— LAS VEGAS - Empires and dynasties sometimes end in swift and brutal fashion. And on this night, a changing of the guard was in the air.
With more eyes than ever on mixed martial arts, a surging youngblood challenging the old king, and the sport’s most glamorous title on the line, the setup was just perfect for a hostile takeover. And Brock Lesnar capitalized.
The massive 6-foot-4, 265-pound phenom turned the page in UFC history, scoring a second-round technical knockout of Randy Couture to capture the UFC heavyweight championship in just his fourth professional fight.
In other words, Captain America got smashed by the Hulk, and the torch was passed to a new superhero.
“I just believe in hard work and that it pays off,” Lesnar said afterward. “Honest to God, I may come across as a cocky S.O.B., but I’m just confident. This is what the Lord gave me, my body and my mind.”
Lesnar becomes the second man in the organization's history to win a title after so few pro fights. The other man? Couture.
After a close first round that saw both men find some success, Lesnar (3-1) shifted the momentum with a hard right early in the second round. Couture wobbled from the blow but was able to find precious recovery time after forcing a clinch against the cage. After breaking and facing off again, however, Lesnar landed the turning-point strike, a right cross that landed behind Couture’s left ear.
The champion immediately fell backwards and Lesnar pounced. Positioning himself in a strong side control, Lesnar landed a series of machine-gun hammerfists while Couture (16-9) tried desperately to defend himself and earn a better position.
But Lesnar was relentless and continued firing off punches in rapid fire until referee Mario Yamasaki had no choice but to step in and save Couture from a worse beating before the partisan crowd of 14,272 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
"The guys from my camp said it got me right behind the ear," Couture said afterward. "I was trying to slip the punch, but he has such a long reach, I didn't slip it quite enough. Next thing I know I was on the ground eating leather."
Couture and his camp had believed that his extensive experience would be enough for the still-green Lesnar to overcome. They had watched Lesnar's August win over Heath Herring literally hundreds of times, searching for holes and trying to pick up tells that would give Couture an edge. But what they found in theory did not play out in practice, as Lesnar’s overwhelming size proved difficult for Couture to solve.
Lesnar spent the day of the fight thinking very little about the action that was to come. He prefers to occupy his mind with thoughts of hunting, fishing and football. Anything but fighting. After a brief 2 pm workout session to help open his lungs, he returned to the room he was staying in to hang out with his camp, and relaxed by watching his alma mater, the University of Minnesota, take on the Wisconsin Badgers in football.
Despite the distractions that were designed to rest his mind, Lesnar admitted to a case of nerves early on.
"I guess reality set in," he said. "I realized, 'I’m fighting Randy Couture for the title.' First round for me, I wanted to feel him out. I looked at our game plan. We had a few things we wanted to do, so I thought, 'let’s feel this out.' Right up until we engaged is when I wasn’t nervous anymore."
After the close first, Lesnar's trainer Greg Nelson instructed him to let his hands go and pick up the pace. It didn't take long for his charge to follow his direction, getting the TKO at 3:07 of the round.
Couture can perhaps take a measure of satisfaction in being the first fighter to make Lesnar see his own blood. The new champion had several stiches over his right eye before attending the post-fight press conference.
Lesnar, at various times an NCAA champion wrestler, a WWE wrestler and NFL aspirant, seems to have found his true calling in life at 31 years old. And now he can add "UFC champion" to his varied resume.
“It's really amazing," said Nelson. "Four fights. It's never been done as far as this day and age. Everybody's advanced and everybody's technical and has the game down. But he did it. I knew that he had the athletic ability, the conditioning and that his technical prowess is coming up, so we knew this could happen."
Lesnar knows exactly what's in front of him. On Dec. 31, Frank Mir — the only man to defeat Lesnar — and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira will square off for the right to face Lesnar for the title.
Either man will present a huge challenge to Lesnar, as they both specialize in jiu-jitsu, which at this point of Lesnar's career is the most difficult style matchup for him. Lesnar knows who he's rooting for.
"I want a rematch with Mir," he said.
In the night’s co-main event, Kenny Florian overwhelmed Joe Stevenson with a first-round rear naked choke to put an exclamation point on his status as the No. 1 contender in the lightweight division.
