This time, Cain Velasquez got his finish.
In an absolutely brutal conclusion to their trilogy, Velasquez finished Junior dos Santos in the fifth and final round Saturday night at Houston's Toyota Center. The main event of UFC 166 was stopped at 3:09 of the final round as Velasquez retained his UFC heavyweight championship.
For quite some time, it appeared the bout was going to be a repeat of their second fight, one in which Velasquez dominated the bout to regain the title he had lost to dos Santos, but dos Santos went the distance.
But it wasn't quite meant to be. The final exchange came when dos Santos, game until the end, went to take a choke to the mat, slipped, hit his head off the mat, and found himself open for a flurry by the champion.
It was amazing dos Santos (17-3) even got to that point. The former champ absorbed an absolutely brutal beating from Velasquez. The worst of it came in the third round, when referee Herb Dean nearly stopped the onslaught after Velasquez dropped him with a big right. But JDS scampered to safety at the last moment. For much of the last 90 seconds of the round, dos Santos appeared wobbly, propped up by the fence. But he made it to the end of the round.
"From the last fight, I wanted the same type of pressure, but I wanted to throw better punches," Velasquez (13-1) said. "I was trying to throw crisper punches, but, you know, he got better as well so it was very hard."
That third round was set up by Velasquez's dominance in the first two rounds, as he repeatedly kept dos Santos pressed up against the fence, stifled him in the clinch, and kept dos Santos from getting the space he needed to unleash his big bombs. Velasquez mixed up his strikes, with uppercuts in tight and low kicks.
After dos Santos got through round three, round four was an ugly spectacle. In what was likely a 10-8 round, Velasquez continued to brutalize dos Santos. The doctor was brought in during the fourth round, looked at dos Santos' hideous cuts and closed eye, and declared him fit to continue.
And yet, there was always the sense dos Santos could land the knockout punch, even during his darkest moments. He hurt Velasquez several times during the fight and cut him open. While he didn't land often toward the end of the fight, he still had a surprising amount of power. And it's to his credit that dos Santos was going for the finish at the end when he met his undoing.
"Junior was much stronger," Velasquez said. "I was trying to beat him to the first punch but he seemed to beat me to it. I tried to get him down, it was very hard again."
With that, Velasquez takes two out of three bouts from the man who took his title and handed him his only career loss back in 2011. Velasquez has won four straight fights since then.
After the bout, dos Santos went over and raised Velasquez's hand in a gesture of sportsmanship.
"I was OK for this fight, he's very, what can I say, he kicked my ass," dos Santos said. "What can I say? Congratulations. I'm going to go back, train harder, and try to come back again."