LAS VEGAS -- Before UFC 160, the world “rivalry” was contained to hushed voices. For former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos to get a another shot at current titleholder Cain Velasquez, both had to beat the impediments in front of them.
Guess what happened Saturday night: Velasquez defended his title for the first time, and he needed only 1:21 to knock out Antonio Silva. And dos Santos, who took Velasquez’s title the first time before giving it back in December at UFC 155, knocked out Mark Hunt spectacularly to bring the two biggest forces in the heavyweight division back together again.
So, is it safe to talk about Velasquez-dos Santos III without reservation?
“Yes, it makes all the sense in the world,” UFC president Dana White told ESPN.com. “They are without a doubt the two best heavyweights in the world, and that fight needs to happen again. When you talk about trilogies, if there was ever a trilogy, this is a trilogy. The first fight, dos Santos knocks him out in the first minute or whatever. Cain comes back and completely destroys him in the second fight, and now we see what happens in the third.”
Adding to the heat between the two are the countries they represent. A huge Mexican faction was in attendance at the MGM Grand on Saturday night to watch Velasquez do work, while chants of “Cigano” broke out from the Brazilian fans on hand during dos Santos’ fight. “Cigano” is dos Santos’ nickname, which means “gypsy" in Portuguese.
“I’ve had some fights where we’ve done the third fight and people say, 'Alright, enough already,'” White said. “This fight, people won’t say that. People will be pumped for this fight. It’s a big Mexico-versus-Brazil rivalry and two big heavyweights who can bang, who can knock people out, who can go to the ground, and they both beat each other in devastating fashion in their first two fights.”
White is already in full trilogy mode and was beaming that the rivalry could commence. All of this comes as a relief to dos Santos, who said his mindset in his last meeting with Velasquez wasn’t right.
“It was way different [in tonight's fight],” dos Santos said. “My mind was 100 percent confident. It’s hard to come back from a loss, but I believed so much in God and I trusted myself and I always try my best.”
It didn’t hurt that he put an exclamation mark on his fight with Hunt, who came into the bout riding a four-fight win streak. Throughout the fight there was a tension in the air, reminiscent of heavyweight champion Mike Tyson's heyday in the 1980s.
Both guys were putting everything they had behind their punches, and the thing teetered on the verge of ending. Both Hunt and dos Santos had moments when they put the other in peril. But in the third round, with Hunt slowing down and bleeding from several places, dos Santos threw a spinning wheel kick that crashed into Hunt’s forehead. Dos Santos put him away with a big right hand on the ground while the crowd reacted to the unthinkable thing they just saw. It was UFC 160's fight of the night.
“I trained that [kick] a lot in my training camp,” dos Santos said. “I don’t feel very comfortable to use that using it in my fights because all the time my hands work very well. But this time, I saw the moment to use it and it was perfect. Thank god for that.”
With Velasquez, it was second verse same as the first. He needed only 1:04 to beat Silva last Memorial Day weekend when they fought. This time through, it took 17 extra seconds, but the moment felt the same.
“I just came in, I threw a left jab and caught him with the right hand and missed with the hook,” Velasquez said. “But I caught him on the ground with some ground-and-pound, and that was it.”
That was it, indeed. He handled his business, got his first title defense and is now glancing over his shoulder at dos Santos -- yet again. The rivalry will commence. And when you look at the first two fights and how they went down, there’s really no telling how things will go.
“That’s what’s so fun about the heavyweights,” White said. “The heavyweights can finish the fight at any moment and everybody at the edge of their seats waiting for it to happen.”