With an impressive first title defense, Junior dos Santos shined in the main event of UFC 146 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, delivering the goods with his trademark punishing attack en route to a second-round finish of Frank Mir.
In an all-heavyweight pay-per-view (PPV) main card, dos Santos showed the reason he's the class of the division, utilizing excellent hands and control of range as he picked apart Mir prior to deliver an impressive finishing barrage.
In the co-main event, Cain Velasquez -- who dos Santos dispatched last November to win the heavyweight belt -- was back to his old self in battering game, but outmatched Antonio Silva in a bloodbath. Scoring a quick takedown moments into the bout, Velasquez's ground-and-pound was relentless, cutting "Bigfoot" and working him over in an increasingly one-sided thrashing prior to the bout being stopped after a string of punches on the mat.
The duo's impressive wins put them on a likely collision course for a rematch, and it's an easy sell given how dominant they looked tonight.
Here's a closer look at UFC 146 and report card for last night's (May 26, 2012) competitors. Grades are given relative to prefight expectations, and how the performance affected their immediate career prospects:
Junior Dos Santos: A
The Brazilian boss of the heavies looked every bit the part in his first defense, allowing Mir just one meaningful takedown attempt early in the first round, where dos Santos nicely countered and eventually spun free after Mir sold out for a leg lock when the takedown obviously wasn't going to come. After that, you got the feeling that it was just a matter of time.
Controlling distance with expertise and a nice variety of shots, Junior punished Mir with body shots and jolting counter shots as Mir attempted to use kicks and close the distance. At the end of the first, Mir, staggered badly by a booming dos Santos punch, was nearly finished, covering up in a shell as the champ unloaded. But dos Santos, cognizant of the need to pace himself, played the percentages throughout, refusing to stay on the ground on the couple occasions when he dropped Mir and allow the dangerous submission ace to work his jiu-jitsu.
Dos Santos is quickly becoming the UFC's kind of champion, particularly for a heavyweight, where impressive knockouts showcase the flagship-power of the big men and create a kind of excitement that can be, at its apex, Tyson-esque. He's also equally likeable in terms of public image, as a quintessential "nice guy" and a hero in his native Brazil. Originally slated to face Alistair Overeem on this night but given Mir as a sub when Overeem failed his prefight drug test, it's hard to see anyone out striking dos Santos in an extended match.
Velasquez would certainly be a handful in a rematch given his conditioning, but dos Santos figures to off as a 5-2 favorite or better given his accuracy and devastating hands, and the fact that nobody seems to be able to tie up with the guy, much less take and keep him down. It's a fight nobody will want to miss, and you get the feeling if dos Santos wins impressively again, the UFC will migrate over Daniel Cormier in a hurry, because dos Santos will have largely cleaned out the top tier of the division's most marketable and talented contenders.
Cain Velasquez: A
The hallmarks of Velasquez' game have been suffocating wrestling, pace and intensity, and they were on full display tonight in a chilling destruction of Silva. Velasquez was simply suffocating, taking Silva down quickly and putting a vicious, bloody beating on him with a steady diet of ground and pound, backed up by unshakeable top control. A win tonight was a huge step for Cain, who as an ex-champ is a solid challenger in a rematch against Silva. Velasquez has shown has imposing he can be when he puts people on the mat, and his conditioning makes him a tough nut to crack in a long fight. The real question is, can he get dos Santos there, or will it be a repeat of the first fight? It's definitely worth finding out, especially in light of the fact that dos Santos has already blitzed many of the top heavies of the division.
Roy Nelson: A
"Big Country" was perfect tonight in blasting out Dave Herman, showing off his doozy of a right hand, a quick, numbing shot that arrives Chuck Liddell-style, doing maximum damage in the process. A relatively svelte 254, Nelson has always had one of the best chins in the game, allowing him to throw with fearlessness. The quick blowout win was exactly what he needed, especially after dreadful performances against Mir and Fabricio Werdum, where his gameplan and conditioning seemed non-existent.
Nelson's in an interesting position in the heavyweight division. He's talented enough to beat most of the mid-tier guys when he's on, but his conditioning his always been a wild card. Ideally the UFC will pit him against a heavy-handed guy like Shane Carwin, who's expected to return mid-year. That would be a perfect matchup for both guys, and would definitely produce a viable elite contender.
