With Saturday's historic Velasquez vs. dos Santos bout approaching, E. Spencer Kyte takes a look back at five more memorable UFC heavyweight title fights...
As the inaugural contest to be broadcast on network television, Saturday’s UFC heavyweight title fight between champion Cain Velasquez and challenger Junior dos Santos on FOX has already earned a place in the history books.
The very real possibility exists that it finds a place in the organization’s annals because of the events that transpire inside the cage as well.
The champion and challenger stand as the undisputed top two heavyweights in the UFC — dominant forces with matching 7-0 marks within the confines of the Octagon. Both have climbed to the summit of the sport’s marquee division, sweeping aside a combined 14 challengers, only three of whom survived until the final horn sounded.
With the potentially historic encounter rapidly approaching, here’s a look back at five other epic heavyweight encounters from the past.
Six months after losing the UFC heavyweight title to Josh Barnett, the then 39-year-old Couture and budding star Rodriguez were paired to battle for the vacant championship in the main event of UFC 39: The Warriors Return.
Couture got the best of things early, but tired in the championship rounds. Losing on the scorecards at the time, Rodriguez took Couture down in the fifth and began dropping elbows on the former two-time champion, breaking his orbital bone and forcing a verbal submission from Couture to claim the vacant UFC heavyweight title.
It was the first time in UFC history a bout was finished in the fifth round, a result that has only been repeated two additional times since — BJ Penn vs. Diego Sanchez, UFC 107 and Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen, UFC 117.
At the time, Sylvia was a perfect 16-0 and looking to reclaim the UFC heavyweight title he had been stripped of nine months earlier. Mir had just turned 25 the month prior, was riding a three-fight winning streak, and had the right combination of skills, charisma, and looks to become a huge star as the UFC’s popularity continued to grow.
This one may have only lasted 50 seconds, but its place in the history books can’t be denied. Mir caught Sylvia in an armbar, and when the former champion went to pull free of the hold, the heavyweight jiu-jitsu player torqued on his arm a little more, prompting referee Herb Dean to step in and signal the end of the bout.
Everyone thought Dean had acted prematurely, but replays — and later x-rays — showed he made the right call; Sylvia’s arm was broken.
Tim Sylvia vs. Randy Couture
UFC 68 (March 3, 2007)
Sylvia was once again on top of the heavyweight mountain, having reclaimed the title from Andrei Arlvoski at UFC 59. After a pair of successful — though uneventful — title defenses, “The Maine-iac” was short on challengers.
In one of the most unexpected and memorable performances in UFC history, Couture dropped Sylvia right out of the gate, and continued to dominate the heavily favored champion for the duration of the bout’s five rounds.
Couture earned a unanimous decision win, claiming the UFC heavyweight title for a third time, the fifth and final championship victory of his illustrious career.
After winning his MMA debut, former WWE superstar Lesnar joined the UFC heavyweight division, and was paired with Mir for his Octagon debut.
The former champion submitted the athletically gifted MMA neophyte 90 seconds into the opening round of their bout at UFC 81. Though Lesnar showed promise, his inexperience cost him.
Later that year, both men would stake a claim to being the UFC heavyweight champion. Lesnar followed up his victory over Heath Herring by beating Randy Couture at UFC 91, while Mir stopped fellow TUF 8 coach Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira for the interim title a month later at UFC 92.
Originally scheduled for UFC 98, their second meeting would headline UFC 100, the biggest event in the organization’s history at the time. Both men entered with titles, but only would emerge as the undisputed UFC heavyweight champion.
Mir had no answers for Lesnar’s raw power and brute strength. Clinched along the cage, Mir attempted a jumping knee, but Lesnar still managed to secure the takedown. He proceeded to pin Mir against the cage and rain down a torrent of unanswered blows, leading to the fight being stopped 1:48 into the second round.
A year after unifying the UFC heavyweight titles at UFC 100, Lensar returned to the cage following a career-threatening battle with diverticulitis to face another interim champion, unbeaten Shane Carwin.
With a perfect 12-0 record and a 4-0 mark in the UFC, Carwin had spent just over seven minutes in the Octagon. His victory over Frank Mir at UFC 111 lasted longer than his previous three bouts combined, and his explosive knockout power was something Lesnar had not yet experienced in his young career.
Carwin rocked Lesnar early, relentlessly pounding on the returning champion throughout the first round, with referee Josh Rosenthal looking like he could stop the fight on a couple different occasions.
The bout continued, however, and took a turn in the opposite direction in the second frame.
After surviving the opening stanza, Lesnar gave Carwin a smile at the start of the second round. Carwin was spent, and Lesnar capitalized, easily taking him down. Lesnar forced Carwin to tap to an arm triangle choke at 2:19 of the second round, handing him the first loss of his career and unifying the heavyweight title for the second time in his career.