In a mixed martial arts (MMA) card with two Heavyweight bouts filling out the top two slots, UFC 160 delivered some memorable stuff Saturday night (May 25, 2013) at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, with Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos notching impressive wins to hopefully line up a rubber match in the near future.
Showing their trademark offensive skills, the pair took out Antonio Silva and Mark Hunt, respectively, in two Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight bouts that showed the gap between them and the rest of the division, at least for now (with all apologies to Daniel Cormier).
That's not all ... not even close.
Here’s a closer look at the action last night with the UFC 160: "Velasquez vs. Bigfoot 2" Report Card.
Cain Velasquez: A
It’s hard to keep getting "A" grades on a report card, especially when you’re fighting best, but Velasquez turned the trick last night, dispatching Antonio Silva in the kind of one-round knockout that makes an exciting heavyweight champ such a bankable commodity. Velasquez took his time in the opening minute, gauging Silva’s reflexes as the Brazilian shook off two takedown attempts, and then shimmying in with his trademark aggression and quickness to force standing exchanges, ultimately scoring a booming, compact right cross to drop the challenger, allowing him to pounce for the finish. Velasquez’ ability to push the pace and initiate exchanges, whether it’s shooting for takedowns or forcing trades on the feet, showcase a rare kind of fearlessness, especially among heavyweights, where one bomb can scramble anyone’s gameplan. He attacked dos Santos the same way in the rematch, with "Cigano" going five brutal, one-sided rounds. Few will last that long against a dynamo like Velasquez. You’ll need to put serious leather on the guy to discourage him, and his wrestling and athleticism makes him a handful in the clinches and on the mat. That’s precisely the reason at this point, the only person that is a plausible challenger is dos Santos. Nobody else has the package of skills to really be a threat, at this point, except for training partner and friend Cormier, who isn’t fighting Velasquez any time soon.
Junior dos Santos: A
Hyped-up heavyweight showdowns carry their own brand of excitement, and dos Santos delivered big-time in his with Hunt. Unleashing a brilliantly timed spinning wheel kick to finish a three-round battle, dos Santos showed his resilience, patience and tactical smarts. You could see his mind whirring and adjusting in the opening round, as Hunt’s lethal bombs kept him in a conservative counter-mode, and as Hunt’s gas tank faded, and his technique eroded, dos Santos slowly stepped up the attack. What was impressive was the smarts he used to score the second-round takedown, cinching the stanza and letting Hunt further gas out while giving himself a breather. There wasn’t a single moment in this fight where anyone watching wasn’t concerned for dos Santos’ well-being should Hunt land, and Junior did shake off a few big shots, but wisely stayed away from getting caught on the cage, where Hunt is most dangerous. People may think Velasquez’s win in the second bout is a preview of what a rubber match would be, but I disagree. The take-away from that bout is that dos Santos has one hell of a lot of chin and heart, and all he needs is one punch. Tonight couldn’t have been a better performance for the ex-champ promotionally, either, as he was equal parts exciting and tactically smart to set up another go at Velasquez.
T.J. Grant: A
Grant’s submissions and ground game were considered the best elements of his considerable game tonight, but his improved stand up makes him a legit threat to anyone, now. And given the toughness he’s shown battling welterweights, in a five-rounder, he’ll be a live wire for Ben Henderson or anyone else. There are opportunities in MMA for guys like Grant to knock off established elite contenders like Gray Maynard, and last night was a perfect example of how a well-trained, motivated guy can maximize his chance. Style-wise, Henderson is a tough match up for Grant, but given his near-lock to go the distance against people lately, Henderson will also have his hands full. He can’t necessarily camp from top position, and Grant’s physicality will be a compelling factor. Grant came up huge last night and is the kind of blue-collar fighter to inspire plenty of his peers lurking in the mid-tier of contenderdship.
Glover Teixeira: A-
A helpful infographic of the UFC’s Top 10 showed four guys who champion Jon Jones has already decimated – Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Mauricio Rua and Ryan Bader. That pretty much leaves Alexander Gustafsson, Dan Henderson, Teixeira and Gegard Mousasi as the next run of challengers for the champ, who’s likely out for a significant amount of time because of the busted toe he sustained against Chael Sonnen. That’s also plenty of time for the trio to make statements, and Teixeira did exactly that last night, putting a clinic on the tough Te Huna, who was willing but outclassed. Teixeira’s got an athletic, powerful frame, and he seems to be more comfortable on the feet with each fight. That will go a long well toward helping him solve tougher puzzles, and he may be the division’s best submission guy outside of Jones. Given the champ’s possible inactivity over the next half-year or so, it may also portend a showdown with the likes of Mousasi or one of Jones' previous victims. Don’t bet against the streaking Teixeira, who has now put together 19 straight and four inside the Octagon.
