There is not the hype around the Dos Santos vs. Velasquez fight that there was around Sonnen vs. Silva II, or that there is around the upcoming GSP vs. Nick Diaz fight in March, but you could argue that there should be.
The UFC heavyweight title has been marred with champions leaving due to contract disputes, injuries, and a complete inability of some fighters to pass drug tests.
In the near 20 year history of the UFC there has never been a dominant Heavyweight Champion.
Not one champion has been able to defend the title more than twice in a row. Not one champion has been dominant in the ways that names like Anderson Silva, GSP, Penn, Liddell, or Ortiz have been, and you can probably expect to start listing Jon Jones in with that elite group shortly.
That could change in the near future however. One of Junior Dos Santos or Cain Velasquez could become the first name in the history of the UFC Heavyweight title to clean out a division and prove definitively that they are the best fighter in the world, and Saturday's fight could determine which one of them it will be, because it can't be both.
Dos Santos and Velasquez are both a large step above the rest of the competition in this division. There is Velasquez and Dos Santos, then a large gap, then you've got names like Shane Carwin, Daniel Cormier, Werdum, and Frank Mir, then another gap and you've got your Roy Nelsons, Minotauros, and "Big Foot" Silvas. Somewhere in there is Alistair Overeem, however Overeem is easily defeated by urine tests let alone top heavyweights, and has never proven he can compete when drug tests are a mandatory part of competition.
Dos Santos looks possibly unbeatable, as did Velasquez before his loss to Dos Santos at UFC on Fox 1. It is strongly believed that both fighters were injured going into their first bout and while most fighters have some nagging injuries heading into a fight it is believed that in this case the injuries were sufficient enough that it can be argued a true contest between the two, when both are at their best, has yet to truly happen.
If Dos Santos defeats Velasquez, it will take Velasquez quite a bit of campaigning to convince Zuffa that a 3rd fight between the two would be marketable even if Cain takes out every other top contender. If Dos Santos loses however, a rubber match would be expected. Following the next 1 or 2 fights between the two the surviving fighter will be left atop the UFC Heavyweight division looking down on lesser competition, with a real chance to clean out the division and finally be the dominant Heavyweight Champion the UFC has never had.
Since Saturday's fight very likely will start a new chapter in the history of this title and sport, let's review the story thus far to see where UFC 155's Main Event fits into the lineage of the division:
UFC Superfight Title (1993-1996)
In the beginning of the UFC there was no such thing as weight classes, rules, rounds, or belts, only fighters, tournament brackets, and a vague idea of how a fight can officially end. The early tournaments were a cleverly disguised infomercial for Gracie jiu jitsu gyms and fighting systems. The idea was to demonstrate to a pay-per-view and live audience that a jiu jitsu fighter half the size of an opponent trained in any other discipline of fighting could dominate in a no rules contest. Royce Gracie was the man picked to represent jiu jitsu on the basis that out of all the Gracie family Royce looked the least imposing, so his victory over top notch fighters from other disciplines would further engrain the idea that jiu jitsu must be the dominant fighting style. The Gracie's weren't wrong.
- UFC 1 through 4 consisted of tournaments that showcased Royce Gracie and Gracie jiu jitsu against fighters from other diciplines. Royce won 3 of the UFCs first 4 open weight tournaments, only being eliminated in UFC 3 when he could not continue after being injured during his defeat of Kimo Leopold (a.k.a. that crazy dude who walked to the octagon carrying a large wooden cross on his back).
- A "Super Fight" was scheduled for UFC 5 between Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock for the original "Super Fight Title". With no time limits, rounds or judges the fight was declared a draw and the belt was awarded to neither fighter. Shamrock dominated the fight however, and it would be the last time for many years that Royce Gracie would be seen in the UFC.
- The second UFC Super Fight title fight was at UFC 6 where Shamrock defeated Dan Severn (the winner of the UFC 5 open weight tournament) in 2 minutes and 14 seconds with a guillotine choke to become the first ever SuperFight Champion
- Shamrock would then fight to a draw with UFC 6 tournament champion Oleg Taktarov at UFC 7
- Shamrock would defeat Kimo Leopold at UFC 8 in 4 minutes and 24 seconds via a kneebar to retain the title.
