Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, May 26, 2013 | 1 a.m.
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Imagine someone attempting the riskiest move of his professional career at a moment when it’s entirely unnecessary, when the task at hand is essentially already complete.
That’s what Junior dos Santos pulled at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in the co-main event of UFC 160 Saturday night — to immeasurable success. The spinning back kick dos Santos used to knock out Mark Hunt was a technique he’d practiced in training for years, but never felt comfortable enough to duplicate in the octagon.
Not until something possessed the former heavyweight champion with less than 50 seconds remaining in a bout where he was clearly ahead on every scorecard.
“I just saw it in the moment,” dos Santos explained. “I don’t know why. I just remember training that kick, and I thought I would try it.”
Dos Santos’ heel connected with Hunt’s forehead like a rock going through a window. Hunt immediately shattered, crashing to the canvas and not being able to recover enough to walk straight for several minutes.
Hunt’s corner men assisted him out of the arena while dos Santos jumped over the cage and greeted the crowd of 11,089 in celebration of securing the only thing he really wanted — a third meeting with UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.
There’s no question that’s what’s next, according to UFC President Dana White. And it’s going to happen before the end of the year.
“If there was ever a trilogy, that’s it right there,” White said. “If you look at how both fights went: Junior destroyed him in the first, Cain destroyed (dos Santos) in the second fight. I can’t wait to see the next fight. They both looked awesome tonight. They are the two best heavyweights in the world. That’s the fight.”
Dos Santos shouldn’t have much trouble giving Velasquez more of a challenge than he faced at UFC 160. Dos Santos’ fellow Brazilian buddy, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, failed to so much as force Velasquez to lose a bead of sweat.
Velasquez dropped Silva with a right hand and finished him a few seconds later, a minute and 21 seconds into the first round. And, after seeing dos Santos’ knockout backstage, Velasquez already knew and accepted his next assignment.
“That fight makes sense,” Velasquez said.
Velasquez’s total domination may have made his performance the best of the night, but dos Santos garnered all the talk.
And it was for more than the finish, which will go down as one of the top knockouts in UFC history. It was because Hunt was seen as someone who could threaten dos Santos, especially in the striking department.
Dos Santos surprised plenty of people by taking all Hunt could muster on the feet, including White.
“I actually thought Junior would come out and shoot and take this thing to the ground,” White said. “Much respect to Junior dos Santos. He stood in there, stood in the pocket and took big punches. He’s got an unbelievable chin and unbelievable power.”
Dos Santos floored Hunt with an overhand right, similar to the one he knocked out Velasquez with in 2011, in the first round. He pelted Hunt with a handful of other punches over the next two rounds that would have put out lesser opponents.
Hunt’s toughness failed to frustrate dos Santos, though.
“I think the punches worked very well,” dos Santos said. “I was keeping my distance with him. I think I was way faster than him.”
Dos Santos did shoot for, and convert on, one takedown attempt. It came late in the second round when Hunt blasted him against the cage with a right hand.
Dos Santos said it was the most significant strike he’s ever been hit with.
“It was way harder than Cain’s punch,” he laughed.
Velasquez sat just an arm’s length away from dos Santos when he made the comment. It was the closest thing to trash talk to ever come out from either of the mild-mannered heavyweights, but Velasquez didn’t bother responding.
The time with the two of them locked in a cage will come soon enough. Riding the momentum of his UFC 160 win, dos Santos will enter more than confident than ever.
“I believe so much I can stay on top of this division for a long time and I’ll do my best to get there,” dos Santos said.