ANAHEIM, Calif. – Cain Velasquez weathered an early storm from Brock Lesnar and proved why he has long been regarded as one of the top prospects in the sport, pounding Lesnar in a stunningly brutal and one-sided fight to win the UFC heavyweight championship at the Honda Center in the main event of UFC 121.
Velasquez hurt Lesnar with nearly every punch he threw and knocked him down several times. After the final knockdown, Velasquez pounded him with elbows and punches before referee Herb Dean stopped it at 4:12 of the first.
"He was better than me tonight," Lesnar said.
Lesnar roared out of his corner and threw a knee, but Velasquez answered with a hard combination that opened a small gash under Lesnar's left eye. After they grappled briefly, Lesnar took Velasquez down hard.
Velasquez, though, was calm and worked back to his feet quickly. After one more Lesnar takedown, he bounced up and began letting his hands go. He battered the retreating Lesnar all over the ring, pummeling him with hard shots until Dean halted it.
Jake Shields won his UFC debut, but struggled to get it, pulling off a split decision over Martin Kampmann. Shields seemed to be completely gassed by the middle of the second round and struggled to do much in the final seven or eight minutes.
But judges had it 30-27 and 29-28 for Shields and 29-28 for Kampmann, apparently qualifying Shields for a shot at the winner of the welterweight title bout at UFC 124 on Dec. 11 between champion Georges St. Pierre and Josh Koscheck. Yahoo! Sports' Kevin Iole, Dave Doyle and Dave Meltzer all had it 29-28 Kampmann.
Kampmann never let his hands go, and that may have hurt him with the judges. But Shields was breathing hard, looking at the clock and appearing to try to stall over the final few minutes of the match.
Diego Sanchez was coming off a pair of bad losses, to then-lightweight champion B.J. Penn and to John Hathaway, and he seemed to be written off as a contender. But after a slow start against Paulo Thiago, it was vintage Sanchez the rest of the way.
In a high-action fight, Sanchez won the last two rounds on all three cards in a high-energy match to take a unanimous decision. Sanchez was flipped by Thiago in the second, got up and slammed Thiago hard. He dominated the fight after that point and won by scores of 30-26, 29-28 and 29-28.
"I was very humbled by the last two losses," said Sanchez, who returned to train with Greg Jackson in Albuquerque, N.M. "My motto for this camp was 'Just earn it.' "
And earn it he did with a high-energy performance that had the large crowd roaring its approval.
Matt Hamill got an emotional victory over his former coach on "The Ultimate Fighter," Tito Ortiz, scoring a unanimous decision that puts the future of the former UFC light heavyweight champion in question.
Ortiz is now 0-4-1 in his last five fights and 5-6-1 in his last 12 and appeared to run out of gas midway through the bout.
Ortiz had a solid first round and seemed in control, but Hamill took Ortiz down in the second and did a lot of damage. The third round was spent mostly with the men trading blows, with Hamill landing far more often and with much more authority. But with about 1:20 left, Hamill took Ortiz down and then beat on him for the remainder of the fight.
Ortiz was cut on the side of the head and below his right eye. Both of his eyes were badly swollen.
"I'm happy that this fight is over because I had a lot of pressure heading into it," Hamill said. "I feel like I controlled the wrestling. That's something I wanted to prove because Tito is such a good wrestler. I was able to control him and I still have a lot of work to do but a win over Tito is huge."
Brendan Schaub made a big statement in the heavyweight division, winning a unanimous decision over Gabriel Gonzaga. All three judges had it 30-27 for Schaub, whose punches wobbled the big Brazilian on several occasions.
Schaub backed Gonzaga up for much of the fight and avoiding the ground, where Gonzaga would have been able to work his jiu-jitsu.
Court McGee started slowly in his middleweight fight with Ryan Jensen, but roared down the stretch and pulled out an arm triangle submission victory in the third round.
Jensen's strikes controlled the first round, but McGee picked up the pace in the second. In the third, he landed a big right that decked Jensen and put him in position to secure the triangle.
"I landed that big overhand right because I set it up well," McGee said. "He kept hitting me and hitting me and I was able to get his timing. I got to mount and that was it."
Tom Lawlor put on the performance of his career in scoring a unanimous decision victory over Patrick Cote in a middleweight bout.
Lawlor took Cote down repeatedly, got in the guard and pounded on Cote, who was a better than a 2-to-1 favorite. Lawlor also mixed in submission attempts in his best overall performance in the UFC.
"I'm very excited about the win," Lawlor said. "I executed my game plan. This is the first time I ever started with a game plan. I know he has a big right hand and I did a good job staying away from it. I was happy that I was able to get the takedown when I needed it. I feel like I did a good job of controlling the fight."
Still, Lawlor wasn't about to call out the top dogs in the middleweight division.
"I'd like to fight an 0-15 fighter next so I can get an easy win," he said, smiling.
Daniel Roberts went for a guillotine choke, didn't like what he had and moved into an anaconda choke, which he applied beautifully to submit Mike Guymon at 1:13 of the first round of their welterweight bout.
"I was expecting a three-round war and I was surprised when I got the choke," Roberts said. "First, I had a guillotine and then I went for the anaconda. I was surprised that I caught him because he's a ground guy, but I'll gladly take the win. I knew it was tight, so I just kept squeezing."
A lot of media were predicting that the lightweight bout between Sam Stout and Paul Taylor would be Fight of the Night, and it turned out to be a high-energy standup battle.
Taylor landed a series of hard kicks, while Stout punished Taylor with big right-hand strikes. Stout pulled out a split decision. Cecil Peoples had it 30-27 and Mike Beltran scored it 29-28, each for Stout. Larry Landless had Taylor, 29-28.
"When the judges said his name first my heart dropped, because usually in a split decision they say the winner's name first," Stout said. "I knew he wanted a war and that's not what the game plan called for. I'm not one to shy away from a war, but I knew he was going to come straight at me and I didn't want to get caught in those exchanges. In fact, the only time he caught me was when he sucked me into an exchange."
Chris Camozzi rallied in the second half of the fight to reverse the early momentum that Dongi Yang built and pulled out a split decision. Cecil Peoples had it 29-28 for Yang, but Landless and Nelson Hamilton each scored it 29-28 for Camozzi.
"I was a little nervous when the judges were announcing the decision," Camozzi said. "I was a little nervous; I wasn’t landing the combos that I wanted to. His distance was throwing me off. I stunned him with that left and I feel like that was the determining factor. I felt like he was gassing in the first round.
"I feel pretty healthy so I'm going to go home and train. There are a lot of middleweight fights coming up and I'll be ready if the UFC needs a late replacement and I'll be ready for my own fight."
In the opening fight, Jon Madsen took Gilbert Yvel down, got into Yvel's guard and pounded him out, forcing McCarthy to stop the fight. Madsen had been criticized by many for being boring, but he put on a good show this time out.
"This win was huge," Madsen said. "I needed to make a statement to Joe Silva and the UFC that I can finish fights."