Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos handed the UFC heavyweight belt back and forth in their two previous bouts. (Pat Sullivan/AP)
Welcome to SI.com’s live play-by-play blog for UFC 166: Velasquez vs. Dos Santos, from the Toyota Center in Houston. Loretta Hunt is off tonight, so this is Jeff Wagenheim with you. I’m that rare New Englander who’s not watching tonight’s Red Sox-Tigers AL Championship Series game, although perhaps my colleagues Chuck Mindenhall of MMA Fighting, Mike Chiappetta of Fox Sports and Jack Encarnacao of Sherdog — New Englanders all — are in the same boat. Anyway, I’ll be updating play-by-play throughout the main card, and prelim results are below. Enjoy the fights.
Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos
You know that thing Dos Santos does during his introduction, walking to the center of the octagon and making a feisty gesture down at the canvas, signifying that this is my house? Well, Velasquez was ready for it, just as he was ready for everything Junior tried in their last fight. Cain walked to the center of the octagon as well, wearing a death stare that would send most men running. To steal Mike Goldberg’s signature line, “Here … we … go.”
Round 1: They meet at the center of the cage and Dos Santos lands a left hook that stops Velasquez in his tracks. For a moment. Cain gets moving forward again immediately, and he’s all over Junior. The Brazilian is flinging heavy leather, and Velasquez is surging right through it, in the way Hagler refused to be stopped by Hearns’ heavy punches. Cain gets Junior down, locks in a guiilotine, but Dos Santos defends it and gets to his feet. Velasquez lands a short left, but as they separate, Dos Santos fires a right uppercut that makes Cain stagger a bit. We’re 30 seconds in, and this fight already is better — and more competitive — than either of the first two meetings.. Velasquez is relentless, and Dos Santos is finding a hard time creating the space he needs to land his shots. When he finally separates, he tries a head kick but Cain keeps coming, pushing him against the cage. At the midpoint of the round, Velasquez gets a takedown, briefly is in full mount, then half guard. He lands an elbow, but Junior is mostly tying him up. Dos Santos gives up his back, but then gets up. Velasquez goes right back to blanketing him, landing short punches to the face from the clinch. Dos Santos tries to fend him off, throws an elbow, and when they do separate he tries a spinning kick, which misses.
Round 2: Velasquez is all over Dos Santos from the start, and there’s nothing Junior can do to stop him. Junior is landing some punches, but Cain is landing more and harder. Dos Santos avoids a flurry of shots with head movement, but he’s unable to get any offense going. When they separate, it’s Cain who lands the jabs. Then Velasquez has him in the clinch again. Cain is giving him no space, which is to be expected,. But he’s also beating him to the punch. Dos Santos goes for a takedown and gets Velasquez to the mat, but Cain pops right back up and lands a couple of overhand rights before resuming his clinch game. He punishes Junior’s legs with knees to the thigh, giving the challenger’s face a brief respite from being pummeled. Just before the horn, Dos Santos lands a short elbow and then a right hand that stops Velasquez in his tracks. For a second. But Cain doesn’t stop for long.
Round 3: Big right hand by Dos Santos opens the round, but Velasquez keeps coming, pushing him against the fence and landing crisp jab. Junior simply cannot create the separation he needs to utilize his big punches. His short shots are landing, but Cain is walking through them and answering twofold, nailing the challenger with punches and knees. With three minutes to go, Junior does separate long enough to land a right hand, but Velasquez nails him with a left jab. And keeps coming. Then, after Dos Santos connects with an elbow, Velasquez goes for a takedown. It’s stuffed, but Cain comes back with a right hand to the head that drops Dos Santos. He pounces, flurrying with lefts and rights as the crowd roars and referee Herb Dean lurks, watching closely. Velasquez tries a guillotine, and holds onto it as Dos Santos gets up. When Velasquez lets go, Junior falls lifelessly to his back, and both Velasquez and Dean close in. As Cain lands punches, Dean puts his hand on the champ’s shoulder, as if he’s stopping the bout, but then backs off. Dos Santos looks dead on his feet, and Velasquez is now the one separating, in order to land punches. This fight appears close to being stopped. But Dos Santos survives the last two minutes, somehow. He’s staggered by a couple of right hands, and Dean again takes a close look. But Dos Santos makes it to the horn.
Round 4: Dos Santos is a zombie as he gets up from his stool. Velasquez looks a fresh as if he’d just climbed a single flight of stairs. Cain walks across the cage and, after Junior tries to land first, nails him with a right hand. He has Dos Santos against the cage, and he’s glued to him, landing rights and left that are snapping back Junior’s head. Even when Velasquez separates and Dos Santos lands, it does nothing to turn the tide. Junior is trying elbows, and landing some, but they’re not even slowing Cain. With just under a minute and a half to go, referee Herb Dean halts the action so the cageside doctor can check Dos Santos’ face. Where do you start? It’s a mask of blood and bloat. The fight is allowed to go on, and Dos Santos flings a huge right hand, which Velasquez ducks under. Then Cain is on him again, and while Junior lands an elbow, Velasquez again closes in and mauls him some more. Dos Santos connects with a couple more elbows before the round is over, but the Cain train keeps coming.
