LAS VEGAS -- The UFC looked to place its biggest division center stage Saturday, loading its UFC 146 card with five heavyweight fights.
If the card told us anything, it’s that two of those heavies sit significantly higher than the rest.
Junior dos Santos successfully defended his title for the first time, knocking out Frank Mir in the second round. The result was exactly what the Brazilian predicted during the week leading up to the fight.
In a performance every bit as impressive as the champion’s, former titleholder Cain Velasquez demolished Antonio Silva in a fight that lasted less than four minutes. It was the seventh time Velasquez has ended a fight in the first round.
In a division known for instability -- no heavyweight champion has ever defended the belt more than twice -- these two are as close as it comes to sure things.
After Saturday, the heavyweight division is Junior, Cain and everyone else.
“I do look at it as Cain and Junior, 100 percent,” said Javier Mendez, Velasquez’s trainer. “I’ve always thought that. Cain and Junior. Cain and Junior.”
The two appear to be headed toward a rematch of their Nov. 12 clash when Dos Santos finished Velasquez in the first 64 seconds of the fight with a crushing right hand.
UFC president Dana White stopped short of an official confirmation of the bout, but admitted, “I like the idea.”
Dos Santos said he’s assuming that’s the direction the UFC will head.
“I think it’s going to be Velasquez,” Dos Santos told ESPN.com. “He won his fight very well. If the UFC wants to put that fight again, let’s do it.”
It takes a combination of several different factors to find success in the UFC but it takes something different to dominate. For lack of better descriptive terms, Jon Jones is different. Anderson Silva is different.
For Dos Santos, the difference he brings is speed. Opponents can’t match it and, so far, can’t deal with it.
“He’s fast,” said Mir, the current record-holder for UFC heavyweight wins. “I couldn’t get out of the way. He hit me hard. I wish I could have given a better performance, but he’s a dangerous guy.”
In the case of Velasquez, it’s the pace. He doesn’t just push, he suffocates.
Looking to come back from the first professional loss of his career, Velasquez put the 265-pound-plus Silva on his back in the first five seconds of the round. At one point, a commission doctor came in to check on a deep cut on Silva’s forehead.
Velasquez stood patiently to the side with his hands on his hips. The conclusion of the fight featured him walking calmly around the cage, covered in Silva’s blood. It was, in every sense of the word, a statement.
The heavyweight division is stronger than it has been in years, as evident by the UFC’s ability to produce an action-packed card consisting of nothing but big boys. When all was said and done Saturday, White referred to the division as “flourishing.”
Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is expected to move up eventually. Alistair Overeem is near the top -- although, until we see how he responds to a nine-month suspension for a failed drug test, he’s not in Dos Santos and Velasquez’s world.
And, oh hey, the recently retired Brock Lesnar made a special appearance Saturday.
The night proved there’s much to be excited about regarding the future of the heavyweight division. More than anything, though, it proved that future begins with dos Santos and Velasquez.