After Cain Velasquez's demolition of Junior dos Santos, who can challenge the champ?

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

HOUSTON – Cain Velasquez isn't invincible, but the man who could beat him for the UFC heavyweight championship just might have to be.


Velasquez staked his claim as the greatest heavyweight in UFC history on Saturday, routing Junior dos Santos yet again to emphatically win the rubber match between them and retain his title.

Putting the capper on one of the great fight cards in UFC history, Velasquez was near-perfect in dismantling dos Santos and stopping him at 3:09 of the fifth round before a raucous sell-out crowd of 17,238 at the Toyota Center.

They came to see Velasquez win, and they weren't disappointed, as he put on one of the greatest performances of his career.

Dos Santos sagged to his knees after taking yet another Velasquez punch in the fifth, too weary to go on. Referee Herb Dean mercifully called it, though UFC president Dana White felt it was far too late.

"I'm not a doctor by any means, but I think that fight should have been stopped in the third round," White said. "I'm a guy who has been around this sport for a long time, and boxing, and I've seen men who are too tough for their own good. I think Junior dos Santos is one of those guys, the last Cain fight and this Cain fight.

"I think that fight should have been stopped. I just don't think he needed to take any more punishment. Yes, Junior dos Santos hits hard. He's got heart like Diego [Sanchez], but there is no need for a young, talented guy to take that kind of punishment when he's out on his feet."

It was another vintage performance by Velasquez, who looks to have no peers in the heavyweight division. The gulf between him and all of the other contenders seems so vast that he could become the first heavyweight champion to put together a lengthy reign.

He had mauled dos Santos at UFC 155, regaining the title in December by repeatedly taking the Brazilian down and pummeling him on the ground.

This time around, there wasn't nearly as much ground time, but it was no less of a dominant victory by Velasquez.

Dos Santos raced from his corner and landed two crisp left hands immediately, giving the sense that perhaps this fight would be different than the last one between the men.

But Velasquez shrugged off those shots, closed the distance and created a major problem for dos Santos. He kept him pinned against the cage for much of the night, where Velasquez was able to rip off short, straight shots that were doing significant damage while neutralizing dos Santos' punching.

"He's always dangerous with his punching power and you can never put your guard down," Velasquez said.

Velasquez may have been able to end things earlier had he taken a step back and not smothered dos Santos as much, thus giving himself some punching room.

"Toward the end of the second round, my corner was telling me to do that more," Velasquez said.

Regardless of what happened, though, there was little to nitpick in the way Velasquez performed.

He's likely to fight Fabricio Werdum next, but with Velasquez's combination of wrestling ability, power punching and conditioning, it's going to take a perfect effort for someone to beat him.

It's not out of the question to suggest that Velasquez will reel off several wins in a row without being seriously challenged until light heavyweight champion Jon Jones makes the move up to heavyweight.

Jones has the combination of wrestling and size and striking that could pose Velasquez problems.

That, though, could be at least a year off, and some of the shine was removed from Jones when he was pushed so hard by Alexander Gustafsson last month at UFC 165.

Now that he's decisively vanquished dos Santos, Velasquez stands head and shoulders above the current crop of UFC heavyweights.

"Right now, Cain is the best in the game," said Brazilian heavyweight Gabriel Gonzaga, who tied the division record for most career finishes with his 11th earlier in the night. "He has the skills, the movements, everything a heavyweight needs to have."

Except, perhaps, a rival. He went into Saturday's bout tied at one win apiece with dos Santos, and a dos Santos victory would have set the stage for more bouts down the road.

But it is obvious who the better of the two men is right now, and Velasquez suggested maybe they'd see each other again in five years.

He put a brilliant topper on a card that featured one of the best bouts in UFC history, a breathtaking back-and-forth slugfest between Sanchez and Gilbert Melendez.

That got the already amped-up crowd primed for the main event, and it provided Velasquez with a hero's welcome.

He went out and performed exactly like a superstar is supposed to perform, dominating a great opponent in one-sided manner.

"Cain looked amazing," White said. "Awesome."

He's been awesome for a while. And after routing dos Santos, now everybody knows it.

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