Round 5: Never would have expected the fight to get this far a few minutes go. Dos Santos lands a couple of punches out of the gate, but Velasquez responds by taking him to the canvas. Junior fights his way to his feet, then eats a couple of left uppercuts against the cage. Velasquez is throwing short right hands, not hurting Dos Santos any more than he’s already hurt but keeping him well under control. Dos Santos lands another couple of elbows, and Cain wipes blood from his nose, then snaps back Junior’s head with a punch. In one final, futile effort, Dos Santos goes for a standing guillotine, but Velasquez escapes as they hit the canvas, and Junior falls face first. He turtles up under an onslaught of punches, impelling Herb Dean to jump in. Cain Velasquez def. Junior dos Santos by TKO at 3:09 of Round 5.
Daniel Cormier vs. Roy Nelson
This fight is brought to you by Jenny Craig,. Cormier is slimmed down because he is headed to the 205-pound division. As for Nelson, he’s staying at heavyweight but someone must have bought him a bag for his bowling ball so he doesn’t have to carry it around under his shirt anymore.
Round 1: They stalk for the better part of the first minute before Cormier goes for a single-leg takedown and, unsurprisingly owing to his two-time Olympic wrestling pedigree, gets it. Cormier passes guard but can’t do any damage, other than starting to wear Nelson out. Even after Roy gets back to his feet, Cormier is all over him, controlling the action with his grappling,. Nelson tries fgor a kimura, but Cormier defends. Then Daniel puts Nelson against the cage and lands a knee to the gut. A second knee lands low, and Nelson gets a much-needed break. It’s not simply to recover from the groin shot, not simply to get his wind back. No less important, the break allows him to create some distance, get Cormier off of him. In the final 30 seconds, Nelson fires a big overhand that misses, and Cormier nails him with a couple of punches. Cormier is clearly faster. Or Roy is clearly slower.
Round 2: More of the same from Cormier, as Nelson devolves more and more into a one-trick pony whose trick is coming in slow motion. It’s five minutes of Cormier stalking and Nelson trying but failing to connect with anything even remotely significant.
Round 3: Cormier is coasting and Nelson isn’t putting it all on the line, as he needs to. Not much to describe here, as Cormier never comes close to finishing Nelson and Nelson never comes close to turning the tide. Kind of a ho-hum. Daniel Cormier def. Roy Nelson by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).
Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez
Yes! Yes! Yes! Sorry, neighbors up and down the block, I had to say that – I mean scream it at the top of my lungs — because Sanchez uncharacteristically went mute on us during his walk to the octagon. He did engage in what looked like the pregame routine of an NFL linebacker with an intense moment at cageside, did a cartwheel in the cage, then went into affirmation mode. How could Melendez match that? Well, he walked out to Santana. Game, set, match.
Round 1: Melendez tries a head kick just as Sanchez is moving forward, and as a result the leg ends up on Diego’s shoulder and he is able to bull Gilbert to the mat. He quickly gets the back, but Melendez doesn’t panic, even after Sanchez gets close to locking in a choke. Melendez stands, walks to the cage and strips Sanchez off of him. From there Melendez begins stalking, and when Sanchez tries a clinch two minutes in, Melendez lands a knee to separate them and then a right hand over the top. Melendez starts with the body shots, then lands a right to the head at the round’s midpoint. Then he takes a deep breath. Melendez lands some more punches, and when Sanchez tries to counter with a kick to the body, Melendez counters the counter, grabbing the leg and driving Diego to the fence. he doesn’t get the takedown, but when they separate, Sanchez is bleeding from above the left eye. The blood is covering half of his face as the round enters its final minute, but Sanchez lands a couple of body shots to slow Melendez. The round concludes with a rock ‘em sock ‘em sequence, both guys flinging lefts and rights, until Sanchez goes down. He springs right up, but the final seconds are all Melendez.
Round 2: Sanchez’s chest and stomach are streaked with blood within the first minute of the round, even though Melendez’ punches aren’t especially targeting the eye. Gilbert is strafing the body, but he’s taking some punches and kicks, too. The crowd is into it, but there’s a groan when the referee halts the action so the cageside doctor can check Sanchez’s nasty cut. Diego complains that there’s Vaseline in his eye, but says the cut is OK. The fight goes on. Melendez stalks him, and every time Sanchez gets aggressive, Gilbert tags him. But Sanchez doesn’t slow down. He gets hit flush with a couple of right hands, then briefly gets Melendez to the mat. But Gilbert gets up and lands a leg kick. Sanchez tries another takedown and eats a knee to the face. As the round ends, Sanchez’s face and body are a mess. But he’s not sagging.
