LAS VEGAS >> Cain Velasquez knocked down Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva with a combination and finished him on the ground 1:21 into the first round Saturday night, briskly defending his heavyweight title at UFC 160.
Former heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos also stopped Mark Hunt on a spinning kick to the head with 42 seconds left in the third round at the MGM Grand Garden, likely setting up a third fight between Dos Santos and Velasquez in the near future.
Velasquez (12-1) made his first successful title defense in style, rocking Silva in the opening minute before connecting with a right hand to Silva’s chin and mercilessly punishing him on the ground.
“I want the best fights against the best guys, and this just comes with it,” Velasquez said, indicating the championship belt around his waist.
Dos Santos (16-2) is hungry for another title shot after dispatching the tenacious Hunt with a risky, acrobatic kick in the final minute of a fight he appeared to be winning.
“I want that so bad,” Dos Santos said. “Because, man, I really believe I can be the champion again, and I’ll do my best to get there.”
Earlier on the pay-per-view card, Brazilian light heavyweight Glover Teixeira needed only 2:38 to submit James Te Huna with a guillotine choke for his 19th consecutive win, and Nova Scotia’s T.J. Grant earned a likely lightweight title shot with a dynamic first-round stoppage of Gray Maynard.
Silva (18-5) was a heavy underdog in the UFC’s usual Memorial Day weekend show in its hometown. He earned this unlikely title shot with two upset victories in the past year since his first fight with Velasquez, who battered him in a bloody first-round stoppage victory a year ago in the same arena.
Although Velasquez didn’t get much of a chance to show off his comprehensive skills against Silva, he still proved why he might be the first UFC heavyweight champion to stick around for a while.
The heavyweight belt has been historically difficult to defend, with champions winning only about 50 percent of their fights while lower-weight champions such as Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre have reigned uninterrupted for years. Velasquez lost his first defense to Dos Santos, who defended the belt just once before Velasquez took it back.
In UFC 160’s penultimate fight, Dos Santos and Hunt (9-8) largely stayed on their feet, trading huge shots and showing off admirable chins in a crowd-pleasing display of striking. Dos Santos knocked down Hunt with an overhand right in the first round, but the veteran knockout artist bounced right up and kept coming forward despite taking considerable punishment.
Dos Santos likely had a comfortable lead on the scorecards against his bloodied opponent, but he kept trying for a knockout — even by unusual means. Moments after Dos Santos stunned Hunt with a left hand, he spun and launched a wheel kick that caught Hunt squarely on the top of the head, sending him backward in a heap.
Dos Santos pounced and landed one big punch before the fight was stopped. The former champion said he had never tried a spinning kick like that in a fight.
“He’s very dangerous. I had to respect him,” Dos Santos said. “He’s dangerous, and a very nice guy, so I like people like him. This time, everything was right.”
Velasquez’s win was another impressive performance by the former Arizona State wrestler who won the heavyweight title with a first-round knockout of Brock Lesnar in October 2010, becoming the first Mexican-American to hold a major heavyweight belt in boxing or MMA.
But Velasquez lost the belt 13 months later to Dos Santos, getting stopped 64 seconds into his first title defense. Velasquez never blamed an apparently significant knee injury for that loss to Dos Santos, but he returned to the cage determined to erase that memory.
His first fight back was against Silva, whose face was cut open by Velasquez’s elbows in the opening minute. Silva survived just over 3½ minutes, but left a sickening amount of blood on the canvas by the time Velasquez finished.
Silva had two straight losses, yet he rebounded with improbable victories over Travis Browne and Alistair Overeem, the Dutch kickboxer widely expected to be Velasquez’s next challenger. Silva ruined those plans with a dramatic third-round stoppage in February after Overeem handily won the first two rounds.
Dos Santos hadn’t fought since Velasquez reclaimed the belt with a comprehensive beating at UFC 155 in the same MGM Grand Garden cage. The fight left Dos Santos with a badly injured jaw and a discolored, swollen face requiring a few months to heal.
Hunt was an unlikely choice to get to the brink of a heavyweight title shot, but the New Zealand-born, Australia-based slugger bounced back from six consecutive losses with four straight victories, including knockouts of Cheick Kongo and Stefan Struve in his last two bouts.
Hunt nearly didn’t even make it to Las Vegas after getting into visa trouble while trying to leave Australia, apparently because of an old arrest.
Teixeira (21-2) hasn’t lost an MMA fight since March 2005, and he earned his fourth UFC victory by disposing of New Zealand’s Te Huna, an injury replacement for Ryan Bader. After Teixeira pulled guard and caught Te Huna in a guillotine for a quick submission, the Brazilian celebrated with Mike Tyson in the octagon.
“My job is to finish the fight, and I did it pretty well,” Teixeira said.
Grant pulled a mild upset with his first-round win over Maynard, a longtime title contender coming off an 11-month layoff. Grant knocked Maynard backward with a big right hand and never let up, chasing the stumbling Maynard around the cage until the fight was stopped just 2:07 in.
“I’ve been working that exact combo, and it was just beautiful,” Grant said. “I practiced that for like the last eight weeks straight, and it worked. … Gray is not a guy I wanted to go to the ground with, and I saw he didn’t move his feet too well, so I knew there were openings.”
Grant (21-5) has won five straight fights since moving to lightweight, and the Canadian’s latest victory should lead to a fight against lightweight champion Benson Henderson soon. Before the fight, UFC President Dana White said the winner would likely get a title shot.
Earlier, lightweight Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone won every round in a bloody decision over K.J. Noons, the former Strikeforce fighter making his UFC debut. Cerrone earned his seventh win in nine UFC fights, but left with bloody cuts on his right eye and right elbow.