Cain Velasquez reclaims heavyweight title with unanimous decision
LAS VEGAS — Well, that was fun. Let's do it again.
If you're strictly a results person, Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos are even now. They've fought twice, and each has won one. Some might even call the Brazilian's 64-second knockout in their first meeting, 13 months ago, the more decisive victory.
But make no mistake: Velasquez is today the alpha male of the heavyweight division after mauling Dos Santos for five relentlessly rugged rounds, earning a lopsided unanimous decision in the main event of UFC 155 before 12,423 on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Regarding that Cain vs. Junior III, though, it might have to wait a while. At the post-fight press conference, UFC president Dana White said Dos Santos had been transported to a hospital. He said his people backstage suspected a broken jaw, but later in the press conference a reporter who'd talked to Junior's camp told White the jaw was not broken. "But he took a beating," Dana retorted. "He'll need time to heal."
So it would appear that if Alistair Overeem beats Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva on Feb. 2, he'll get a shot at Velasquez. (Meanwhile, "The Reem" took a shot at Dos Santos, with whom he's been engaged in a war of words. That flared up again when, during the fight, he wrote on Twitter, "JDS looks really pretty lol.")
But Overeem will have his day (maybe) down the road. This night was all Velasquez'. The shockingly dominant performance — the scores were 50-45, 50-44 and 50-43 — made Cain the first UFC heavyweight to regain the championship belt since Randy Couture took out Tim Sylvia back in March 2007 (unless you count Frank Mir capturing an interim belt the following year). Velasquez had won the strap by crushing Brock Lesnar back in 2010, but lost it in his first defense, at last year's inaugural UFC on Fox network telecast, when Dos Santos dropped him with a looping right hand inside a minute, then finished him.
This time it was Velasquez doing the early damage ... although not that early. After showing some success at getting the champion to the ground, though not necessarily keeping him there, and also maintaining distance with a crisp jab, Cain landed a big right hand against the cage that dropped Dos Santos midway through the first round. Velasquez, ever the aggressor, landed some big shots while on the ground, and even after Junior managed to gain his feet, his legs were wobbly and Velasquez swarmed on him again. He appeared poised to finish, but Dos Santos persevered to the horn.
With that, Junior staggered toward his corner while Cain marched to his, grabbed the stool that had been placed there for him to sit on, and tossed it disdainfully to the side. He stood for the one-minute break, his breathing not at all heavy. He still had work to do.
And that's what he did, battering Dos Santos even worse in the second round, then maintaining his control for the final three as the soon-to-be-dethroned champ's face grew ever more gruesomely scraped up and swollen. When the final horn sounded, Velasquez allowed his stoicism to take a momentary leave of absence. He broke into a wide smile and plopped down on his back at the center of the cage, much as the vanquished Brazilian had done back in November 2011 in a more triumphant moment.
For Dos Santos, this defeat was a harrowing trip into uncharted territory. In nine UFC bouts prior to Saturday night's, Junior had spent a grand total of 13 seconds on his back. That's 4/10ths of 1 percent of the 59 minutes 23 seconds he'd been in the octagon. Jon Jones has done cartwheels for longer. The Diaz brothers have spent more time flipping birds. Thirteen seconds? That's a mere instant.
On this night, Dos Santos spent what must have felt to him an eternity on the mat. Velasquez took him down 11 times, including four on five attempts in the second round against a man who came in with 88 percent effectiveness in takedown defense. Cain was relentless, attempting 33 takedowns and often using even failed attempts to set up his striking.
Velasquez is always a busy man in the cage, but this performance was off the charts. He came into the bout averaging 7.47 strikes landed per minute, best in UFC history. On this night he outdid himself, landing 210 strikes (8.4 a minute), including 111 significant strikes. Dos Santos landed 57, but after absorbing so much punishment in the first two round, much of the steam was gone from his attack.
But the ex-champ, whose 10-fight winning streak going back to 2008 was ended, intends to attack again. After congratulating the new champ, he reminded Velasquez of what he had said as he trained for a chance to regain the belt. "Cain Velasquez," said Dos Santos, "like you said, I'm gonna come back and I'm gonna take my belt again."
Velasquez would have it no other way. "I just know he's coming back stronger," Velasquez said moments after regaining his status as baddest man on the planet. "So I have to get better. That's the name of the game."
