(Hurting people makes Cain Velasquez very happy. Props to MMAMadness.)
The third installment of Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” franchise sees the champ lose the title and turn to former opponent Apollo Creed to train him for his rematch with Clubber Lang. The price? A sparring session with the Rock that concludes the film with the two throwing simultaneous right hands as the screen goes black before we can see who landed first and what the effects were.
Fortunately for UFC fans worldwide, the camera stayed in perfect focus as Cain Velasquez and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira did their best “Rocky III” tribute, both throwing right hands at the other’s head in the closing moments of the fight. Unfortunately for Antonio, this scene may have signaled a passing of the torch from the legendary heavyweight to an emerging superstar in the division as Cain landed first and hardest, sending Big Nog to the canvas. Respecting that he had floored a man who had only been finished one time in 38 fights coming into tonight’s contest, Cain quickly rained down several punches that turned out the lights at 2:20 of the first round and earned him Knockout of the Night. It’s the fastest finish ever suffered by the Brazilian, who had only been stopped previously by the one-two combination of a staph infection and Frank Mir.
Tonight there was no staph, no reported injuries…just Cain Velasquez.
The impressive finish was less surprising two minutes into the fight than anyone would have foreseen. For the short time they were in the cage, Cain consistently got off first, landing a bevy of punches and kicks on a Big Nog who appeared to show the wear of all those wars he won in Pride. At no point did Velasquez use his stellar wrestling or even attempt a takedown, wisely staying out of any danger that could come from Nogueira’s top-of-the-food-chain submission game. Cain also continued his pattern of winning and staying undefeated (8-0 overall, 6-0 UFC) and improving every time he gets in the cage.
To that end, I’ve been a bit more reserved than most in elevating Cain to elite status. Yes, I heard all the chatter coming out of AKA and people who trained with Cain that he was a future champion, but legacies are proved under the lights in the cage, not in the gym or during interviews. Velasquez got off to a quick 3-0 start in the UFC, beating Brad Morris (0-2 in the UFC, hasn’t fought MMA in 17 months), Jake O’Brien (immediately dropped to 205 after the fight) and Dennis Stojnic (resembled a human punching bag and also went 0-2 in the UFC). Not taking anything away from Cain, but unlike many witnesses, I didn’t think there was too much to learn from the wrestling phenom easily beating outclassed opponents.
Next he fought Cheick Kongo and dominated the Frenchman for three rounds, using his wrestling to repeatedly mount Kongo and landed over 200 strikes. However, he wasn’t able to end the fight leading some, myself included, to question his finishing power. His chin was also a question mark as he went down several times to short Kongo strikes and was really saved by Cheick’s complete inability to stop a takedown, even from an opponent who had been rocked two seconds ago. In fact, when I interviewed Cain he agreed that he had to become a better finisher and was working on that aspect of his game for the Rothwell fight.
Cain tossed the larger Rothwell around like a ragdoll, brutalized him for 5:58 and showed improved head movement and a pace that few heavyweights could cope with. And against a rejuvenated Nogueira, Cain stood toe to toe with a significantly improved striking game and no wasted effort and displayed the finishing power he was previously lacking against the man who previously couldn’t be finished. It didn’t take the fifty strikes it took against Stojnic or the 200+ strikes that didn’t get it done against Kongo. A handful did the trick and answered another question about the legitimacy of Cain being considered a top contender with a resounding yes. With the win tonight, he now awaits the outcome of the Shane Carwin/Frank Mir interim title fight to see if the winner comes out healthy enough to fight returning division champ Brock Lesnar in July. If not, Cain gets the shot…deservedly so.
Cain’s best quality isn’t his wrestling, his cardio or any MMA discipline. It’s his refusal to listen to any of the hype and his unwavering and relentless determination to isolate any hole in his game and plug it with blood, sweat and tears in the gym. That mindset and focus has allowed him to fulfill his goal of being better every time he gets in the cage. Now we’ll find it if it will let him put a check mark next to another goal…UFC Heavyweight gold.
• In the MMA equivalent of hitting the game winning shot at the buzzer, Wanderlei Silva landed a right hand behind Michael Bisping’s left ear with seconds remaining in the third round to score a unanimous 29-28 decision. I gave round one to The Count, round two to The Axe Murderer and had the final round even before Wandy floored him to become 1-0 in the UFC’s 185 pound division.
• No one had a better night than native Australian George Sotiropoulos. Imagine being on the first ever UFC card in your native country against a heavily favored opponent and completely dominating the fight while showcasing some of the nastiest grappling in the lightweight division along with an improved stand up game. That’s exactly what George did to Joe Stevenson, who suffered his first loss since moving over to Team Jackson. The two were rewarded with the Fight of the Night bonus.
• Speaking of the Fight of the Night bonus, Chris Lytle is famous for putting on brawls so he can cash those checks. He found an easier path to the same cash when he submitted Brian Foster in less than two minutes with a kneebar to earn Submission of the Night.
• Keith Jardine is of the opinion that if you are undefeated in MMA you haven’t fought the right people yet. Ryan Bader entered the cage 10-0 and walked out 11-0, so the Dean of Mean must have been in the “wrong opponent” category. I had Bader winning the first round decidedly and Jardine winning a closer second round. In the deciding third round, Bader nailed Keith with a left hand that sent him reeling for his third straight loss.
• Mirko Cro Cop looked the best we’ve seen him in the Octagon in defeating blown up Light Heavyweight Anthony Perosh who took the fight on two days’ notice. Cro Cop stalked the overmatched but game Perosh for two rounds until the fight was stopped due to a huge cut courtesy of a legal Cro Cop elbow. It’s hard to take too much from the performance, but Mirko did show very good cardio, aggressive striking and solid takedown defense.