Round 3: After his trainer, Greg Jackson, tells him he’s down two rounds and needs a KO, Sanchez takes the news to heart. He gets in Melendez’s face, and even though he’s getting the worse of the exchanges, he;s getting the fight he needs. Melendez is playing matador, parrying every bull charge by Sanchez. Midway through, the doctor is again brought in to check the cut. “Let him go,” he says. And an uncaged Sanchez charges forward, landing a leg kick, the aright to the head. Diego pounds on his chest. Then, with just under two minutes to go, Sanchez lands a right uppercut that floors Melendez. Sanchez pounces a the crowd explodes. he gets Gilbert’s back, tries to lock in a choke. As Melendez maneuvers into top position, Sanchez tries for a guillotine. Too sweaty. They stand, and they trade. Finally, Melendez goes for a takedown and gets it, but with 30 seconds left, Sanchez reverses position and they get back to their feet. The fight ends with more rock ‘em sock ‘em action and with the roof of the arena blowing into the heavens from the force of the crowd’s roars. Wow. Gilbert Melendez def. Diego Sanchez by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28).
Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Shawn Jordan
It was a bit surprising that Shawn Jordan agreed to come to the octagon on time, considering that his old college football team, LSU, was tied with Ole Miss late in the fourth quarter. But the Johnny Cash music started playing, and Jordan started walking. Then came Gabriel Gonzaga, sporting the fifth-degree black belt of moustaches, a ‘stache that could knock a man out with one twitch. And the heavyweights were ready to go.
Round 1: Not much going on in the fight’s first minute, other than Gonzaga landing a leg kick or two and fending off the few punches thrown by Jordan. Then Jordan surges forward with a 1-2 that Gonzaga absorbs while backing away, and counters with a right hook that drops the ex-football player. The Brazilian swarms his fallen opponent with right hands on the canvas until referee Jay Stafin pushes him away. What’s worse for Jordan: LSU gave up a late field goal and lost, too. Gabriel Gonzaga def. Shawn Jordan by TKO at 1:33 of Round 1.
John Dodson vs. Darrell Montague
The flyweights are best viewed in slow motion, lest one miss half of the scattershot action. So be forewarned.
Round 1: Early on they’re stalking, fast-twictch stalking to be sure, but stalking nonetheless. A Montague low blow makes Dodson wince but doesn’t halt the fight. They exchange audible leg kicks, then Dodson lunges forward with a right hand that lands. More stalking, but then at the midpoint of the round Dodson connects with a hard left hand that floors Montague. Dodson pounces, and when his opponent manages to stand up he picks him up and throws him to the mat. Dodson lands a flurry, but Montague survives and gets to his feet, a bit wobbly. Dodson shows mature patience, landing punches but resisting the temptation to throw caution to the wind. No need to, since he’s landing over and over. With just under a minute to go, Montague has a little bounce back in his step, but Dodson nails him with a straight left that sends him to the canvas, face-first. Dodson pounces again, but before he can land another blow, referee Jacob Montalvo jumps in to end it. As a dazed Montague grabs for the ref’s leg, trying to wrestle, Dodson sprints to the cage and does a backflip. John Dodson def. Darrell Montague by KO at 4:13 of Round 1.
–C.B. Dollaway went all Nick Diaz on Tim Boetsch early on, taunting him, dropping hands to his sides … but taking more punches than Nick ever did. Then Dollaway tried a Moe Howard maneuver, poking him the eye twice … and losing a point for the second foul. That didn’t really make a difference in split decision, though, as two judges scored it 30-26 for Boetsch (so he would have won, 30-27, without the point deduction).
–Hector Lombard got Nate Marquardt backpedaling with an overhand right, sent him to the canvas with a left hand and swarmed him with hammer fists until referee Jay Stafin bravely dove in to save a defenseless Marquardt at 1:47 of the first round. Then Lombard expended just as much energy lifting his opponent off the canvas and hugging him. Call it ferocious sportsmanship.
–Jessica Eye and Sarah Kaufman went toe to toe for three rounds, and while it was Kaufman who looked closest to a finish, wobbling the former 125-pounder in the third round, Eye got the nod from two of the three judges. It’s tough to argue against the decision in a close fight, except that one judge (Ruben Najera) inexplicably gave Eye that final round, in which Kaufman hurt her and then stalked her to the finish. Hmm.
–K.J. Noons staggered Georges Sotiropolous midway through the third round but inexplicably didn’t pounce on the Aussie, instead trading with him to the final horn of their lightweight bout and rolling the dice with a judges’ decision, which unanimously went his way.
–Adlan Amagov fought off a takedown attempt and blistered T.J. Waldburger, flooring him and finishing their welterweight bout with strikes at 3:35 of Round 1. Waldburger was out cold and taken from the octagon on a stretcher.
–Tony Ferguson staggered Mike Rio with a left hook and sunk in a d’arce choke to get the tapout just 1:52 into their lightweight fight.
–Andre Fili bloodied and battered Jeremy Larsen in the first round and finished him 53 seconds into the second to take what was scheduled to be a featherweight bout until Fili missed the 145-pound limit at Friday’s weigh-in.
–Kyoji Horiguchi floored Dustin Pague early in Round 2 and finished the bantamweight opener with punches at 3:51.