ANAHEIM, Calif.>> After a decade-long journey ended in 64 seconds, Dana White stood before a bank of cameras and proclaimed the UFC’s first fight on prime-time network television to be an unqualified success, however long it lasted.
“It was a perfect night,” The UFC president said. “Nothing went wrong in terms of putting on a live production. It was perfect.”
Junior Dos Santos couldn’t resist chiming in.
“I agree,” the UFC’s new heavyweight champion said, grinning broadly.
Dos Santos stopped Cain Velasquez just 1:04 into their UFC heavyweight title bout Saturday night, claiming Velasquez’s belt and bringing a swift end to the mixed martial arts promotion’s first show before millions of presumptive newcomers to the sport.
The brief fight was the only event on a one-hour broadcast on Fox, which signed the UFC to a seven-year broadcast deal earlier this year. Any newcomers to the sport who tuned in got a taste of MMA’s violence, but not much else — particularly if they returned late from a commercial break.
Or even if they blinked.
Dos Santos hit Velasquez with an overhand right early in the first round, staggering the previously unbeaten champion to the canvas. The Brazilian challenger jumped onto Velasquez, who defended himself briefly before finally succumbing to Dos Santos’ relentless ground-and-pound blows.
“All of my fights, I look for the knockout,” said Dos Santos, who burst into tears in the cage. “My coach used to tell me I’ve got heavy hands, so I tried to find a time to use them. It’s good to use my power, and that worked today.”
Exactly 18 years to the day after the UFC debuted with an eight-man tournament featuring no weight classes and one-round fights to the finish with almost no rules, MMA’s dominant promotional company kicked off its long-anticipated major television contract with its first live prime-time show. The UFC put spotlights, party tents and a red carpet outside Honda Center, which has hosted several major MMA events in the sport’s relatively short history, and the crowd was filled with celebrities from Fox’s stable of stars and every other corner of Hollywood.
Most of the debut broadcast was taken up by a primer on MMA and profiles of the two fighters — along with more post-fight analysis than expected.
White claimed it’s all part of the larger plan.
“We put on this production and we collaborate and work together, and as soon as those fights start, whatever happens, happens,” White said. “We can’t control the fights.”
White chose these two fearsome fighters for his Fox debut because of the high potential for a stoppage victory — but White openly wondering about Velasquez’s decision to stand and fight with Dos Santos, one of the best boxers in MMA. Dos Santos said he wasn’t 100 percent healthy, and acknowledged being “scared” before the bout.
Nobody could tell — certainly not Velasquez, whose yearlong reign ended in his first title defense.
“I just want to say sorry to all my fans, family and friends. I disappointed you,” said Velasquez, who agreed with the referee’s decision to stop the fight. “I’m much more than this. I will be back, and I will get that belt back.”
Velasquez (9-1) said Dos Santos’ only big punch disrupted his equilibrium when it landed behind his ear. The first minute before Dos Santos’ decisive blow included almost no action except a takedown attempt by Velasquez that was thwarted by Dos Santos.
“It was a good shot,” Velasquez said. “He has a lot of power. I waited too much for him. He went in and did what he was supposed to do, so my hat is off to him.”
Velasquez hadn’t fought since October 2010, when he claimed the belt from Brock Lesnar in the same octagon at Honda Center, but tore his rotator cuff in the process.
Dos Santos becomes the UFC’s third Brazilian champion, joining featherweight belt-holder Jose Aldo and longtime middleweight champ Anderson Silva, widely considered the world’s top pound-for-pound fighter.
Dos Santos has been a menacing prospect on the UFC horizon for several years, and he introduced himself to more casual MMA fans by serving as a coach opposite Lesnar on “The Ultimate Fighter,” the UFC’s popular reality show, earlier this year.
Like Velasquez, Dos Santos took up MMA relatively late, turning pro at 21 in 2006. He received his only professional loss in November 2007 when Joaquim Ferreira submitted him in the first round, but Dos Santos has rarely even been in trouble in a fight since.
Dos Santos made a spectacular UFC debut in October 2008, stopping heavily favored Brazilian Fabricio Werdum just 1:20 into the first round of their bout. He climbed the heavyweight ladder with stoppages of veterans Stefan Struve, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and Gabriel Gonzaga before winning decisions over Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin to get a title shot.
His next opponent is expected to be the winner of Lesnar’s bout against Alistair Overeem in Las Vegas on Dec. 30 on pay-per-view.
“I don’t have a preference,” Dos Santos said. “I never choose any opponent. Doesn’t matter who’s going to be my next opponent. I’m not thinking about that right now. I want to go back to Brazil and make a big, big barbecue for my family and all my partners.”