The return of Cain Velasquez to Ultimate Fighting Championship prominence is a good thing for the return of UFC to America’s consciousness.
Velasquez, the San Jose and Yuma, Ariz.-raised fighter with rich roots in Mexico, regained the heavyweight belt he lost last year in a 64-second knockout loss to Junior Dos Santos, by punishing Dos Santos for five full rounds in a convincing unanimous decision.
“That’s what fighting is all about,” Velasquez, 30, said afterward. “You’ve got to come back better.”
Now that Velasquez is back with the belt around his waist, the UFC has a marketing delight -- a proud, dedicated champion who appeals to the lifeblood of the fighting audience, the Latino market.
Saturday night’s title fight produced a live gate of $3.286 million, greater than popular former World Wrestling Entertainment star Brock Lesnar’s farewell loss to Alistair Overeem a year earlier.
Overeem, scheduled to fight Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in February, is likely Velasquez’s next opponent and although it would seem unlikely for that large of an event, UFC President Dana White said he is intrigued by the idea of taking Velasquez and rising bantamweight star Erik Perez of Mexico south of the border for a pay-per-view card.
That potential expansion coincides with the UFC anticipating a steady slate of compelling fight cards.
Gifted featherweight champion Jose Aldo of Brazil will defend his belt against former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar in the Super Bowl weekend card.
In November, welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre returned from a year-plus absence because of a knee injury, and he’ll defend his belt in March in Montreal against Stockton’s colorful Nick Diaz.
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In April, after a run as coaches on the reality television series “The Ultimate Fighter” that debuts next month, light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones will fight talkative Chael Sonnen in April.
Talkative Brit Michael Bisping will get a shot at middleweight champion Anderson Silva should he win his fight against Vitor Belfort in January, White said.
The UFC will also begin folding the stable of defunct Strikeforce fighters into its organization, including that group’s heavyweight champion and Velasquez friend Daniel Cormier, who appears headed down to light-heavyweight.
White said after a rash of injuries and cancellations last year, another UFC executive stated, “If this year didn’t kill the sport, nothing will.”
Velasquez’s presence is a critical prong, given his redemptive triumph in which he not only avenged the prior loss to Dos Santos, but did so by standing up and repeatedly belting the champion in the face when Dos Santos was considered the superior striker and Velasquez was seen as likely to turn the bout into a wrestling match since he was a standout wrestler at Arizona State.
“I just know I have to keep improving,” Velasquez said. “The sport is evolving so fast. So I did what I trained to do. I knew I couldn’t win just by shooting at him. It’s about setting up shots.”
After first beating Dos Santos to the punch, knocking him down with a massive right hand in the first round that left the Brazilian fighter dazed at least into the third round, Velasquez maintained the extra threat of trying to take down the larger man.
Velasquez said he felt Dos Santos fatigue because “of that wrestling pace, carrying a fighter so long like that is tough.”
Although some believed Velasquez (11-1) could have finished Dos Santos earlier, he said he didn’t want to risk punching himself out trying to do so or leave himself subject to a fluke loss by pursuing a defining hold in the later rounds.
“I love TKOs, but that was a hard fight,” Velasquez said, the belt back in front of him being the only thing that matters.