UFC 146: JDS, Velasquez separate themselves from the pack
Sunday’s UFC 146 all-heavyweight main card was expected to cause some changes to the landscape of the big boy division, and it most certainly did.
In addition to Roy Nelson solidifying his place as a gatekeeper, and showing that Stipe Miocic is the top prospect in the division, champion Junior dos Santos and the man he beat for the title back in December, Cain Velasquez, proved that they’re head and shoulders ahead of the pack in the UFC’s heavyweight ranks.
Defending his title for the first time, dos Santos breezed through two-time former champion Frank Mir in the main event, stopping the Las Vegas native midway through the second round. “Cigano” was never in trouble, shaking off an early takedown attempt while offering a coy waggle of his finger to let Mir – and everyone else – know that this fight wasn’t going to be contested on the ground. Instead, dos Santos got to wage this war exclusively on the feet, and in this range, and the results were to be as expected.
The champion peppered Mir with jabs and straights, countering any offense the challenger offered with something with just a little more pop on it each time. Unable to put any pressure on dos Santos, Mir was left to fight a losing battle standing with the much more skilled striker, though it didn’t last all that long.
Prior to champion and challenger taking to the Octagon, Velasquez delivered the most impressive heavyweight performance of the night in his first bout since dropping the title to dos Santos back in November.
The 29-year-old American Kickboxing Academy product brutalized Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, taking him down instantly, and opening up on his with vicious ground-and-pound.
It was the most dominant and demonstrative performance of Velasquez’s career to date; one that should have reminded people of how talented and dangerous the former champion can be when he’s healthy.
Though the rest of the action on the main card delivered excitement as well, the final two bouts of the evening showed the clear separation dos Santos and Velasquez have achieved at the top of the heavyweight division right now in the UFC.
The power/speed combination possessed by the two twenty-somethings is something their current crop of contemporaries can’t match. Both force you to fight their fight, and no one seems capable of besting either in a battle on their terms, which is part of the reason a rematch between the two is almost assured for later this year.
However, that’s not to say that new challengers won’t emerge before the year is out.
Alistair Overeem remains a intriguing figure at the top of the division, and should return to the title picture the second he’s able to return to action in December. In all likelihood, the former Strikeforce heavyweight champion will face the winner of the dos Santos-Velasquez rematch for the UFC heavyweight title on a New Year’s Eve show, presumably in Las Vegas.
Daniel Cormier, who cemented himself as the top heavyweight outside of the UFC with his victory over Josh Barnett in the finals of the Strikeforce World Heavyweight Grand Prix earlier this month, should factor into the discussion by the time the leaves change colours later this year as well. A former two-time Olympic wrestler, Cormier has gone undefeated in his first 10 fights, and continues to grow in leaps and bounds with each subsequent appearance.
The one potential snag in his emergence near the top of the heavyweight division is his close ties to Velasquez. The two are teammates at AKA, and have repeatedly said fighting each other is out of the question.
Additionally, continued success and further development from Stefan Struve and Stipe Miocic, both of whom were also victorious at UFC 146, could have them on the cusp of being contenders later this year, depending on how quickly the UFC looks to move them up the ladder.
But for right now, dos Santos and Velasquez stand alone at the top of the heavyweight mountain, with everyone else much further back on the trail, struggling to keep up.
Follow E. Spencer Kyte on Twitter (@spencerkyte)