Blood and guts: Jim Miller and Joe Lauzon always have been crowd favorites, delivering bonus-worthy performances with nonstop assault from all angles. But this time Miller really gave the fans what they wanted, what they'd been calling for all night: blood. Then Lauzon gave them something else they appreciated: resiliency and the will to seize the moment.
Miller took a 29-28 decision on all three judges' cards, but he was a more dominant winner than that. He came out aggressively from the start, landing punches, kicks and elbows, with one of the latter opening a big gash on Lauzon's head. There were moments when it appeared Joe was about to crumble, but he hung in even after a visit by the cageside doctor to check his cut.
Lauzon's resolve nearly paid off in the second round, when he reversed position on the ground and maintained top position for a spell. But he did little to damage Miller, who was covered by blood not his own, and when the third round began it was all or nothing for Lauzon. As the seconds ticked away and there was less than half a minute left, Lauzon leapt for a flying leglock, took Miller to the ground and the crowd exploded. "That was a beautiful move," Miller said afterward, acknolwedging that the submission try was close to pulling out what would have been an astounding victory.
Alas, Lauzon will have to settle for a $65,000 bonus check, as this was Fight of the Night. Not surprisingly, either: The UFC probably already had the checks made out to Miller and Lauzon even before the two stepped into the cage. Truth be told, they deserved extra bonuses for waking up a crowd that had grown restless from some sluggish undercard bouts. Miller and Lauzon made the fans forget all that.
Rising to the occasion: Tim Boetsch was a middleweight contender on a four-fight winning streak, Costa Phillippou a late replacement who'd never stepped in with someone with Boetsch's resume. And as the fight began, the seasoned fighter stalked while the up-and-comer was tentative.
But Phillippou found his groove by the second round, changing the tide and leaving Boetsch bloodied and sagging. Before the final round was halfway over, "The Barbarian" had nothing left to fight for but survival. He didn't make it, as Philippou put him on his back and swarmed, with Boetsch just covering up until referee Kim Winslow called a merciful end to the carnage at 2:11.
Smothering enthusiasm: It wasn't the first fight of the night to surprisingly draw boos (see below), but Yushin Okami's unanimous decision over Alan Belcher doused more than the crowd's gusto. It also muscled Belcher out of the middleweight title picture.
The common narrative coming into this fight was that Belcher was on the verge of bigger and better things while Okami, less than a year and a half removed from his unsuccessful challenge for Anderson Silva's belt, might have seen his best days. However, Yushin seized control from the start and maintained it — except when the fight was being restarted for lack of action.
Crippling defeat: Chris Leben has been fighting in the UFC since 2005, when he was one of the more, um, colorful characters on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. He's had some ups and plenty of downs inside and outside the cage, and perhaps there will be more to come. But his unanimous-decision loss to Derek Brunson, the third defeat in his last four fights, did not make a strong case for the combustive middleweight's future.
After Brunson, a Strikeforce refugee and former All-American collegiate wrestler making his octagon debut, took the fight to his comfort zone — the mat — for the better part of the first round, he seemed to tire, and Leben stalked him the rest of the way. But "The Crippler" could produce none of the explosive frenzy of his past. The decision could have gone either way, really, but the fans — who'd earlier chanted Leben's name — rendered their verdict with sporadic boos.
No love lost: Brad Pickett has been in an enviable position in the UFC, with company president Dana White saying over and over how much he loves the British bantamweight. Having admirers in high places is how you rise in this business. And that affection should not disappear even in the wake of Pickett's split-decision loss to Eddie Wineland.
The former WEC champion picked apart Pickett for three rounds, but even as Brad's face reddened with each punch, he never stopped coming. Which, of course, is why White adores the guy. And Wineland's precise, patient but ever aggressive attack will earn him some love as well.
Worth the wait: Melvin Guillard and Jamie Varrner were supposed to meet two weeks ago, but Varner fell ill on fight night, leaving Guillard without a dance partner. And steamed. But to his credit, once Melvin did get to step in the cage, he did not fall into his old habit of allowing emotions to get the best of him. What resulted was an entertaining three rounds of back-and-forth aggression.
Varner got the best of most exchanges with his tight standup and relentless takedowns, but Guillard had his moments, landing a succession of uppercuts to give Varner pause in the second round, then scrambling into a brief submission attempt in the third. In the end, though, the most fascinating foray came from the judges, who awarded Varner a split decision, 30-27, 30-27, 27-30. Really? Guess the view is dramatically different depending on which side of the cage you're sitting.