Stefan Struve: A-
In a card shuffled and turned upside down by replacements, Struve went from preparing for a bout with K-1 legend Mark Hunt to taking on Lavar Johnson instead. It turned out just fine for the 6'11 "Skyscraper," as he pulled guard and sunk in an arm bar for a win in just 65 seconds. Struve, a mere 24, is still filling out, now north of 250 pounds on a frame that was in the deathly-thin 230s earlier in his career. He also has a boatload of experience, winning 8 of 11 UFC bouts, with 29 career fights total. With a penchant for exciting brawls, he still gets hit a bit much, and Johnson clocked him good in the opening moments. But Struve's experience and his slick submission game quickly turned the tide. He'll be in the UFC for a while to come given his upside and ability to produce memorable bouts; ideally he could function somewhere between a gatekeeper and contender if he keeps winning more than he loses.
Stipe Miocic: B+
A gritty win tonight for Miocic, who survived a taxing opening stanza against the potent strikes of Shane del Rosario to grind out a second-round KO win via ground and pound. Miocic simply hung tough as the unbeaten del Rosario, who'd been past the first round just once in an 11-fight, clearly showed the negative effects of lacking a meaningful distance fight. Miocic kept pressing while del Rosario slowed, getting taken down prior to a nasty finishing sequence.
It was Miocic's third win in the UFC, and an impressive one. He'll be an interesting prospect to watch, although with his huge edge on the ground, he probably slugged a bit more than he needed to against del Rosario, who was definitely lighting him up in a standup match Miocic could've taken to the mat. In the second, he did just that. Against a better fighter with more experience, however, it could have cost him dearly.
Frank Mir: C+
Few people expected Mir to win tonight, and it was a kind of moral victory he was able to get past the first, though he did on fumes, nearly getting bombed out as the round ended. The ex-champ had nothing to lose and everything to gain, and fought gamely enough, taking some big shots prior to simply getting worn down and taken out. This is probably the last title shot Mir will get in the foreseeable future, and he simply took on the best heavyweight in the world who was a bad style matchup, to boot. Mir was able to land a few kicks but other than that, was rendered largely ineffective by dos Santos' pinpoint accuracy. He lasted longer than a lot of dos Santos' opponents are going to last, however, especially as Junior continues to improve and build a reputation as the heavyweight division's eminent standup artist. Outside of Alistair Overeem, there's really nobody that can match up with dos Santos on the feet. Mir wasn't expected to be that guy, and he wasn't tonight. Welcome to the club.
Antonio Silva: C
It was a horrific beating that preceded the first-round stoppage, and you can say this for Silva - he can take an awful lot of punishment. It will be interesting to see how the UFC matches the Brazilian next - if they use him as a steppingstone for a rising prospect like Miocic or give Silva a stylistic matchup that gives him a good chance to win (no great wrestlers or dynamic strikers, please!). "Pesaro" simply had no chance once Velasquez planted him on the canvas, but he lasted longer than most guys. It was a highlight-reel beating that made Velasquez a marketable contender again, plain and simple. Silva's standup is still clunky and awkward, and despite his size, he doesn't wrestle well enough to translate it to the world-class level. That's a tough deficit in the UFC heavyweight division, and he definitely needs a win to rekindle the mojo he got from his stunning upset KO of Fedor Emelianenko in February 2011. It seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?
Shane del Rosario: C
The streaking former Strikeforce product's lack of long fights and frenetic opening-round attack completely backfired tonight, as a solid start was derailed by his conditioning going south, and Miocic putting him on the mat to go to work with a numbing assault. Del Rosario showed some solid kicks and nice style on the feet, but his technique eroded as his conditioning ebbed away; you could see him become frustrated as the tough-as-nails Miocic simply wouldn't wilt. With more experience and confidence to survive in a long, drawn-out fight, del Rosario could become a capable UFC heavyweight. But until then, he's got obvious flaws that other big men will only be too happy to exploit.
Dave Herman: D
Filling in for Gabriel Gonzaga, Herman barely had time to get acclimated before getting blasted out by Nelson in a mere 51 seconds. He doesn't get an F simply because he was gutsy enough to take the bout on short notice. His second loss in a row, however, does nothing for his UFC prospects, especially as a smallish heavyweight that may be too lean at 233 lbs. to feasibly cut down to 205.
Lavar Johnson: D
Fighting on two weeks' notice, Johnson started well enough against Struve, scoring a jolting right hand to drive Stefan against the cage. But Johnson's terrible ground game as always been his undoing, and Struve smartly pulled guard, setting up an armbar that everyone watching the fight saw coming, except for Johnson, who simply stayed in position allowing Struve to finalize the setup prior to slapping it in and sinking it home. Johnson is definitely the division's new "Pat Barry" kind of heavyweight, and look for the UFC to pit him against some standup-style guys to rekindle his marketability - it's the only way he's going to get semi-credible wins given his non-existent ground game.
For complete UFC 146: "Dos Santos vs. Mir" results and blow-by-blow coverage of the main card action click here.