Junior Dos Santos officially sent the UFC into the mainstream with a resounding boom.
Dos Santos knocked out Cain Velasquez in 64 seconds Saturday to take the heavyweight title at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., as the UFC made its debut on the Fox television network exactly 18 years after the birth of the world’s leading mixed martial arts promotion.
The champion at UFC 1 was, like Dos Santos, a Brazilian. Royce Gracie won in much different fashion that evening, when a one-night tournament crowned a winner, and there were no weight divisions and less rules, not to mention the pay-per-view coverage. Under the decade-long ownership of Dana White and the Fertitta brothers, the UFC has undergone epic growth that led to the recent signing of a seven-year deal with Fox, reportedly worth a total of around $700 million.
While the contract does not start until 2012, the UFC and its new partner opted to create this event, with an hour-long special on Fox’s main broadcast channel. Only the heavyweight title fight was telecast, while the entire undercard was streamed live on Facebook and FoxSports.com.
On the Facebook headliner, Ben Henderson earned a title shot at lightweight champion Frankie Edgar with a unanimous decision victory over Clay Guida in what was one of the most exciting fights of the year, judging by early returns on social media.
Fox spent the first 30-plus minutes of the broadcast giving background about Dos Santos and Velasquez, then it was business as usual in the regular coverage of the event.
There was little action between the fighters until the final sequence, which Dos Santos began by connecting with an overhand right to the left temple of Velasquez, who was knocked to the ground. Dos Santos tried but could not connect with a series of left hands to the downed champion, then blasted him behind the left ear with a right fist, knocking him out as referee “Big” John McCarthy stepped in.
“I have no words to say what I am feeling. It’s my whole life. I have great people around me,” said Dos Santos, who will defend the title against the winner of the Dec. 30 fight between Alistair Overeem and Brock Lesnar. In the post-fight press conference, Dos Santos picked Lesnar to win.
“He messed up my equilibrium,” Velasquez said. ”He went in and did what he supposed to do.”
“Cain was for sure my toughest opponent,” Dos Santos said. ”I was afraid to fight with him because he was very tough. I was not 100 percent for this fight, so I was scared.”
Velasquez was off for the previous 13 months following shoulder surgery after beating Lesnar to win the belt. He said the injury did not have any effect on his performance.
Neither Henderson nor Guida wasted any time in their lightweight bout. Neither lost pace, but Henderson had an answer for Guida wherever the fight went. Guida, whose wrestling overwhelmed Anthony Pettis, could not execute the same plan against Henderson, who escaped his guillotine attempts and swept into dominant positions.
“Getting ready for Guida, super hard to deal with,” Henderson said. ”High energy, awkward pace to deal with.”
The attention for Henderson quickly turns to Feb. 26, as he is now slated to fight Frankie Edgar for the lightweight title in the main event at UFC’s return to Japan, White said. The event is slated for the Saitama Super Arena on Feb. 26.
“Frankie Edgar, we got a date,” Henderson said. “Let’s do it, baby.”
While Pettis beat Henderson in the final WEC match to take the lightweight belt, his unification fight was scuttled by a draw between Edgar and Gray Maynard, and then the loss to Guida. Now Henderson, the former WEC champion, gets a crack at the UFC belt.
Henderson also grabbed a $65,000 bonus, as did Guida, for being part of the fight of the night. Dos Santos earned the same for knockout of the night, while Ricardo Lamas scored the extra cash for his submission of Cub Swanson, via arm triangle at 2:16 of the second round.
There was a full card leading up to the broadcast.
Dustin Poirier scored a submission victory over Pablo Garza with a D’Arce choke at 1:32 of the second round, Damarques Johnson blasted Clay Harvison with a left hand and one ground strike for a 94-second TKO at welterweight, and Darren Uyenoyama dominated Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto via unanimous decision.
Robbie Peralta benefited from an accidental headbutt that staggered Mackens Semerzier and set up a series of punches that directly led to a third-round TKO. McCarthy did not appear to see the headbutt, which could have led him stop the fight and take the scorecards of the judges to that point in order to determine the result.
Alex Caceres, known on The Ultimate Fighter as “Bruce Leeroy,” made a successful drop to bantamweight to earn a unanimous decision over former WEC champion Cole Escovedo. Mike Pierce edged Paul Bradley via split decision, and Aaron Rosa captured a majority decision over Matt Lucas by the odd scores of 30-26 twice and 28-28.