the best Junior we've seen."
"He's been a champion of the world," Miocic said. "It'll be a great fight. I hope everyone knows my name (after I win)."
The winner of Saturday's main event will be in the mix for a title shot in 2015, whether the belt-holder is Velasquez or interim champ Fabricio Werdum. When Velasquez was forced to pull out of his defense in Mexico City in October due to a knee injury, Werdum stopped Mark Hunt and took the interim title.
To get a shot at either title belt, Dos Santos knows he must best Miocic with conviction.
"I do think I need to do something impressive on Saturday night," he said. "I want to show that I'm still here and I'm a top fighter."
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