UFC heavyweight Cain Velasquez was the champ heading into UFC 166.
You know what? Sometimes, it all comes together.
Even more than usual, all the bright lights were trained on the main event at UFC 166. Heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez would defend the strap against Junior dos Santos in a trilogy-capping battle for the ages.
There was indeed a battle for the ages in Houston Saturday night. But it wasn't in the main event.
Oh, sure, that was a terrific fight, between two of the best heavyweights ever. That was a treat and a memorable contest. But another bout outshone the main event and stole the pay-per-view show, and it would have left most buyers feeling satisfied even if Velasquez or dos Santos had never thrown a punch. Well, that might be an extreme description. But you understand.
Read all about it in the slides that follow, which include grades for every main card fighter.
Result: John Dodson def. Darrell Montague by KO, 4:13, Rd. 1
Dodson is like a downed power line; he writhes, positively hisses with danger. A left downstairs cleared the way for an overhand left that lowered the cobweb's into Montague's eyes. Ten seconds later, the most ballyhooed prospect in the flyweight division was clinging to Dodson's ankle for dear life.
Montague bravely rallied, but the lights were effectively off, and soon enough Dodson finished him off. Dodson is so fast and strong, and for my money, he is the clear second-best flyweight on Earth.
If someone could just get him to knock off that whole Miley Cyrus-meets-Chuckie song and dance, we'd really have something here.
No one loves the prospects more than me, but I have to say I have a lot of admiration for the UFC's practice of signing a hyped fighter and marching him onto the battlefield with one of their nastiest foot soldiers.
That's what happened to Montague, a top-flight grappler who was just out-athleted by Dodson Saturday night. (Dodson also served that purpose against Jussier Formiga.) Credit to Montague for hanging in, landing some leg kicks and doing his best to leverage his reach advantage on the diminutive Dodson.
I think it's inevitable that he'll win a UFC fight. But he wasn't the better man at UFC 166.
Result: Gabriel Gonzaga def. Shawn Jordan by TKO, 1:33, Rd. 1
That's how you're going to beat 'em, Napao. They just keep underestimating you.
Shawn Jordan was supposed to be the new hotness after that merking of Pat Barry back in June. But a perfect counter right hook from Gonzaga (fired off his back foot, no less) sent Jordan reeling. A few hammerfists later, and it was over.
Gonzaga may never be a UFC contender. But the 34-year-old—4-1 in his current stint with the UFC—still seems able to make many a meal off the nameless livestock of the heavyweight division's lower reaches.
Shawn Jordan has the potential to be a nice fighter, but he's not going to advance very far into MMA's top echelon if he insists on bullrushing veterans as wily as Gonzaga. He sold out to get to Gonzaga's chin and landed a good shot, but Gonzaga absorbed it. The counter was there for Gonzaga. Ninety-three seconds later, you had the second straight knockout of the main card.
Result: Gilbert Melendez def. Diego Sanchez by unanimous decision
Melendez finally got his first UFC win. And all he had to do was go three rounds with everyone's favorite rabid dog, a Mr. Diego Sanchez.
Seriously, does a lightweight, when he learns he's been paired up with Sanchez, begin spending the Fight of the Night bonus money right then and there? It's like having the cash in hand.
At UFC 166, after 15 glorious minutes of violence, Melendez's hand was in the air following what was easily one of the three or four best UFC fights of the year to date. Time after time, Melendez pressed his jab into duty, to precise and bloody (very bloody) effect.
Down the stretch, it evolved into a cards-on-the-table brawl. Melendez was game for that, too; he set his feet, clenched his teeth and slammed his fist repeatedly into Sanchez's face, only to watch as Sanchez, who is crazy, stood pat and continued to wave him in.
Melendez was the clear winner, but Sanchez literally made him fight for it. And it was amazing to watch. Melendez said in his post-fight interview with broadcaster Joe Rogan that he was the "uncrowned champion" of the lightweight division. At a minimum, he was the champion of UFC 166.
What else can you say about Sanchez? The guy took, by my precise calculations, about 22 regular-man knockouts and kept coming back for more.
Despite a heart-pounding final push, it was clear after the final horn sound that Sanchez, channeling prom-night Carrie, had come up short. But he pushed through a massive cut, which a doctor had to check multiple times during the action, and more big shots than I care to remember to do what he does best: be himself.
Part of me wonders what sort of brain damage he did to himself during this fight (his slurring, punch-drunk post-fight interview hinted at it). But those sobering questions will wait for another day. For now, it's time to raise a glass to one of the greatest entertainers in UFC history, who may have just performed his magnum opus.
Result: Daniel Cormier def. Roy Nelson by unanimous decision
It wasn't the world's most scintillating affair, especially following that Melendez-Sanchez classic. But it was another masterful Cormier performance: clinch work, takedowns and sound strategy on the feet to avoid Nelson's dangerous right hand. Yes, he threw some spinning stuff toward the end, but none of it was to such great effect.
Cormier's so good, so polished as a fighter that it seems as if he is working more on saving energy and brain cells than putting on a show. Nothing wrong with that, of course. His right. But it's also a fan's right to call the UFC 166 co-main event what it was: simply unexciting.
Nelson was fully outwrestled by Cormier Saturday night. It's been said before, but I'll say it again: Nelson has fallen in love with the knockout. He throws the big right hand as heavily as ever, but he doesn't do anything else. It's KO or bust. He knows it, the opponents know it, he knows the opponents know it and he does it anyway.
You've got millions of fans and a spanking new contract. But if you ever want to advance through the gate instead of just guarding it, he'll probably need to re-evolve his game, including those jiu-jitsu chops. As is, it seems like he's just kind of treading water and signing checks.
Division: Heavyweight (for UFC Heavyweight Championship)
Result: Cain Velasquez def. Junior dos Santos, TKO, 3:09, Rd. 5
Those who believed this fight would be Rounds 6-10 of their rematch in December were proved correct when Velasquez tenderized dos Santos over five rounds.
The challenger mounted his biggest threat in literally the opening seconds of the fight, when he clipped Velasquez with a hard punch. But it was all Velasquez from then on out. If anything, it was a more violent redux of their second engagement. Dos Santos poured blood from his face throughout the championship rounds, courtesy of heavy Velasquez punches and knees that nearly forced a stoppage on multiple occasions. Velasquez himself was cut open as well, though not nearly as bad as the challenger.
Finally, late in the fifth, Velasquez broke dos Santos, and left him turtled on the mat with his head in his hands and his face looking like cold oatmeal. Even without the stoppage, though, the contest was never really in doubt.
I give dos Santos credit for toughness and for rocking Cain early. But part of me wonders about his game plan, not to mention that new science-based training and conditioning regimen that fans heard about ad nauseam in the run-up to Houston.
Where was the jab? Where were the reversal and escape attempts when Cain had him smushed against the fence. Where was the gas tank?
I realize most any fighter will look like a lumbering lumberjack against the tireless Velasquez, who made it all the worse by sticking to him like flypaper. But dos Santos has seen this movie before; haven't we all? I guess I was hoping for some different tricks from the challenger Saturday night. For whatever reason, nothing ever came out of the hat, and dos Santos left himself high and dry.
Scott Harris is a writer with Bleacher Report MMA. He likes to assign grades to all sorts of things. For more of that sort of nonsense, find Scott on Twitter.