During UFC 121, there were a few surprises.
Although the card had the making for offering fights with finishes, four out of five main bouts went to decision.
Brendan Schaub surprisingly met his match with Gabriel Gonzaga, but after putting pressure on him at the end of Round 1, it wasn't enough to seal the victory before the horn sounded. The fight ended oddly when Schaub attempted a takedown, which could have ended ugly, but Schaub walked away with an earned decision.
Tito Ortiz fought Matt Hamill, and at times both seemed a bit restrained. It could be due to a level of respect both had for one another, but it's more a product of knowing each other's styles so well that neither wanted to be the first to engage. The trouble is they have similar styles.
Diego Sanchez made an impressive comeback to defeat Paulo Thiago by outperforming him on the ground. Jake Shields couldn't submit Martin Kampmann despite holding a dominant ground position over him the majority of the fight. Shields was rocked by a couple key knees you could almost feel through the television, but he narrowly won by split decision.
Then there was the main event. Brock Lesnar, the biggest fighter in the UFC heavyweight division and former NCAA Division I wrestling champion, could not defend his title against undefeated Cain Velasquez. Plain and simply, Velasquez made Lesnar look bad.
Lesnar was himself, sure. He came out aggressive as ever, not wasting time and seeking the clinch right off. In fact, aside for a bit of defensive boxing, Lesnar was successful at first. That's when Velasquez kicked into high gear.
Velasquez's defensive wrestling was excellent. He brought the fight back to the standing position and proceeded to do what Shane Carwin couldn't: pummel the champion into submission and finish him.
This speaks a lot for Velasquez's capability. Many MMA fans, myself included, foresaw Lesnar as being at the very top of the heap for quite a while. Not due to any one feature, mind you, but due to his unorthodox combination of speed, power, wrestling skill and overall athleticism.
But there you have it. Out of those traits, the one having to do with fighting is wrestling skill, and Velasquez took advantage of Lesnar's lack of striking knowledge. Nobody denies that Lesnar is not a natural boxer, but many didn't think any fighter other than one who reciprocally matches Lesnar's power (e.g., Shane Carwin) would have a chance at dethroning the champion.
Cain did it, though, and despite a few scrambles, he was certainly the aggressor towards the end of the fight. Where Heath Herring, Randy Couture, Shane Carwin and Frank Mir (once) failed to take it to the champ, Velasquez succeeded by using his defensive wrestling to keep the fight standing, where he knew he was dominant.
That's not to discredit Lesnar. He truly is the most unique heavyweight fighter we've had in a long time, if not ever. A fighter his size moving the way he does and having the ability to take the punishment enough to gain superior ground positioning against two former champions and one former interim champion after only a few fights is exceptional and nothing less.
Proven to be more exceptional, though, is Velasquez's unique balance of power, striking, wrestling, speed and sufficient conditioning. All in all, Velasquez didn't win by fluke; he won by being the more well-rounded fighter.
So what happens now?
Well, we know that Velasquez will have a tough title defense in a fight against Junior dos Santos that many fans have been patiently waiting for. Dos Santos and Velasquez have similar striking prowess. Though dos Santos might hit harder, Velasquez certainly has the edge on the ground.
As for Lesnar, he's still a huge threat in the division, and being so early in his MMA career, it is absolutely certain we'll see him fight in another title defense. He is such a huge name and is so difficult to beat that he will likely just have two or three successful fights before yet again fighting for the belt.
The exciting part about all this? Lesnar and Carwin, being the biggest and most powerful heavyweights in the UFC heavyweight division, are likely hungrier than ever.
With Junior dos Santos and Velasquez, two of the proverbial four horsemen, being tied up for the next few months, and with Carwin being scheduled to take on Roy "Big Country" Nelson in January, Lesnar will have the opportunity to heal. But who will be next for him?
Perhaps Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, whom Lesnar once had a chance of fighting when Big Nog faced Velasquez at UFC 110. There's always the prospect of a third Mir match, but with the way Mir performed against Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, it might not be as exciting as people think.
Up-and-comer Brendan Schaub might make for a good striker/grappler match that could prove something for both fighters. Then again, there's always the chance that Lesnar will face the loser between Velasquez and dos Santos, which would allow him to have fought all three of the other horsemen.
And don't forget the possibility of seeing a much-anticipated Lesnar/Carwin rematch. Wouldn't it be exciting to watch these two go at it again with the guarantee of the victor being put in a championship match? That is, if Carwin can get past Big Country.
In any case, Velasquez defied the betting odds and sealed a key victory in his arsenal to dethrone the champion Lesnar. Congratulations are in order for him as are big possibilities.
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