Saturday, October 23, 2010

Velasquez Whips Lesnar to Win UFC Heavyweight Belt

When the UFC first started as an organization, the heavyweight division was a joke. Other than former wrestling great Dan Severn, it was a collection of out of shape has beens and circus freaks like Tank Abbott. Even after the UFC blew up after the first Forrest Griffin/Stephan Bonnar fight, the heavyweight division was still terrible. Its main contenders were 6'7" Tim Sylvia (who won mostly because of his height), Randy Couture (who was really a light heavyweight), and Minotauro Nogueira (who had great jiu-jitsu but little else). Over the past few years, the UFC has truly added some top notch heavyweight talent. The big four in the heavyweight division are Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin, Junior Dos Santos, and Cain Velasquez. Lesnar has proven to be among the biggest draws in company history, and all four of these guys are big, strong, and talented. At UFC 121, challenger Cain Velasquez took on champion Brock Lesnar for the UFC heavyweight belt in perhaps the biggest and best heavyweight fight in UFC history.

Coming into the fight, Lesnar had only lost once (via submission to Frank Mir) and Velasquez was undefeated. After losing to Mir, Lesnar knocked out Randy Couture to become champion, knocked out Frank Mir to avenge his only loss in the UFC, then defeated number one contender Shane Carwin via submission. Meanwhile, Velasquez had just been steamrolling anyone in his path, including a highlight reel knockout of Minotauro Nogueira, who almost never gets knocked out. Coming into the fight, the conventional wisdom was that Lesnar and Velasquez both possessed elite wrestling talent that would essentially be a wash, so whoever did better in the stand up game and/or submissions would probably win. Being the champion and outweighing Velasquez by about 20 pounds, Lesnar was slightly favored to retain his belt.

Having watched almost every UFC pay-per-view event over the last several years, I had watched almost every fight these two fighters had fought. Based on their performances in past fights, I thought Velasquez would probably win, but I didn't expect him to dominate Lesnar the way he did. In Lesnar three fights prior to Velasquez, he did get better as a fighter. Against Randy Couture, he was able to use his reach and strength to keep Couture off him and eventually knock him out. Against Frank Mir, Lesnar was able to take Mir down at will, avoid his submissions, and use his long arms to pound Mir out. Of most concern was his fight against Shane Carwin. For the entire first round, Carwin was able to take Lesnar down, and he just rained down punch after punch on Lesnar for the entire round. However, coming out of his corner to start the second round, it was obvious Carwin had nothing left in his gas tank, so Lesnar was able to take him down and submit him to retain his belt. The thing that stood out most about the Carwin/Lesnar fight was Brock's lack of stand up game and his inability to take a punch. Carwin is a hard puncher, and he landed some solid shots on Lesnar, but it shouldn't have caused Lesnar to flop and flail around the cage the way it did. It truly looked like Lesnar had never practice how to take a punch in camp, and that would prove to be a disaster against a cardio and punching machine like Cain Velasquez.

Right after the bell rang to start the fight, Lesnar charged out of the corner and threw a wild knee that missed badly. After circling each other for a short time, Lesnar was able to land a take down against Velasquez. Unfortunately for Lesnar, Velasquez was able to pop right back up, and that was the last good thing that happened for Lesnar in the fight. Once back on his feet, Velasquez rocked Lesnar with several hard shots to the head and took him down. Unlike Shane Carwin, Velasquez had too much cardio endurance to get tired and allow Lesnar back into the fight. In fact, when the referee finally waved off the fight in the final minute of Round 1, Velasquez didn't even look like he was breathing heavily. For perhaps the first time in his entire career at any level, Brock Lesnar was manhandled and dominated from he opening bell until the fight was mercifully stopped. There are now enough talented fighters in the UFC heavyweight division to give Cain Velasquez some competition, but he is an absolute beast and he is here to stay. Meanwhile, Brock Lesnar has a ton of work to do if he intends to get back into the mix to regain the heavyweight title. Specifically, he must improve his boxing, he must learn how to take a punch and not fall down, and he has to learn to get up off his back as quickly as possible once he hits the ground. Still, this was a great fight, and I am sure it made the UFC a ton of money.