The face of a champion — Cain Velasquez
The UFC heavyweight division has always been one of instability.
For various reasons, whether it was contract disputes, steroid suspensions or a motorcycle accident, the championship has never stayed on one man for too long. In fact, on Saturday night at UFC 121, incumbent champion Brock Lesnar was looking to become the first man in the nearly 14-year history of the championship to defend the title three times.
Enter Cain Velasquez.
Velasquez took it upon himself to make sure the title wouldn't be defended three times by Lesnar as he vanquished Lesnar from his throne atop the division with a dominating first-round TKO win at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
After Lesnar bull-rushed Velasquez at the opening bell and instigated an all-out brawl, the fight settled down from that high and Velasquez took over, drilling an almost helpless-looking Lesnar with shots, dropping him, sending him flying across the Octagon in disarray and opening up a huge cut under his left eye. When referee Herb Dean stepped in to save Lesnar at the 4:12 mark of the opening frame, Lesnar was a beaten and bloodied mess and the heavyweight division had a new king.
Velasquez is interesting because we've seen his skills improve from fight-to-fight, especially between his last two, where he's taken out world-class opposition in Lesnar and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. What is he going to have in store for No. 1 contender Junior dos Santos when they meet early next year?
This fight showed us Velasquez can operate efficiently and effectively both on the feet and on the ground, making him a dangerous opponent for any fighter in the division.
This is going to set in motion an interesting year in the division, as the heavyweight division's "big six" all will likely meet each other. Of course, Velasquez will defend against dos Santos, Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson will meet at UFC 125 on Jan. 1 and it only makes sense for Lesnar to meet Frank Mir.
From there, the UFC really can't go wrong no matter what happens. This fight almost certainly turned Velasquez into a star (he was trending on Twitter from the afternoon on and was an extremely hot Google search) as he dominated a fighter many had put a lot of stock into. It remains to be seen if Velasquez is going to make as big an impact in the Latino demographic as the UFC hopes, but regardless, more people know Cain Velasquez today than Friday.
Any combination of those six would make for interesting and sellable fights. In any equation, Mir is probably the last guy on the list to go to, which tells you how strong of a group of six this is. What's great for the UFC is that it doesn't matter whether Velasquez becomes a long-term champion or not, the division has components that will make for good fights regardless.
As for Lesnar, he has some work to do, clearly. Fights with grapplers clearly is the way to go for him in the future as we've seen him struggle now twice in a row with big hitters. Still, he will remain a big attraction, but really should only fight twice in any given year from here on out.
No matter what happens with Lesnar, it's clear the UFC heavyweight division is now a major attraction. The top of the division is deep with talent which should make for very interesting fights for the fans, and very lucrative fights for the UFC, in the near future.