Heavyweight division takes shape in UFC

After a night of explosive heavyweight fights where only two of the five bouts on the main card made it out of the first round – and none made it to the third – several things began to take shape in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s biggest division.

Two future contenders firmly established their place in the weight class. Las Vegan Roy Nelson made a statement that he is here to stay, despite UFC president Dana White’s feelings about him. And Cain Velasquez and champion Junior dos Santos staked their claim as the world’s top two heavyweights on the UFC 146 card Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden.

“On paper, the card looked awesome, and it lived up to the hype,” White said.

Dos Santos and Velasquez were big reasons why.

Dos Santos retained the belt with a knockout victory, battering Frank Mir before he stopped the two-time champion midway through the second round.

Velasquez, who dos Santos took the belt from with a 64-second knockout in November, bounced back by thrashing Antonio Silva until the fight was mercifully stopped late in the first round, a referee’s decision that White complained came way too late.

The spectacular performances left little doubt a rematch with Velasquez will be dos Santos’ next title defense.

“I think that’s a good idea. I like it. Let’s see what happens,” White said with a smile before making his thoughts even more clear in the postfight news conference. “Cain deserves the next fight.”

Velasquez looked like a man on a mission to get the title back. He took down Silva almost immediately and was relentless in trying to finish him, pounding on “Bigfoot” in a pool of blood in the center of the cage.

“The whole reason I got into the sport was to be the champ,” Velasquez said. “I just don’t feel right now not having (the belt).”

Velasquez knows he will have to find a way to solve dos Santos, who continues to look better each time he steps into the cage.

“Dos Santos looked good. His hands are always good, his movement. His takedown defense is good,” Velasquez said. “That’s always how he looks.”

Nelson pretty much looked how he always looks, too. White has pleaded with Nelson, publicly and privately, to eliminate the belly, the bushy beard and even bushier mullet, and to take his career more seriously. But Nelson’s place in the UFC is secure as long as he can do what he did Saturday – land a big overhand right and knock out his opponent, Dave Herman, in 51 seconds.

Nelson was in his usual form after the victory, which earned him a $70,000 knockout-of-the-night bonus.

“I think it’s clear to everyone that the fans are here to see me and not the UFC,” Nelson said. “Now I’m going to Carl’s Jr. and getting a Western Bacon Cheeseburger.”

Victories by unbeaten prospect Stipe Miocic and 24-year-old Stefan Struve also set them up for major opportunities in the division.

Those two may have another opponent to deal with in the near future. Retired former champion Brock Lesnar was sitting cageside to watch the fights, something he rarely did when he was in the UFC.

White said it’s always difficult to know what Lesnar is thinking, but hinted at the possibility the massive pay-per-view star, who left the UFC to go back to pro wrestling, could return.

“He was here. I think that says it all,” White said.

White said Lesnar requested tickets and wanted to speak with the UFC president face-to-face. That meeting is believed to have occurred late Saturday.

While Saturday’s results set up plenty of intrigue in the heavyweight division, few fighters could sell more tickets and pay per views than Lesnar.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.

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