Whether or not it was too big of a step up in competition didn't matter to Cain Velasquez.
He wanted a shot at the UFC heavyweight title. And mixed martial arts (MMA) veteran Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was standing in his way.
The two combatants were seemingly representing their respective eras in the fight game. The Brazilian was pretty much the poster boy for the Pride FC age of heavyweights, the most impressive collection the sport had ever seen. The young American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) fighter was the prototype for the new breed of fighters over 206 pounds:
Strong as a bull, but with speed to match.
They met inside the Octagon at UFC 110 in the main event of the company's inaugural visit to Australia and left the fans "Down Under" with something to cheer about. A brutal knockout ended the Brazilian's night early and paved the way for this evening's (Nov. 12, 2011) big show, UFC on Fox 1.
Tonight, live on Fox, the UFC presents its heavyweight champion Velasquez, taking on Brazilian challenger Junior dos Santos in a historic fights that is a watershed moment for the company that was once months -- possibly weeks or even days -- away from bankruptcy.
Let's take a closer look at the champ's bout with "Minotauro," as we prepare for tonight's festivities.
Are you ready?
Nogueira throws out a jab and Velasquez responds with a combination. The Brazilian returns fire with a flurry of his own, but nothing from either fighter lands. Just as the commentator touts the future heavyweight champion's diverse striking, the Mexican-American nails Nogueira with a leg kick.
Another leg kick -- this time to the inside -- lands and Velasquez threatens with a string of punches, none of which land flush. He steps back and the two fighters reset. The former Pride FC champion is content to allow his opponent take the center of the Octagon, opting to circle around.
A head kick from Velasquez is blocked and he nearly eats a counter for it as "Minotauro" barrels a left straight down the pipe. Another leg kick from the younger fighter is followed by a flurry of punches as he appears to be moving in fast forward, while Nogueira is stuck in slow motion.
Velasquez sticks and moves like a boxer in his prime, while "Big Nog" merely sticks like a pugilist whose better days have long since passed. Sluggish or not, the Brazilian can still take a punch. He gets tagged right on his chin, but doesn't even begin to flinch.
Twice over the Mexican-American throws out a quick one-two punch combination as a distraction to the leg kick he lands immediately after. Had this fight gone on longer than it eventually would, no doubt the beating that Nogueira's leg was beginning to absorb would take its toll.
At this point, the Brazilian begins to become more aggressive. No longer moving along the perimeter, he finds a home in the center of the cage, forcing his younger opponent to the outside. Another leg kick from the AKA fighter lands without repercussion and the two exchange, Velasquez landing a solid punch to his opponent's ribcage. They clinch briefly and the younger fighter connects with a knee akin to that of Nogueira's countryman Wanderlei Silva.
Seconds later, the Brazilian wades in with a right that Velasquez ducks under and counters with a combination of hooks -- first left, then right, and ending with another left -- that tags "Minotauro" on the jaw. No one knew it then, but that exchange would be the appetizer for what would be a knockout main course.
A little more than two minutes into the fight, Nogueira lunges in with the same right and the future champ makes him pay. He weaves out of the way and unloads with the same combination. The first left hook lands well, but the second doesn't.
That's because the right hook forced the normally iron-jawed Nogueira to crash toward the mat.
It's a position the Brazilian had found himself many times over in his career. He had built his reputation around being able to take a beating but still coming out on top. However, this time there would be no heroic comeback for the MMA living legend.
Velasquez immediately swarms on his fallen opponent and lands five unanswered punches before the referee is able to stop the action. A little more than three years into his career and at only 27-years old, the young fighter had accomplished what fighters like Fedor Emelianenko, Mirko Filipovic and Randy Couture could not do.
He finished Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
The win put him directly in line for a title shot against the winner of UFC 116's main event between Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin. The champion -- Lesnar -- would retain that evening and the stage was set for the two heavyweight behemoths to collide at UFC 121 in Anaheim.
Velasquez would go on to win the title in California, which we'll detail later this afternoon, but the road to tonight's big heavyweight showdown truly began in Sydney.