Dos Santos thrives on heavyweight card
A day that began with one of his Octagon girls getting arrested and one of his main event fighters for UFC 147 breaking a hand couldn't have ended any better for UFC president Dana White.
The all-heavyweight main card at UFC 146 was a huge hit, with all five fights ending in decisive fashion.
Junior dos Santos punched his way one step closer to stardom, beating down Frank Mir and stopping him in the second round to retain the UFC heavyweight title before a loud crowd of 14,592 at the MGM Grand Garden.
When White awakened Saturday, he learned of the arrest of Octagon girl Arianny Celeste on domestic violence charges. Then, he received a call that Vitor Belfort broke a hand in training and won't be able to fight Wanderlei Silva at UFC 147 next month.
But dos Santos, Cain Velasquez, Roy Nelson, Stipe Miocic and Stefan Struve each had impressive – and early – victories on the first five-fight, all-heavyweight main card in UFC history that put a smile back onto White's face.
And later, it looked like White may have a chance to get one of his big drawing cards back. Ex-champion Brock Lesnar, who retired in December following a loss to Alistair Overeem at UFC 141, attended Saturday's show. White was coy and said there is something going on, hinting Lesnar might fight for the UFC again. He said he planned to speak with Lesnar to discuss his intentions.
All in all, what looked like it would be a disastrous day wound up being one of his better ones.
"It was great; it was a great night," White said. "All of the fights, well, almost all of the fights were great. On paper, this card looked awesome, and this card lived up to it."
But making White's night even better was the brilliant performances by both dos Santos and Velasquez, setting up a rematch between the two later this year. Velasquez lost his title to dos Santos on Nov. 12 when he was knocked out in 64 seconds, and he fought Saturday as if he is determined to get the belt back.
"The only reason I got into this sport was to be the champ," Velasquez said after destroying Silva with a ground-and-pound finish at 3:36 of the first. "I just don't feel right right now not having that [belt]."
To get it, though, he'll have to defeat a guy who is looking increasingly difficult to beat. Dos Santos fought brilliantly against Mir, a two-time champion with a superb ground game. Mir only came close to one takedown and spent much of the night eating hard shots from the champion.
A huge throng of Brazilian fans filled the MGM and roared at every dos Santos move.
"I heard them, and they really made me energized," he said.
UFC heavyweight champions historically haven't had much success defending their belts, but dos Santos had no problem dealing with Mir. He put on a boxing clinic, using his speed, footwork, punching accuracy and, yes, power, to throttle an elite-level fighter.
He was beaming at the post-fight news conference because he knew the significance of what he'd done.
"This victory was very important for me and it was huge for my career," dos Santos said.
The significance can't be lost on White, who confirmed there would be a rematch between dos Santos and Velasquez for the belt later this year. Given the beating dos Santos put on Mir and the bloody mess that Velasquez made of Silva, that fight should be a massive seller.
White rarely commits on future plans at a post-fight news conference, but this match was clear. The winner should come out as a big star, something the UFC desperately needs given the exodus in the last 18 months of big draws such as Lesnar, Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture retiring and other top attractions such as welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre sidelined for more than a year with injury.
Dos Santos has all the makings of a star. He's a heavyweight, and people love heavyweights most of all. He has good punching power, he smiles and he's charismatic. He's already a big attraction in Brazil, and his profile will only continue to grow in the U.S.
White came away mightily impressed by his performance.
"He has power, speed, good takedown defense," White said. "He's got it all."
The main card at UFC 146 pretty much had it all, as well. Struve made it look easy to open the pay-per-view portion of the show with a quick arm bar victory over Lavar Johnson. Then, in a battle between two of the promotion's best young prospects, Miocic came back in the second to pound out Shane Del Rosario.
Then, it was Nelson's turn. Nelson cracked Dave Herman with a powerful overhand right to win his bout in 51 seconds, then turned wiseacre immediately afterward.
"My plan was to wrestle, [but] my coaches had a different game plan, which was 'Hit him in the face,'–" Nelson said. "I guess it worked. Clearly, my hands have dynamite in them or small rocks, or whatever. I have to congratulate Dave for stepping up and fighting me. Everyone kept dropping out. I think it's clear to everyone that the fans are here to see me and not the UFC. Now I'm going to Carl's Jr. and getting a Western bacon cheeseburger."
He deserved one after that performance, but so did a lot of other guys on the card. And with the news that Lesnar may be back and Alistair Overeem set to return early next year, the division figures to be compelling for a while.
"You saw tonight why people love heavyweights," White said. "Those were some great fights."
After the news conference ended, White skipped out for a meeting with Lesnar, his one-time big star whose return to professional wrestling hasn't done much for the WWE's pay-per-view business.
All in all, it could have been a horrendous day for White. The smile on his face as he exited the news conference showed just how much it improved.
It was a very good night for him.