I think we can safely say that the UFC's all-heavyweight experiment at UFC 146 was an unqualified success.
The preliminary card had its dull moments—and we'll get into those in a bit—but the pay-per-view card featuring the biggest boys in the sport delivered in spades.
From Stefan Struve's deft submission win over Lavar Johnson, to Cain Velasquez mauling Antonio Silva and Junior dos Santos easily defending his heavyweight title in the main event, the broadcast was packed with big knockouts and plenty of blood.
And hey, there was also an appearance from former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar. Dana White played coy in the post-fight press conference, but readily admitted that there's a good chance Lesnar will return to the UFC after a short stint in WWE.
Let's take a look at the biggest winners and losers from UFC 146 in Las Vegas, Nev.
Mike Brown needed a win at UFC 146, if only to prove that his career wasn't completely over. As it turns out, even with the decision win over featherweight prospect Daniel Pineda, Brown's career may be over anyway.
That was the word from Joe Rogan, who passed along word from Brown's camp that he'd told his coaches he was retiring. If that's truly the case, it's a shame. Brown clearly has name value, and that means something in the featherweight division.
But if he does retire, he's going out with a hard-fought win over a tough competitor in a close fight. Pineda rocked Brown several times, but the former WEC champion's chin didn't fail him like it has in the past. He weathered the storm and did what he needed to do in order to score the win.
I don't want to be too hard on Jason Miller here. It was quite obvious that he suffered a major knee injury in the first round, and that injury severely hampered his efforts to finish C.B. Dollaway when he had him on the ropes. Miller simply couldn't use the knee to pursue Dollaway and couldn't use it to prevent takedowns. He must be commended for continuing to fight when he did not have the use of one leg.
But in the end, Miller's run in the UFC will likely come to the end on the tail of another disappointing performance. Dana White's reaction to the fight was telling; the future doesn't look good for Miller. He claimed he would retire if he lost the fight, but said that losing the fight was unimaginable in the first place.
The unimaginable has happened. I doubt Miller gets another shot in the UFC, and he may not want to go through the rigors of a training camp just for a fight in Bellator. He's got some tough decisions to make.
Well, this was surprising.
Few expected Varner to beat Edson Barboza. He was a late-notice replacement for Barboza's original opponent, and most of us believed Varner's best days were behind him.
That wasn't the case. At all.
Varner came out with a fire in his eyes that I haven't seen in a long time, taking the fight to Barboza in every capacity and ultimately scoring the TKO win. I thought Varner had a decent chance of winning the fight based on the fact that Barboza had never faced a good wrestler, but I never once considered it a viable possibility.
It was, put simply, one of those moments that makes MMA such a special sport. A guy we all counted out and left for dead came out and not only beat one of the top UFC lightweight prospects—he did it decisively.
Congratulations to Jamie Varner. Enjoy this moment while you can.
Stefan Struve's maturation process continued with an intelligent first-round tactical defeat of Lavar Johnson.
Johnson rushed across the ring with murder in his eyes, looking for the quick knockout. He tied Struve against the fence, and Struve realized that Johnson's hand positioning was going to leave him open for an armbar. So Struve decided to pull guard, taking the fight to the ground. From there, it was just a matter of moments before he secured the submission and forced a screaming Johnson to tap out.
Struve is still just 24 years old, and he's continually getting better. He's going to be a handful for a lot of heavyweights, and probably for many years to come.
Dan Hardy's career was at a crossroads going into his UFC 146 bout with Duane Ludwig.
A loss would have given him five in a row, making him one of the few UFC stars in history who have been kept around after that many consecutive losses. Lorenzo Fertitta was supportive of Hardy after his fourth loss, but five was likely the magic number that would send him packing.
It didn't matter, as Hardy knocked out fellow striker Duane Ludwig with a crisp left hook, earning some redemption and a respite from career pressures in the UFC. Hardy ever so gratefully took to both knees in the middle of the cage and kissed the canvas. It was a moment that said it all.
Roy Nelson is one popular dude, and he has the best entrance music.
Nelson strolled to the cage to the blaring sounds of "We Will Rock You" by Queen, and then he rocked Dave Herman's world in the first round with one of the prettiest overhand right knockouts that you'll ever see. Herman dropped to a nearly sitting position, and though he recovered quickly, Steve Mazzagatti had seen enough.
Herman protested, but I don't have a problem with the stoppage. Herman was also asking Mazzagatti and the ringside doctor what happened, so he was quite obviously out of action for a moment or two.
Nelson celebrated with his cage-top belly rub, with the appreciative MGM Grand Garden Arena crowd roaring in approval. He's one of the most popular heavyweights in the world, and it would be quite a thing to see him string together three or four wins in a row and get into title contention.
This was a mauling. There's no other way to put it.
Cain Velasquez simply walked into the cage and beat Antonio Silva into a bloody pulp with ground and pound that was terrifying in its precision, power and pace.
It was an incredible display by the man who I believe is still the best heavyweight in the world despite his loss to Junior dos Santos. And I believe that the second time Dos Santos and Velasquez fight, the result is going to be a whole lot different than it was the first time around.
UFC 146 was a defining moment for Velasquez, who made a powerful statement and inserted himself back into the heavyweight title picture with one quick, brutal fight.
Silva was confident going into his fight with Velasquez. Perhaps a little too confident, as it turns out.
Silva never had a real chance to make an impression in this bout, mostly because Velasquez took him down in the first three seconds of the fight and never allowed him any offense—barring a quick break in the action to allow a doctor to check on the source of Silva's bloodbath.
This wasn't so much a statement on Silva's skills as it was a notification that Velasquez is still one of the best in the world. Silva's just not quite there yet.
Frank Mir never really had a chance in this fight, and it's his own fault.
Much like he did against Shane Carwin, Mir resorted to his boxing game once his initial attempts to take Dos Santos down failed. And much like his fight against Carwin, that was a very bad idea.
Mir needed to realize he was badly outgunned standing, to continually try for takedowns. At the end of the first round, he was nearly knocked out. Why weren't changes made in the corner before he came out for the second round? I don't understand it.
Frank had a chance, but he didn't put himself in position to get that chance.
I've never really been all that scared of Junior dos Santos, despite his billing as the baddest man on the planet.
Most of that stems from the fact that I've spent plenty of time with and around Junior, and he's legitimately the nicest fighter I've met in the sport. It was always hard to separate the Junior I know from the Junior who goes in the cage and mauls dudes with punches to the head.
That's not the case. Not after tonight. No way.
The moment Junior walked across the cage during the introductions, locked eyes with Frank Mir and pointed at the ground, something changed. This was a heavyweight with real swagger, and he backed up that attitude with a dominant crushing of a very good heavyweight in Mir.
As I said in an earlier slide, I'm not sure I will pick Dos Santos to beat Velasquez in a second fight. But man, this guy is legitimately a great fighter and one of the baddest dudes in the entire sport.