LAS VEGAS -- Are you ready for a rematch?
Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos have already tangled twice, and the fights had something tantalizing in common: Each time, the man who stepped into the octagon as UFC heavyweight champion walked out without the belt. They each got the best of the other. Thoroughly. What more could you ask for in a rivalry?
You like a quick knockout? You must have reveled in that 64-second job dos Santos put on the then-undefeated Velasquez in their meeting back in Nov. 2011 in the UFC's much-ballyhooed debut on the Fox network. Prefer a sustained beatdown? Then you loved every second of the 25-minute mauling Cain laid on Junior in December, rendering the Brazilian's face bloated and bloodied and demoralized, in recapturing the big-boy belt.
Whatever your favorite flavor of fisticuffs, there's another helping to come. Velasquez and dos Santos are once again on a collision course after each made a loud-and-clear statement before 11,089 on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, one with a spectacular knockout in the co-main event of UFC 160, followed by a quick TKO in the main event.
Velasquez (12-1) made the first successful defense of his belt in the headlining bout, and he did it with gusto, taking out Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva in just 1:21. Minutes earlier, dos Santos (16-2) knocked out Mark Hunt with an out-of-nowhere spinning kick to the head in the final minute of their three rounds of stalking and swinging.
So now we'll get Velasquez-Dos Santos III? "No brainer," said UFC president Dana White. "If there's ever a trilogy, this is it."
Both of Saturday night's heavyweight fights were demonstrations that speed kills.
Velasquez never allowed Silva to take aim. Unlike in their meeting a year ago, in which Cain took "Bigfoot" to the canvas and beat on him for nearly four minutes before being pulled away, the champ was more measured in his attack this time. He kept his distance and kept moving. He did try two takedowns, neither of them successful, but then he connected with a quick left-right combination that crumbled the big Brazilian. Cain swarmed, secured a position on the challenger's back and unleashed 11 hard right hands before being pulled away.
The champ had little time to celebrate before being asked the obvious question: What does he think of another go with dos Santos? "He's tough," Velasquez said. "He's always been tough."
Dos Santos appeared to be in for an equally short night of work in the co-main when he winged an overhand right that connected to the cranium and collapsed Hunt to the canvas less than two minutes in. The burly New Zealander looked like a sack of potatoes as he fell, but he immediately climbed back to his feet and was right back in the fight. Dos Santos continued to get the better of the exchanges for the rest of the round, wobbling Hunt about 10 seconds from the horn with a big right, then a left. But Hunt stood his ground and took a deep breath.
As Velasquez was in his fight, Dos Santos was by far the faster man here. But Hunt had steam on his punches, and he had a way of pushing his rotund body forward as he flung leather and in rolling with the punches that were flung his way. On a few occasions, Hunt just missed with big, wide punches. Then with just over a minute and a half to go in the second, Hunt trapped the Brazilian against the fence and landed a couple of shots. Dos Santos escaped the dangerous position and quickly took Hunt to the canvas. The crowd booed. The ex-champ couldn't do much damage on the mat, and when Hunt finally made his way to his feet, the fans roared, drowning out the horn to end the round.
Dos Santos wobbled a tired Hunt again with a punch midway through the third, and then, as he stalked his prey with just under a minute to go in a fight that appeared destined to go to the judges, Junior unleashed a head kick that sent Hunt to mat for good. A straight right hand from a swarming dos Santos put an exclamation point on the knockout at 4:18.
Afterward, he was asked if this had been the debut for his spinning head kick. "Yeah, yeah," he said. "First time."
And now, of course, he's ready to do something for the third time. Velasquez-Dos Santos III sounds appealing to him. "That's what I most want," he said. "I want that so bad. I really believe I can be the champion again. And I will do my best to get that."
Notes from the undercard
Iron of the division: Glover Teixeira had just clamped on a standing guillotine, taken James Te Huna to the mat and submitted him just 2:38 in their fight, and he was ecstatic. Not because he'd just run his winning streak to 19 fights, going all the way back to 2005. Not because the victory fortifies, even enhances, his standing among top contenders in the light heavyweight division. No, what had put a big smile on Teixeira's face was something else entirely.
"I can't believe it," he said, looking like he was about to shed a tear. "Mike Tyson hugged me." The former heavyweight boxing champ was seated at cageside next to his buddy, White, and he'd come into the octagon to congratulate the hot Brazilian, who probably needs to knock off one more top guy before getting a shot at the belt. No doubt Mr. Tyson would be there to watch that one.
My turn: It's not like Gray Maynard hadn't been knocked out before. Frankie Edgar got him back in 2011, you might remember ... in their 59th minute in the octagon together. T.J. Grant needed only two minutes and seven seconds. He floored "The Bully" with a crisp right hand, then swarmed him with a relentless flurry to finish the job for his fifth straight win since dropping to lightweight a year and a half ago.
The brutal yet efficient TKO certainly impressed White, who said afterward that Grant will be the next challenger for Benson Henderson. "I was looking for something special," the UFC boss said. "I saw that tonight."
Grant also impressed White's buddy at cageside. Dana intended to give the Knockout of the Night bonus, but "that got vetoed by Mike Tyson, who said it should be T.J. Grant." Who's going to argue with Iron Mike?
Regeneration: After beating up K.J. Noons for three rounds in a unanimous-decision win, Donald Cerrone said in an interview in the cage that his grandmother had called him earlier in the day and said she'd be watching his fight "with a lot of guys who want to be you." Then she asked, "Do you want to be you tonight?" Cerrone actually did Grandma one better, suppressing his puzzling and counterproductive tendency to fight opponents on their terms in order to prove something. Against Noons, who has boxing and not much more in his toolbox, "The Cowboy" mixed in takedowns with his kickboxing, and the result was a thrashing. A smart thrashing.
Wigging out: Good thing Khabib Nurmagomedov can fight. On Friday, he did not endear himself to White by showing up for the weigh-ins wearing a bushy blond wig (White hates that), then missing weight (White really hates that), then giving a violent shove to Abel Trujillo during their staredown (White really, really hates that). But the boss had to be thrilled by what he saw from the 24-year-old Russian on fight night. In running his record to 20-0, Nurmagomedov tossed Trujillo around the cage to the tune of 21 takedowns and a dominant unanimous decision. Fight like that, and Khabib can wear the wig anytime he wants, for all Dana will care.
Mighty have fallen: Former WEC bantamweight champion Brian Bowles stepped in the octagon for the first time in 18 months. It was not a happy return for the man who dethroned Miguel Torres (37-2 at the time) and had lost to only Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber. Fighting in one of the early-evening Facebook prelims, Bowles hurt George Roop in the first round but couldn't seal the deal, and in the second, Roop dropped him with a left hand and then landed a decisive right hand that ended it at 1:43.