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SYDNEY – Dana White couldn't have scripted UFC 110 any better had he tried.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship's first show in Australia was a smashing success, and its top prospect gave the UFC president yet another elite heavyweight to throw into the mix.
Cain Velasquez more than lived up to his billing as a potential champion, stopping the nearly unstoppable Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira on Saturday (Sunday in Australia) in the first round to firmly thrust himself into the heavyweight championship picture before 17,431 stunned fans at Acer Arena.
"I was totally blown away by him," White said of Velasquez, who knocked Nogueira down with a perfect right-left-right combination and then finished him with five powerful hammer fists on the ground.
It capped a near-perfect night in which the fights were good, the crowd was amazing and the contenders moved into focus.
The only thing that was missing was one of the fighters walking to the cage to Men at Work's "Down Under."
The stands were nearly full for the first fight, which started just after noon local time. When Igor Pokrajac walked to the cage to open the show, fans stood in unison and roared at the top of their lungs.
They managed to get even louder when Sydney resident James Te Huna was introduced. He sent them into near-delirium by stopping Pokrajac in the third round.
Another Australian, George Sotiropoulos, also received a hero's welcome.
"I was blown away at the reception," Sotiropoulos said.
Sotiropoulos edged Stevenson in a fast-paced match that was spent mostly on the ground and was given Fight of the Night honors. But Velasquez managed to trump even that great fight with his performance against Nogueira.
Nogueira is among the three greatest heavyweight fighters in mixed martial arts history and is renowned for his ability to absorb punishment. He was no match for Velasquez, however, who outboxed him, showed great patience and was ferocious in going for the finish when the opportunity presented.
Velasquez's coaches preached patience to him and didn't want him to get ahead of himself or abandon the game plan. But even though Nogueira landed the first punch of the fight and opened a cut on the bridge of his nose that required a few stitches to close, Velasquez didn't panic.
"He got hit right away and he kept his composure," said Dave Camarillo, Velasquez's jiu-jitsu coach. "We were very impressed that he's now displaying the experience he didn't have. He's really showing it, where he didn't show it in the [UFC 99] fight with [Cheick] Kongo.
"You're speaking to a true martial artist, and his best weapon is his mind."
Perhaps, but it doesn't hurt that he is by far the best-conditioned big man in the game, that he's highly athletic, strong and unbelievably competitive.
This is a guy who oozed with potential from the moment he turned professional after a high-profile wrestling career at Arizona State. He faced significant pressure when he was compared to some of the all-time greats upon debuting in the UFC at UFC 83 in 2007 after only two fights.
Velasquez showed something new in every fight, adding depth and breadth to his game each time out. On Saturday, he put it all together in a performance that puts him alongside Shane Carwin and Frank Mir as the primary challengers to champion Brock Lesnar.
Velasquez said he "was kind of surprised" that he was able to put away a legendary figure like Nogueira so quickly and so thoroughly.
"I put a lot of time in, and it felt great to come through after all the time I put into it," Velasquez said. "Everything is coming together the way I planned. It didn't come easy. It's been a lot of hard work, but I felt good about the way it all came together."
The UFC's heavyweight division is by far the best it ever has been, which says something about the quality of the newcomers.
In addition to Velasquez, Mir and Carwin, Junior dos Santos always is a quality contender, and dos Santos will be in the championship mix if he defeats Gabriel Gonzaga next month in Broomfield, Colo.
Veteran Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, who put together perhaps his best performance in what thus far has been a lackluster UFC career by stopping late replacement Anthony Perosh, conceded he was impressed by the talent matchmaker Joe Silva has stockpiled in the division.
"The young lions are definitely coming," Filipovic said. "The heavyweight division is better than it's ever been."
White clearly agreed with that. Five years ago, there wasn't a quality champion and there was no depth.
Now, there are a string of main-event quality fights that can be made and more than a half-dozen legitimate contenders.
"Five years ago, there is no comparison to the way it is now," White said. "We had nobody like Cain. Nobody. All we had then was Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski and that was it. The division was terrible. It sucked and [Sylvia] and Andrei kept knocking each other out.
"Now, you go down the list and you see guy after guy and you go, 'He's the real deal. He's the real deal. He's the real deal.' We're full of them right now. I can't wait to see some of these fights. It's going to be sick."
The winner of the Mir-Carwin fight at UFC 111 next month is slated to get the next shot at Lesnar. Lesnar is expected to return in either July or August from his bout of diverticulitis, which has sidelined him since last July at UFC 100.
However, if the Mir-Carwin winner isn't ready, White said the shot instead would go to Velasquez.
Velasquez is a low-key sort who said, "I'm getting better," when asked what message he sent to Lesnar with his knockout.
But Velasquez clearly is confident. He'll give up 25 or 30 pounds to Lesnar, as well as a few inches, but he isn't going to turn down the title shot.
"I'd have to fight a smart fight, and my coaches and I would have to come up with a game plan," Velasquez said. "Really, with that kind of guy, super big, strong, with a lot of power, it's going to be a way and you have to keep fighting till the end. You have to tire those big guys out, which is easier said than done.
"But that's how I'd see me going up against them, trying to get them tired and then edge out the win at the end. But it's tough."
It will be tough for Velasquez facing the many massive, athletic men in the division. Have no doubt, though, that he's a tough match for any of them.
"I've been saying it for a long time, but maybe now people will start looking at this kid and realize how good he is," White said. "I call him 'The Terminator' because he never quits. He's got a lot going for him. He's going to be tough to beat, man. He really is."