Florian needed less time than current champ B.J. Penn to put away Stevenson. While Penn needed the second round to finish Stevenson, Florian capitalized on excellent position after scoring a trip takedown and gaining Stevenson’s back. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt wrapped up Stevenson and got the tap at 4:03 of the round. Afterward, he immediately set his sights on the division’s kingpin, Penn.
“This is exactly what I wanted – to make a statement,” he said. “I want B.J.’s belt. B.J., you’re on of the best fighters out there… I consider you a master. It’s time to kill that master.”
The night kicked off with middleweight Demian Maia staying unbeaten with a slick, first-round rear naked choke submission over Nate Quarry.
Maia, a brilliant jiu-jitsu practitioner, has now captured seven of his nine wins by submission. Against Quarry, it didn’t last long. Quarry stuffed his first takedown try, but Maia stayed persistent and soon got the fight to the ground. There, it was no secret he held a big advantage. He quickly worked to take Quarry’s back and methodically sunk his arm in under Quarry’s chin before squeezing the choke.
Maia has been rumored as a possible coach on the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter, but he had another idea when asked about a matchup with division champion Anderson Silva.
"Yes, I feel ready," he said. "Since I started in UFC, I feel ready. Of course some people say you shouldn’t say too much. They want me to say I want to kill you, or I want to break his arm. I don’t wanna say that, but between us, I want to do that."
Former No. 1 contender Gabriel Gonzaga had an equally impressive performance. Facing off with former All-American wrestler Josh Hendricks, Gonzaga scored a powerful first round knockout, needing just 61 seconds.
Pulling out of clinch, Gonzaga reared back and crushed Hendricks with a shot to the chin. Hendricks crashed to the mat and Gonzaga made sure he stayed there, landing one more punch before the fight was called.
“I want a title shot, and next time I’m going to get the belt,” Gonzaga said.
Welterweight Dustin Hazelett added to his personal highlight reel of submission finishes with a beautiful arm bar victory over Tamdan McCrory. Showing the flowing transitions that mark the true art of MMA, Hazelett trapped McCrory with an omoplata shoulder lock, then hyperextended his arm into the submission. In his last fight in June, he scored another armbar submission, but that time went from taking Burkman’s back into a rolling arm bar.
Aaron Riley returned to the UFC after almost three years away with a unanimous decision win in a throwdown slugfest with Jorge Gurgel.
The two lightweights unloaded their offensive arsenals in the last fight before the television portion of the card went live, but it was Riley who got the better of the exchanges, mixing up leg kicks, head kicks and strikes to strong effect.
Riley had his best success in the third, when he landed a head kick and followed up with a flurry that hurt Gurgel but couldn’t finish him. It was the second straight loss for the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Gurgel, who despite his grappling proficiency almost always prefers to strike.
Lightweight Jeremy Stephens got back on the winning side of the ledger scoring a devastating third-round TKO over the debuting Rafael Dos Anjos. After a spirited grappling match dominated the first two rounds, Stephens put an end to things quickly in the third.
With Dos Anjos’ back to the cage, Stephens wound up with an uppercut and connected right on the point of his opponent’s chin. Dos Anjos crashed to the canvas and Stephens pounced, adding a few unanswered strikes before the referee called a stop to the action. The shot electrified the crowd, which reacted to every subsequent replay.
“I’ve been working on that uppercut all week for [defense against the shot],” Stephens said after. “Hermes Franca told me to throw it a couple seconds before I threw it.”
“I threw everything I had in that punch,” he said.
Dos Anjos lay prone for a few seconds, but walked off under his own power.
In other preliminaries matches, welterweight Matt Brown defeated Ryan Thomas by arm bar submission, and lightweight Mark Bocek had a dominant win, finishing Alvin Robinson with a rear naked choke in the third round.
The UFC gave out $60,000 bonus awards for the following performances:
Fight of the Night: Riley and Gurgel
Knockout of the night: Stephens
Submission of the night: Hazelett
The 14,272 fans in attendance made up the fourth-biggest gate in the UFC's history, generating $4.8 million. The only events that drew more money were 2006's UFC 66 (Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz), which drew $5.4 million, UFC 83 (Georges St. Pierre vs. Matt Serra) at $5.1 million, and UFC 79 (Georges St. Pierre vs. Matt Hughes and Wanderlei Silva vs. Chuck Liddell) which drew $5 million.