Mark Hunt: B+
"Super Samoan" showed his incredible chin and guts in a thrilling three-round battle with ex-champ dos Santos. And he absorbed about 10 right-hand bombs that would’ve disconnected anyone else’s senses, only to recover and keep pushing forward, letting bombs fly as dos Santos retreated in prudent fashion. You could practically see smoke trails in the wake of Hunt’s fists as dos Santos, for the most part, escaped these harrowing attacks. That said, Hunt’s cardio, which has never been a strong point, evaporated over the second half of the bout after a menacing first, where he gave dos Santos more pause on the feet than anyone’s ever seen. With his technique eroding and fatigue sapping his attacks, Hunt was still dangerous, and dos Santos played a smart percentage game, scoring a key takedown to cinch the second. In the third, dos Santos landed a bodacious left hook, and then a massive spinning wheel kick to drop Hunt. It was, finally, enough. Last night showed the reason Hunt has long been regarded as the best combination of power and chin in the MMA, maybe in the history of the sport. It’s incredible what he did tonight, especially given his age (39) and the late-breaking trajectory of a career where he never had an easy fight despite arriving so late to the game. There aren’t too many people who could make dos Santos play it smart on the feet for three rounds, and Hunt’s performance, however much longer he keeps fighting, got him some serious cred for its resilience and tenacity.
Donald Cerrone: B
Patient, composed and more diverse in his attacks, Cerrone exploited his better arsenal to put Noons on the defensive early. He also showed a rarely-used wrinkle in his attack – takedowns – to further keep Noons guessing. This was a key kind of tactical smarts that often is the difference between a veteran and relative UFC neophyte. Cerrone knew he had the advantage standing, but also that Noons was absolutely no threat from his back, thereby allowing him to pile up points while exerting relatively little energy. Cerrone is one of the promotion’s most exciting products, as he almost always makes for a fan-friendly fight. He’s also been lingering near the bottom half of the Top 10 for a while. Tonight’s win could give him the opportunity to move up a few notches, especially if he gets someone willing to stand and trade.
K.J. Noons: C-
Taking Cerrone for a UFC debut is a tough assignment, especially given Noons’ striking-based style, and he simply couldn’t get untracked. Typically the faster guy with better angles of attack, Noons was largely neutralized as Cerrone exploited his advantage in the kicking game to deny him setups and openings, while piling up points and doing damage. You have to assume the UFC will match Noons with another aggressive striker next. He’s not likely to beat tough wrestlers, especially ones with a lot more experience in the organization, but against a fellow banger, the promotion will get the most out of his ability and value while he’s here. And with his ability and toughness, Noons could rebound after what was a disappointing debut.
James Te Huna: D
Te-Huna didn’t have anything to lose and, as usual, fought like it, going right after Teixeira and forcing the fight. Unfortunately for him, after a feeling-out on the feet, Te Huna got caught in a ground match with Teixeira working his superior mat game and asserting himself readily; the end came with a slick, arm-in guillotine with Teixeira pulling guard and locking his leg over Te Huna’s arm that he’d otherwise use to pry away, defend and make space with to defend. It was an impressive tapout victory for Teixeira, whose marketability in terms of being a threat to top contenders will have to be driven by his submissions and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Te Huna goes back to the pile of willing, game guys who aren’t quite at the Top 20 level, but provide willing fare and exciting fights.
Gray Maynard: D
It was a grim turn of events for Maynard, who came out showing excellent hands and big-time aggression. Drilling Grant with solid shots, it appeared "The Bully" was setting himself up for one hell of a performance, only to walk into a hook-cross combination and a pounding follow-up barrage that likely landed Grant a title shot against Ben Henderson. To his credit, Maynard took a ton of punishment before being rescued, but this is a really disappointing setback for a guy that has come incredibly close to winning the title twice and, style-wise, probably has one of the best skill sets of existing contenders to give Henderson fits.
Antonio Silva: F
Style-wise, Silva had an uphill assignment tonight, as Velasquez had few weaknesses to attack. And while it’s tough to pile on to a guy that was one of the game’s best feel-good stories with his big win over Alistair Overeem, he failed tonight in a big way. It couldn’t have possibly gone worse. Even a bout where he’d scored big on the feet, won a round, or pulled off some sort of bright spot amidst the larger context of a defeat would’ve been a respectable take-away – instead, he was flattened again after making a critical mistake, stepping in to exchange right hands, and getting drilled and finished. Silva goes to the bottom of the contender heap after this. But given his penchant for rousing upsets in the past, he is far from a trialhorse (just ask Travis Brown ... or Overeem ... or Fedor Emelianenko). But, tonight simply wasn’t his night. Once again, Velasquez outclassed him badly.
Questions or comments?
For complete UFC 160: "Velasquez vs. Bigfoot 2" results, including blow-by-blow coverage of all the night's MMA action, click here.
Jason Probst can be reached at www.twitter.com/jasonprobst