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Velasquez, MMA stars shine in first-ever UFC event Down Under


1. Cain Velasquez is the real deal. Four years ago in Fresno, Calif., American Kickboxing Academy operator and chief trainer Javier Mendez pulled me aside to rave about a kid making his pro debut that night. Some wrestler from Arizona State was going to be the best heavyweight in mixed martial arts.

You hear this kind of thing fairly regularly from promoters and managers and trainers. Sometimes you pay attention. Sometimes you don't. For every young fighter that pans out, 20 won't. But more often than not, when the San Jose, Calif.-based Mendez mentions a name, it's worth storing in the back of your mind.

Chalk another one up for the trainer who entered MMA as part of Brian Johnston's corner and established himself by molding and shaping Frank Shamrock to the biggest victory of his career against Tito Ortiz -- he was correct about Cain Velasquez.

So confident was Melendez in his young charge, that two fights into Velasquez's career, he brought the two-time All-American to the UFC, where the 27-year-old Mexican-American has been smartly handled since. Each subsequent bout brought unique challenges to a green fighter, but none were as complex, important or revealing as the man he pasted in the main event of UFC 110.

With his knockout of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Velasquez (8-0) affirmed his place alongside fellow UFC-signed heavyweight Junior Dos Santos as the top young fighters in the division. It's too soon to say which is better, but there will be time to sort that out.

As it is, Velasquez, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighed 242 pounds at fight time, has rounded into the type of fighter that will dominate MMA over the coming decades. He can wrestle. He can kickbox. He can dictate where and how the fight plays out. He is strong-willed. He does not fatigue easily. And he has a great camp that will continue to push him to improve.

Exciting times are ahead for heavyweights in MMA. And Velasquez, like Mendez promised, is a name that will be part of the discussion for some time.

2. One more title run unlikely for Nogueira. After years of wars in the ring and because of an astounding ability to submit opponents, Nogueira could go down as the top Brazilian mixed martial artist of this generation.

Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida and Mauricio Rua certainly have an argument, but no one could deny Nogueira's place in the discussion. When it comes time for people to argue the point, it will be difficult to look past Nogueira's loss to Velasquez as the moment his great run unofficially came to a close. The only fighter to claim Pride and UFC championships (the UFC title doesn't hold much weight considering its "interim" tag), Nogueira talked about his fight with Velasquez as the starting point to one more run at a major belt. A younger fighter's superior hand speed and power made sure that wasn't going to happen, and it was rather unsettling to see Nogueira lay beaten and battered in the middle of the Octagon canvas 140 seconds after the opening bell.

It's easy to dismiss Nogueira's stoppage loss in December 2008 to Frank Mir. He was ill. He was ravaged by injures. He didn't look right. But there's nothing about his loss to Velasquez that can be spun away.

The 33-year-old Nogueira (32-6-1) stepped into the cage as prepared as he could be. It just wasn't enough.

3. Silva isn't going away without a fight. The night ended badly for one Brazilian veteran, but not for another.

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After losing five of his last six bouts, including three brain-rattling knockouts, Wanderlei Silva was so desperate for a win that he shed 20 pounds and allowed a plastic surgeon to essentially re-arrange his re-arranged face.

Gone was the sloping forehead that complimented Silva's "Axe Murderer" nickname and persona. So too the mangled nose that obstructed his oxygen intake.

Would his ability to dole out punishment disappear, as well?

The verdict is still out on that, but after seeing him engage with Michael Bisping (18-3) for three rounds, it's clear this man still has plenty of fight.

Silva seemed to benefit from his reconnection with the Chute Boxe lineage and trainer Rafael Cordiero. Silva moved well when he was taken down and showed improved speed at the lighter weight. The 33-year-old former Pride champion didn't engage Bisping in a way that opened him up to getting countered, but he carried enough power in his hands to stave off defeat in the final seconds.

Silva (33-10-1) should face Japanese middleweight Yoshihiro Akiyama next in a fight that is expected to draw interest amongst a casual audience in Japan. Can he be champion again? I don't think so, but we shouldn't expect him to go out doing anything less than swinging.

4. Cro Cop nearing the end, as well.Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (26-7-2) may have earned the 20th stoppage victory of his career, but it was hardly his most impressive win. Appearing slow and sluggish, he needed 10 minutes to put away Anthony Perosh, who met the veteran heavyweight slugger on two-day's notice.

I don't see the Croatian having any kind of impact at this stage of his career. At best, he was uninspired against Perosh. At worst, he was as good as he can be. Either way, Filipovic's tenure in the UFC has not been a good one. Sure, he remains promotable, and the victory should put him in a position to fight Ben Rothwell, whom he was expected to fight in Sydney until the American pulled out this week.

Filipovic should consider himself lucky it was Perosh (10-6) and not "Big Ben" standing in front of him in Australia.

5. Fighters lay groundwork for future UFC cards Down Under. The formula isn't complicated. Enter a new market. Educate the audience. Bring established stars. Find local talent. And promote. This is how Zuffa has operated the UFC since mixed martial arts exploded in 2005, and this is what they did over the weekend in Australia.

While the Nogueiras and Silvas -- and the UFC brand name -- helped fill Acer Arena, it was the homeland heroes who brought the MMA-hungry crowd to its most raucous crescendos.

With due respect to Velasquez, no one owned the night more than Australian veteran lightweight George Sotiropoulos, whose mix of striking and offensive Brazilian jiu-jitsu frustrated and endangered Joe Stevenson (31-11). At the end of three rounds, the crowd erupted when Sotiropoulos (12-2) took a 30-27 decision across the board.

Sotiropoulos and light heavyweight prospect James Te-Huna (12-4) helped put Zuffa on solid promotional footing with their efforts, and both should receive a push as the UFC continues to drive forward in their home country.