LAS VEGAS -- The stars have aligned for a trilogy fight between the two most dominant heavyweights in mixed martial arts.
UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and the man with whom he has traded the title, Junior dos Santos, both won in impressive fashion in the co-feature bouts at UFC 160 Saturday night at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Velasquez defended his title with a first-round TKO of Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva, and dos Santos dropped Mark Hunt with a spectacular third-round knockout, setting up an expected blockbuster fight between the sport's top 265-pounders.
"Junior dos Santos, he's tough. He was great tonight. That's the fight the fans want," said Velasquez (12-1), a native of Salinas, Calif.
Velasquez's title defense against Silva (18-5) was a rematch of a bout held a year ago, also won by Velasquez in the first round. This time out, Velasquez dropped Silva with a nasty one-two combo, the second of which was a right to the jaw that dropped Silva to his hands and knees. Velasquez added a dozen consecutive right hands on Silva before referee Steve Mazzagatti stopped the fight at just 1:21.
"When you defend title, every fight is against the best guys," Velasquez said. "Tonight, he was tough."
The co-feature bout between dos Santos and Hunt lived up to expectations as a rock 'em, sock 'em slugfest. Hunt, known as "The Super Samoan," is a legendary tough guy in a sport full of them.
The native of South Auckland, New Zealand, lived up to his reputation in the first round as he absorbed a brutal overhand right, which would have finished most opponents, and just popped back to his feet and continued the fray.
He had no answer for dos Santos' finisher, however. Dos Santos was the faster and more versatile fighter and appeared well on his way to a unanimous decision. Instead, dos Santos knocked out Hunt (9-8) with a spectacular spinning back kick, a move not usually attempted by the sport's largest fighters. Referee Steve Mazzagatti waved off the fight at 4:18 of the final round.
"He's very dangerous you know," said dos Santos (18-2), who is from Salvador, Brazil. "I had to respect him. He's dangerous and a very nice guy. I respect guys like him."
Dos Santos, of course, had his mind on a title shot after the fight.
"That's what I most want," he said. "I want that so bad. I really believe I can be the champion again, and I will do my best to get that."
Dos Santos won the first fight between the two in a 64-second knockout in November 2011. Velasquez regained the title in late December in a one-sided unanimous decision.
A light heavyweight bout between hard hitters Glover Teixeira and James Te Huna on Saturday also was expected to be a slugfest. But Teixeira's the more well-rounded fighter of the two, and he seized his first opportunity to win the fight via submission. The Brazilian finished the New Zealander Te Huna (16-6) via rear-naked choke at 2:38 of the first round.
It was the 18th straight victory for Teixeira (21-2), who was congratulated in the cage afterward by boxing legend Mike Tyson, who attended the fights with Teixeira's training partner, former UFC star Chuck Liddell.
"My job is to do what I do here, come here and finish fights and do well," said Teixeira, who has won all four of his UFC fights. "It was great having Mike Tyson Octagon-side for my fight. He was telling me yesterday at weigh-ins I was going to be champ someday, so it was amazing getting a win in front of him."
In a bout with a shot at lightweight champion Benson Henderson promised for the winner, T.J Grant came out and made a statement. The fighter from hockey superstar Sidney Crosby's hometown of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, made short work of respected veteran Gray Maynard with a first-round TKO.
Maynard (11-2-1, 1 no-contest), usually known as a methodical, wrestling-based fighter, came out swinging and tagged Grant on a couple of occasions. But Grant upped the ante with a ferocious mix of strikes. The big blow was a right hand on the button that dropped Maynard and led to the finish at just 2:07.
Grant (21-5) has won five straight since dropping from welterweight.
"I practiced that for the last eight weeks straight and it worked," Grant said. "All the combinations. I knew exactly what he was going to do. I knew he'd be flat-footed and I'd be able to move my footwork and win. I want to fight Benson Henderson for the title."
In the main-card opener, veteran lightweight Donald Cerrone pounded his way to a unanimous decision over K.J. Noons. Cerrone (21-5), a native of Colorado Springs, is a former kickboxer, while the Hawaiian Noons is a former pro boxer. The bout unfolded as one might expect given their respective skill sets: Cerrone had more tools at his disposal to mix up his offense, but Noons, with a boxer's chin, absorbed everything Cerrone could dish out for 15 minutes.
The judges' scores were unanimous in favor of Cerrone: 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26. It was Cerrone's third victory in his past four fights, while Noons (11-7) lost for the fifth time in his past six.
"I tried to start fast and finish strong," Cerrone said. "It felt good. I hope I put on a good show for the fans. That kid was tough."