At UFC 166, the reigning heavyweight champ pushed his way into the record books by thrashing and stopping Dos Santos by TKO in the fifth round. With two defenses under his belt, Velasquez now ties the record for most consecutive UFC heavyweight title defenses with Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar.
In most weight classes, it would be deemed ludicrous to even consider basing a fighter’s all-time ranking off two title defenses, but the life expectancy for a UFC heavyweight champ is incredibly short.
Nearly every other division in the UFC has had at least one seeded star reign over the same weight class for years. UFC President Dana White is hopeful that the UFC may have finally found a true heavyweight king in Velasquez (h/t MMA H.E.A.T.’s Karyn Bryant):
I do (think Velasquez could hold onto the UFC title for a while). I truly believe Cain Velasquez is the best heavyweight in the world. I really haven’t (thought that about another heavyweight before). I always thought (the belt) was up for grabs and anybody could win.
The rivalry between Velasquez and Dos Santos has taken life over the past two years, but given the outcome of the last two bouts, the competitive gap between the heavyweights looks to be a large one.
For Velasquez, it isn’t simply the fact that he keeps winning, but instead that the MMA world is enamored by his continued dominance against consistently world-class opposition.
Many will likely feel like that the mere mention of anyone surpassing Fedor Emelianenko in the all-time heavyweight ranks is blasphemous. The things that the former Pride heavyweight champ was able to accomplish in his prime were otherworldly.
Emelianenko went undefeated for a decade during an era when Pride Fighting Championships bolstered the best heavyweights in the world. The nostalgia and deep-seated anticipation of watching Emelianenko trek his way down the Pride ramp and step into the ring still holds a special place in the hearts of hardcore fans to this day.
People didn’t even care about the Pride heavyweight title as much as Emelianenko’s undefeated streak. His personal achievements and greatness surpassed that of even the world title, which epitomizes the apex of success in MMA.
How can two consecutive title defenses for Velasquez possibly surpass all of that?
This may come as a shock to most people, but despite all of Emelianenko’s heavyweight success, he only defended the Pride heavyweight title three times. One of the only knocks on his legendary career was the fact that he consistently fought lukewarm opposition. For every Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira or Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, there seemed to be a Zulu and Egidijus Valavicius in between.
As a champion, there haven’t been any breaks or circus fights for Velasquez, who has faced nothing but the best heavyweights in the world. He has dominated tougher opponents on a more consistent basis than Emelianenko.
For Velasquez, it isn’t just about the record books. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to truly appreciate the kind of rare breed of heavyweight he represents. There has never been a heavyweight in MMA history with Velasquez’s conditioning.
Winning alone isn’t enough for Velasquez. He breaks fighters' wills. It’s impossible to deny that he is a very special fighter, one whose name could one day rule the record books.
With that said, Emelianenko’s legacy still wins out on the all-time list. There is still plenty of ground to cover for Velasquez, a young champion just now hitting his stride. Perhaps it is more appropriate to make the claim that Velasquez is the best heavyweight in UFC history.
The UFC has had a vast array of heavyweight standouts, including Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar and Tim Sylvia. But none of them, Couture included, showed the kind of promise Velasquez has shown in ruling over the UFC’s division of behemoths.
Perhaps “The Last Emperor” may have finally found his successor.