HOUSTON -- When the trilogy of UFC heavyweight title fights between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos was finally over, there was no doubt who was the better fighter.
Velasquez brutalized dos Santos for the better part of five rounds on Saturday night in the main event of UFC 166 at the Toyota Center, winning via TKO and retaining his title at 3:09 of the final round.
That put a cap on a series of fights that started in November 2011 when dos Santos knocked out Velasquez in 64 seconds to claim the title and continued last December when Velasquez battered dos Santos for five rounds to regain the belt via decision.
"Junior was much stronger," said Velasquez (13-1), of Salinas, Calif. "I was trying to beat him to the first punch, but he seemed to beat me to it. I tried to get him down; it was very hard again."
Velasquez set the tone early with relentless grappling mixed with varied strikes. He kept dos Santos pinned against the fence and kept him from unleashing his knockout power.
In the third round, Velasquez came very close to finishing the fight with a huge right hand followed by several more on the ground. But dos Santos continued.
In round four, the doctor was called in to check dos Santos. She looked at dos Santos' cuts and closed left eye and proclaimed him fit to take a further beating.
To dos Santos' credit, he was going for the finish when the end came. Dos Santos tried to take Velasquez to the ground with a choke, slipped and hit his head on the mat, leading to Velasquez's winning flurry.
After the fight, in a gesture of sportsmanship, dos Santos (17-3) went over and raised the victor's hand.
"I was OK for this fight," said the Salvador, Brazil, native. "He's very, what can I say, he kicked my ---. What can I say? Congratulations. I'm going to go back, train harder, and try to come back again."
While not the main event, the lightweight slugfest between Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez was one that will be remembered for a long time.
The Mexican-American sluggers and former training partners put on a show. Melendez got the best of each of the first two rounds as Sanchez was willing to eat several blows to land one good one. Melendez cut open Sanchez's left eyebrow with a standing elbow, causing Sanchez to bleed profusely for most of the fight.
In the third round, Sanchez (24-6), of Albuquerque, N.M., somehow found a second wind, and one of the craziest rounds in MMA history ensued.
The two went at each other like rock-'em, sock-'em robots. The fight was briefly stopped so the doctor could check Sanchez's cut. When he was cleared, he nearly finished the fight with a right uppercut. But Melendez, a San Francisco resident, survived and the two winged wild punches at one another until the final horn, much to the delight of the crowd.
In the end, Melendez won a unanimous decision with scores of 29-28, 30-27 and 29-28.
"That's what Mexicans do, we hold our ground and we fight," said Melendez (22-3), the winner of eight of his past nine fights. "I'd rather go down on my shield then run in circles."
In his last fight before heading down to light heavyweight, Velasquez's training partner, Daniel Cormier, battered Roy Nelson to claim a unanimous decision. Judges' scores were 30-27 across the board.
Cormier (13-0) cut down to 224 on his way from the 265-pound weight class to 205. It showed as he added speed to his arsenal of wrestling and strikes. Nelson (19-9) could not find any sustained offense.
Veteran heavyweight Gabriel Gonzaga continues to impress in his second UFC stint. The Ludlow, Mass.-based fighter scored a crisp first-round knockout against Shawn Jordan.
Jordan (15-5), a former LSU fullback, tagged Gonzaga with a straight right hand. But Gonzaga responded with a brutal counter right that landed on the button, then dropped a series of hammer fists on the downed Jordan. The fight was called off at 1:33.
Gonzaga (16-7), who challenged Randy Couture for the heavyweight title in 2007 and lost, has won four of five since his UFC return.
"Before I was worried about winning and losing," Gonzaga said. "Now I'm just focused on the fight and that's the key."
In the flyweight main-card opener, John Dodson of Albuquerque scored a memorable knockout of Darrell Montague (15-6).
Dodson, who was fighting for the first time since losing to champion Demetrious Johnson in January, got the best of Montague (13-4) from the outset.
While Montague weathered an early storm, Dodson kept at him and finished matter late in the first. Dodson tagged Montague on the chin with a left hand. Montague's legs wobbled, then he face-planted to the mat at 4:13 of the first round.
"I want to make sure I put on exciting fights," Dodson said. "I want to be the champion, but I want to put on exciting fights and show everyone what I can do."