Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, May 24, 2013 | 5:50 p.m.
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The vast majority of those who follow mixed martial arts figured Cain Velasquez’s first defense of his reclaimed heavyweight title would come against Alistair Overeem.
Instead, Velasquez (11-1 MMA, 9-1 UFC) meets Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva (18-4 MMA, 2-1 UFC) in the main event of UFC 160 Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Silva snatched the opportunity out from under Overeem when he upset the anointed top contender as a 3-to-1 underdog at UFC 156.
A message Dana White gave to Velasquez that night after Overeem went down, as recounted in one of the UFC president’s video blogs, was telling.
“The bad news is you just lost a whole lot of money,” White said.
It’s a sentiment White could find himself repeating Saturday to Velasquez or Junior dos Santos (16-1 MMA, 9-1 UFC) who faces Mark Hunt (9-7 MMA, 4-1 UFC) in the UFC 160 co-main event, should either of them lose.
When it comes to matchmaking in the UFC heavyweight division, there’s currently only one so-called “money bout” where the promotion would sell pay-per-views by the truckload. The biggest fight the UFC could stage is a trilogy chapter of Velasquez vs. dos Santos.
“Cain and I are going to fight each other many times throughout our careers,” dos Santos said. “There is still going to be a lot of dos Santos/Velasquez and Velasquez/dos Santos fights in each of our careers because we are both at another level.”
At almost every other weight class, there’s at least a debate over the top two fighters. Not at heavyweight. Velasquez and dos Santos are the best. And not just at the moment. They’re the two best heavyweights in UFC history.
Anyone who argues otherwise is romanticizing the past. The two fighters may just now be entering their primes — Velasquez is 30 years old and dos Santos is 28 — but they’ve lapped the majority of their predecessors in terms of achievements.
They hold the top two spots in longest heavyweight winning streaks, as dos Santos had won nine in a row before lastDecember’s unanimous-decision loss to Velasquez, who reeled off seven straight before dos Santos knocked him out at UFC on Fox 1.
Dos Santos and Velasquez combined to earn finishes in 13 of those 16 bouts, including eight in the first round.
Frank Mir currently holds the record for most wins by a heavyweight in the octagon with 14. Despite a seven-year head start, he’s only five victories ahead of Velasquez and dos Santos.
And is there any need to re-visit what happened dos Santos and Mir encountered each other in the octagon 364 days ago? Flies have given dos Santos a tougher fight.
Ditto for the performance of Brock Lesnar against Velasquez in October 2010. Lesnar is one of only three men to defend the UFC heavyweight title twice. The others were Randy Couture and Tim Sylvia.
Dos Santos already threatened that mark. Velasquez should have his chance after Saturday.
“To me, it’s the most important thing — to defend (the belt), just to hold onto it itself,” Velasquez said. “This is the position I want to be in.”
If it weren’t for the presence of one another, Velasquez or dos Santos would be well on their way to securing the most ruthless reign since Caligula. Their only UFC losses are to each other.
No one else has really come close against them, and it will probably stay this way until 205-pound champion Jon Jones throws his fists into the heavyweight pool.
“I’m not sure that I’m the only one who can beat Cain Velasquez,” dos Santos said. “I don’t know about that, but I’m sure I can beat Cain Velasquez.”
He did, after all, pull off the deed in 64 seconds the first time they fought. But dos Santos knew it wasn’t always going to be that easy. He spoke of coming across Velasquez again in the near future right after that meeting, and having to deal with the champion’s considerable cardio.
His worst fears were realized when Velasquez came forward for 25 minutes at UFC 155 like a diesel truck that’s brakes went out on the highway. Velasquez barreled through any resistance dos Santos mustered.
And still, Velasquez said the domination took its tool.
“I was throwing everything I had at him and he just kept going and going,” he said. “It wasn’t easy. It was very hard.”
With the first fight being dos Santos-centric and the second all about Velasquez, the third feels like it will set up as the competitive, all-out-war that’s missing from the narrative.
It would be a shame if something unthinkable happened and prevented the trilogy, at least for now, at UFC 160. Don’t worry, though, because this time around it’s more likely White will be thinking about counting money, not losing it.
Read between the lines and it’s apparent that’s what everyone thinks, including the two best heavyweights in UFC history.
“Bigfoot is a great guy and I think he deserves it,” dos Santos said of Saturday’s title fight. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I think he could beat Cain Velasquez, but it’s going to be a very tough challenge.”