This would set up the rematch and one of the most infamous fights in UFC history between Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn at UFC 9. UFC 9 almost didn't happen. John McCain was knee deep in his massive campaign to get the UFC pulled off of pay-per-view at the time and the legality of the fight card was not upheld in Detroit courts until just hours before the event was to begin. New rules were set out for the fighters at the last minute however that barred the use of closed fist punches and head butts. The new rules (which were only loosely enforced) and lingering injuries on the part of both fighters led to a fight widely considered one of the worst in the history of the sport. The fight involved both fighters getting dressed down by referee John McCarthy, the commentators making fun of the fight and fighters, booing from the crowd that started just minutes in, and even the occasional object being thrown into the octagon. Dan Severn was awarded the title by split decision because, hey, they had to pick somebody. John McCain was the real victor as his campaign succeeded in having the UFC pulled off of many ppv markets for several years after.
Debut of UFC Heavyweight Title (1996-2000)
UFC 10 and 11 featured a wrestling prodigy named Mark Coleman, and with the debut of weight classes in the UFC a fight was scheduled to unify Severn's Superfight Championship with what would be the new UFC Heavyweight Championship.
- At UFC 12 Mark Coleman defeated the reigning SuperFight Champion Dan Severn in 3 minutes with a neck crank to become the first ever UFC Heavyweight Champion.
- At UFC 14 Mark Coleman was pitted against striker Maurice Smith and was heavily favored to win, but Smith shocked the audience pulling out a decision win to become the first striker to wear a top belt in MMA.
- At UFC 15 Smith would defeat Tank Abbott (who was replacing an injured Dan Severn) to retain the title while Randy Couture would defeat Vitor Belfort on the undercard to become the number 1 contender.
- At "UFC Japan" or "UFC 15.5" Randy Couture would win the title by defeating Maurice Smith via decision.
*Following the victory Couture decided to sign with Vale Tudo Japan and was stripped of the title. A Heavyweight tournament was organized that would span several events and would feature the King of Pancrase champion Bas Rutten.
- Rutten would claim the vacated title after defeating Kevin Randleman at UFC 20 on May 7th 1999 in Birmingham, Alabama.
* Rutten too would vacate the title to drop down a weight class but eventually injuries caught up to Rutten and he retired from competition.
- At UFC 123 in Japan Kevin Randleman defeated Pete Williams via judges decision to claim the vacated title.
- Randleman was scheduled to make his first title defence at UFC 124 but backstage during the event Randleman slipped on the concrete, hitting his head and knocking himself out.
- The rescheduled bout happened at UFC 26 where Randleman defeated Pedro Rizzo by unanimous decision.
Return of Randy Couture and Zuffa buys the UFC (2000-2003)
- Randy Couture accepted the UFC's invitation to return to the promotion and take on Kevin Randleman at UFC 28 in March of 2000. Couture won the fight via strikes from the full mount position to become the 2 time UFC Heavyweight Champion. This would be the last UFC Heavyweight title fight in the pre-Zuffa and Dana White days. The first UFC card under the Zuffa banner was UFC 30 February 23rd 2001.
- The first UFC Heavyweight title fight promoted by Zuffa saw Randy Couture defeat Pedro Rizzo at UFC 31 via unanimous decision.
- Rizzo and Couture would fight again six months later at UFC 34 where Couture would win via stoppage in the 3rd round.
- On March 22, 2002 Couture would lose the title to Josh Barnett, however Barnett would be stripped of the title following a post fight positive steroid test.
- Following Barnett being stripped of the title a fight was schedule between Couture and Ricco Rodriquez with Rodriguez winning via submission due to elbow strikes with just 2 minutes to go in the 5th round of a 5 round championship fight that he was trailing on the score sheet.
Arlovski and Sylvia (and a little bit of Frank Mir in there) (2003-2007)
- At UFC 41 Tim Sylvia knocked out Rodriquez to win the title
- Sylvia defended the title with a win against Gan McGee at UFC 144, but was stripped of the title after failing a post fight drug test
- At UFC 48 in June of 2004 Herb Dean stopped a fight for the vacated title between Frank Mir and Tim Sylvia in just 50 seconds and awarded the bout and the title to Mir. Mir had Sylvia in an armbar but Sylvia did not submit, Herb Dean stopped the fight anyway however. Dean claimed he saw the arm break, and it turns out he was right as X-rays would reveal multiple fractures in Sylvia's arm.
