After the UFC 121 main event, Cain Velasquez became the 15th man to be recognized as the undisputed UFC heavyweight champion. It's an honor that has been placed upon mixed martial arts (MMA) legends such as Randy Couture, Mark Coleman and Bas Rutten, among others.
Tonight (Nov. 12, 2011), we find out if the Mexican-American will begin a path toward heavyweight immortality or if his opponent, Junior dos Santos, will bring his reign to an abrupt and unceremonious end. The two men headline the inaugural UFC on Fox 1 event, a bout that Dana White has called the biggest in the promotion's history.
Dos Santos finds himself in the challenger's position, winning all seven of his fights inside the Octagon. Velasquez earned his spot by winning the title last year in Anaheim, punishing then-champ Brock Lesnar to earn a devastating first round stoppage.
Let's take a closer look at that fight:
Immediately the champion bull rushes Velasquez in an attempt to get the fight to the mat. The challenger struggles against Lesnar's advances, so the former WWE Superstar begins throwing knees as the two clinch.
The champion remains aggressive, leaping into the air with a flying knee that barely misses its mark. He fights tooth and nail to get a handle on his opponent, but Velasquez does his part to create some distance between him and the champ.
Pinned up against the cage, Lesnar sticks a jab out before throwing an uppercut. He avoids a combination and takes down Velasquez as the crowd roars with approval. But, as he tries to advance into half-guard, the challenger is able to get back to his feet. Unwilling to give up the advantageous position, the champion clings onto his opponent's left leg.
Lesnar pins Velasquez against the cage and the two begin to jockey for position, fighting for the slightest bit of leverage. The champion wants nothing more than to get back down to the mat, his opponent wanting the exact opposite. This contest -- a fight between two monstrous men -- has suddenly become a battle of inches.
In a "blink and you miss it" moment, the champion is able to drop Velasquez to the mat, but the Mexican-American immediately gets back to his feet. His ground game is solid, but that's Lesnar's bread and butter. In the stand up is where the challenger would have the advantage. The champion's striking acumen is crude and unpolished, while Velasquez has the technique and power to put even the most durable heavyweights to sleep.
Just ask Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Finally, with a little more than three minutes remaining in the opening round, the challenger is able to fully escape his opponent's grasp and the two fighters reset in the center of the cage. Two jabs from the challenger begin to open Lesnar up under his left eye and it becomes startlingly apparent the reason Velasquez wanted to keep the fight on its feet.
The two behemoths are throwing single strikes, neither wanting to commit fully to an exchange. Velasquez then throws a quick right, which Lesnar tries to counter, but the strike was merely a diversion for the unexpected takedown the challenger busts out.
Already looking a bit fatigued, the champion is now forced to defend a takedown from his younger, fresher challenger. Lesnar doesn't defend long as he soon finds himself on the mat with Velasquez blanketing him from above.
Punch after punch rain down on the champion, who offers up little to no defense. Memories of his UFC 116 bout with Shane Carwin flood into the viewers' minds, images of a nearly five-minute beating consuming their every thought.
Could Lesnar find a way to survive again?
The champion is able to get back to his feet, but his left eye is becoming a mangled mess. He's hurt, tired and his opponent smells blood. In the wilderness, it'd be fight or flight time for Lesnar whose chances of retaining his title are hanging on by a string.
Halfway through the first round, the champ throws a backhand punch, which in my opinion, signals the beginning of the end. Lesnar simply doesn't know what to do at this point, how to keep Velasquez from imposing his will for the remainder of the fight.
A weak takedown attempt is easily shrugged off by the challenger and forces Lesnar to take a now infamous and oft-animated GIFed tumble across the Octagon. When he returns to his feet on the other side of the cage, the champ is met with what else, but Velasquez's fists slamming their way into his face.
A brutal two-punch combination drops the champ to the mat where the Mexican-American begins to take him apart with surgical precision until the referee has no other choice than to separate him from the bloody heap that is Brock Lesnar.
And with that stoppage -- his eighth in nine fights -- Velasquez becomes the UFC Heavyweight Champion.
Shoulder surgery has kept him on the shelf since then, but he aims to make his first defense a successful one tonight.
Will he succeed?