Three minutes into their heavyweight title rematch and it was clear that the initial meeting was an anomaly.
Cain Velasquez pressured Junior dos Santos with takedowns and hard punches. His assault was relentless -- so much so that dos Santos looked like a beaten fighter minutes into the second round. His right eye was nearly shut, his lips puffy. But it was the look of dejection on his face that best told the story -- the man beating him up was a familiar face, but that’s as far as it went.
The foe dos Santos clashed with on Saturday at UFC 155 was fully healthy, and that made all the difference.
Dos Santos took the heavyweight title from Velasquez with a first-round knockout on Nov. 12, 2011. But Velasquez reluctantly revealed afterward that he fought with an injured knee and other ailments that night.
He wasn’t slowed by a bum knee or anything else during the rematch.
“Not being able to work stuff in the gym, it translates into the Octagon,” Velasquez said after improving to 11-1. “And that [injury] did. It really got into my head that I can’t do the stuff I want. If I can’t do the things I want to do in the gym, how am I going to do them [in the Octagon]?
“Being 100 percent physically and mentally, it helps so much.”
Now dos Santos is left to explain why he was overwhelmed for five rounds en route to losing his title.
Velasquez wasn’t just a fighter reclaiming his crown; he was a man determined to reestablish his dominance in the heavyweight division.
He is indeed the baddest man on this planet. Dos Santos knocked him out the first time they fought, but Velasquez delivered the more impressive beating the second time around.
“I was envisioning this fight in my head. I just wanted to keep the pace and eventually slow him down,” Velasquez said. “I prepared well for him. We didn’t let him get comfortable in there.”
Despite being pummeled for five rounds, dos Santos (15-2) never stopped trying to win. He showed the heart of a champion and even delivered a few uppercuts in the final round.
Fans, however, booed dos Santos after the fight -- unfair to him, and he was left to wonder why they responded to him in such an unfavorable manner.
“Why are they doing that? Why?” dos Santos said. “He was better than me. He walked forward all the time ... his takedowns, his grappling game, it's very effective.
“Congratulations to him.”
When all was said and done, he needed much more than heart to defeat a healthy Velasquez.