- Mir would be unable to defend his title due to injuries sustained in a serious motorcycle accident. This would set up a fight for the interm title between Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia at UFC 51. Arlovski won via Achilles lock in just 47 seconds.
- When it became clear that Mir would not be able to defend his title the interim tag was eventually taken off of Arlovski's title
- At UFC 55 in October of 2005 Arlovski knocked out Paul Buentello to retain his title in just 15 seconds
- At UFC 61 Tim Sylvia got his chance for revenge on Arlovski and took advantage, knocking out the champion in 2 minutes and 43 seconds to win his second Heavyweight Championship.
- The rubber match between Sylvia and Arlovski was scheduled for UFC 61 on July 8th 2006. Sylvia won via judges decision to complete the triology.
- Sylvia successfully defended his title via a decision victory over Jeff Monson at UFC 65
Couture Returns... Twice! And a guy named Brock Lesnar (2007- 2010)
- Randy Couture told Dana White that he was not impressed with the likes of Tim Sylvia and offered to come out of retirement to dethrone him. All three judges scored the contest 50-45 for Couture, who was now a 3 time champion
- Couture knocked out Gabriel Gonzaga in the 3rd round of UFC 74 to retain his title
Couture then entered into contract disputes with Dana White and the UFC and while the title was never officially vacated an interm title was created.
- Antônio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira submitted Tim Sylvia in the 3rd round at UFC 81 to win the interim title.
Couture and the UFC reconciled and Couture would rejoin the roster and was still listed as the UFC Heavyweight champion. Instead of a fight being scheduled between Couture and reigning interim champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, a four man tournament of sorts was scheduled. Couture would fight Brock Lesnar who had just won his second fight in the UFC when he defeated Heath Herring but was a ppv phenomenon due to his WWE fame and freak of nature-esque appearance. Nogueira on the other hand would defend his title against former champion, and the man who beat Lesnar in his octagon debut, Frank Mir.
- Brock Lesnar defeated Couture in the second round via a TKO due to strikes to win the UFC Heavyweight Championship and advance in the tournament to face the winner of the Mir vs Nogueira bout.
- Mir defeated Nogueira (rumored to still be feeling the lingering effects of a staph infection during the fight) via strikes in the second round.
This set up the historic rematch between Mir and Lesnar which would take place at the UFC's end of year premiere event UFC 100.
- Lesnar defeated Mir via TKO (due to strikes) at 1:48 of the second round. He then flipped off the crowd and banged his head against the cage while foaming at the mouth. In his post fight interview with Joe Rogan Lesnar also said he was going to drink a Coors Light because "Bud Light won't pay (him) nothing" (Bud Light is a main sponsor of the UFC) and told the crowd that he might just get on top of his wife that night. It was priceless.
- After a bout with diverticulitus sidelined Lesnar a new interim champion was crowned when Shane Carwin defeated Frank Mir at UFC 111
- Lesnar then beat Carwin at UFC 116. Carwin arguably had done enough in the first to finish the champion but the fight was allowed to continue. In the second round Carwin was gassed, and easily taken down and submitted by Lesnar.
Velasquez and Dos Santos (2010-Present)
- Cain Velasquez made Brock Lesnar look like he didn't belong in the same league as him when he punched a hole through the champion and took his title in the first round of their title fight.
- The title wouldn't be defended for over a year, not until the first ever UFC event on Fox. Rumor is that both Velasquez and challenger Junior Dos Santos were coming into the fight injured, but given that this was the UFCs first big event on Fox the fight was going to go on, injuries or no injuries. Dos Santos knocked out Velasquez in just over one minute.
- Dos Santos retained his title by defeating Frank Mir (filling in for Alistair Overeem who failed a drug test, because Alistair Overeem is a guy who fails drug tests) in the second round of their fight at UFC 146
- Also at UFC 146 Cain Velasquez knocked out Antonio "Big Foot" Silva in the first round to earn another shot against the champ.
Thus leading to Saturday's bout between Velasquez and Dos Santos. Only one of these two fighters can emerge as the dominant guy in the heavyweight division, but whoever does has a chance to be the "Baddest Man on the Planet" for a long time, provided of course that various athletic commissions keep requiring Alistair Overeem to pee in a cup.