HOUSTON — UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez was not afraid to share his strategy for defeating former champ Junior dos Santos on Saturday night in the rubber match between the sport’s two most dominant big men.
Perhaps that was because Velasquez was so confident that there was little dos Santos could do to thwart his plans.
Velasquez retained the belt with a fifth-round knockout of dos Santos in the main event of UFC 166 at Toyota Center in a bout that looked like a carbon copy of their second meeting in December, right up until the finish.
This fight also looked headed for the scorecards until dos Santos went for a standing choke with two minutes remaining. He tried to drop to the ground to finish the hold, but landed directly on his head. Dos Santos was on his knees and stunned when Velasquez landed a series of punches to stop the fight at 3:09.
The night may be remembered just as much for a thrilling unanimous decision victory by former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez over Diego Sanchez that became an instant choice for fight of year on social media.
Velasquez left his impression with another dominant performance. He said all week that he would keep the pressure on dos Santos and stay right in his face in an effort to limit his opponent’s potential to land a big punch.
The strategy worked. Velasquez pressed forward and continuously backed dos Santos into the fence. When they exchanged, dos Santos had little room to work and couldn’t do much damage with the sporadic short hooks and elbows he was able to land.
While he was in control of nearly the entire fight, Velasquez’s best success came in the third round. The fight was almost stopped on two occasions in the round as he knocked dos Santos down and badly bloodied his face.
“He beat me up, what can I say?” dos Santos said through a swollen face. “He’s a great fighter.”
Dos Santos had won the first meeting by knockout in just 64 seconds. He was never able to land the kind of shot on Saturday night that could have changed the momentum of the bout.
Melendez and Sanchez seemingly landed that type of blow every 15 seconds. Melendez controlled the action against Sanchez and opened a nasty gash on his face, causing the fight to be stopped momentarily so Sanchez could be checked out by the ringside doctor on two occasions.
Sanchez never quit and even found flashes of success, knocking Melendez down midway through the third round. The crowd booed when the decision was announced in Melendez’s favor, even though he was the clear winner.
Las Vegan Roy Nelson did little to threaten Daniel Cormier, who earned a unanimous decision in what he says is his last fight at heavyweight before dropping to the 205-pound division.
Cormier, an Olympic wrestler, proved too much for Nelson in all facets and won all three rounds on all three scorecards. He is a close friend and training partner of Velasquez, so there is little sense in them fighting in the same division if they both want to be champions.
Former flyweight title contender John Dodson put himself in line for another shot at the belt by ruining the UFC debut of Darrell Montague with a first-round knockout. Dodson had Montague in trouble midway through the first round when he landed a series and punches and then slammed him to the mat. Montague survived, but later took a clean left to the chin and wobbled around momentarily before dropping face first to prompt the referee to stop the fight at 4:13.
Gabriel Gonzaga won for the fourth time in five fights since returning to the UFC and recorded his second straight first-round knockout victory with a quick stoppage of Shawn Jordan.
The preliminary card was highlighted by the successful debut of Jessica Eye and a controversial victory by middleweight Tim Boetsch, as well as an outstanding performance by Hector Lombard in his first fight at welterweight.
Eye earned a split decision victory over former Strikeforce women’s champion Sarah Kaufman.
Boetsch was awarded a split decision over C.B. Dollaway in a bout even though Dollaway appeared to control much of the fight.
Lombard dropped from middleweight and quickly showed he is comfortable at 170 pounds, stopping former Strikeforce champion Nate Marquardt with a booming left hand as Marquardt stumbled across the cage just 1:48 into the first round.
Also, T.J. Waldburger was carried from the cage on a stretcher after suffering a first-round knockout loss to Adlan Amagov in a welterweight bout. Waldburger was released from a local hospital a short time later.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.