UFC 166 in Houston last weekend had a very tough act to follow with UFC 165. That event featured what many people called the fight of the year — the main event bout between Jon "Bones" Jones and Alexander Gustafsson.
To the delight of the sold out Toyota Center crowd, UFC 166 delivered what is being considered one of the best MMA events of all time. It also included a new bout that is now being considered the fight of the year and by some the best fight in UFC history.
In the preview column I wrote before the event, I mentioned how UFC 166 was heavyweight-focused but there was one bout on the card fans were salivating for — The Diego Sanchez versus Gilbert Melendez lightweight bout.
It's rare for such a bout to live up to its expectations but the Sanchez-Melendez fight not only met expectations it completely obliterated them. The pair delivered an epic Mexican war in the mold of Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales in boxing.
From the referee's shout to begin the first round to the final horn, Sanchez and Melendez brought the Houston audience and worldwide viewers on a fight ride like none other.
The bout featured back and forth momentum swings; once one fighter was dominated, the other retaliated and capitalized. Melendez was up after the first two rounds but the bloodied Sanchez fought on, leveling his opponent in the third round and nearly submitted him with a guillotine choke. Melendez escaped and the slugfest continued as they simply teed off on each other for the remainder of the bout.
When the final horn sounded, the roar of the Toyota Center crowd was deafening. UFC president Dana White ran over to the press seats shouting, "Wow! Have you guys ever seen anything like that?!"Reporters reciprocated the feelings as they turned professional to giddy kids.
Gilbert Melendez won the bout via judges' decision but this bout was so incredible a rematch is destined to happen in the future.
There were two more bouts after Sanchez-Melendez which made this card even better. Daniel Cormier faced Roy "Big Country" Nelson in the co-main event of the night. The undefeated Cormier looked better than he ever has looking more trim than in previous fights.
It paid off as his elusiveness against the larger Big Country was the deciding factor in their bout. DC worked his left hook well against BC, always being a step ahead to avoid counter punches. The unanswered blows continued and I could see Big Country look up at the clock midway into the second round showing he was gassed. Cormier easily defeated Nelson via unanimous decision.
There is a something special about the Lafayette, LA., native, Cormier. He is a former Olympic wrestler, current UFC fighter, and television anchor for UFC coverage on Fox.
Cormier won his Houston bout, was his teammate's Octagon-side coach and was perhaps the best interviewee for the post-fight show and press conferences. Cormier is an incredibly versatile and talented person destined for a long career in the MMA business.
The main event was the trilogy bout between current heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos. Junior dos Santos is adored by many but it was clear during the fighters' entrances that Velasquez had home court advantage with the Mexican-American's legions of fans rising up to show their support.
Early in their bout, Velasquez and dos Santos took a page from the Sanchez-Melendez fight as the two went at each other trading punches. The two showed great pace and ferocity for their, size which is what makes them the best in the world. Something extraordinary occurred in the second round. The Octagon broke.
Velasquez was winning the bout late in the second round as he pushed JDS into the fence. The fence gave way some, fortunately not completely, and two maintenance crew members ran to hold the fence up.
Referee Herb Dean let the action continue. The second round intermission became a NASCAR pitstop as one could hear the crew members' drill as they feverishly put the cage back on just in time for round three.
The third round showed the world just how tough Junior dos Santos is. He weathered power punches from Cain and would not give up. Battered and beaten JDS still landed some strong punches on Velasquez.
Late in the fifth and final round Junior dos Santos desperately attempted a ninja choke on the champion. He missed it and landed face first on the canvas appearing to knock himself out. Herb Dean called an end to the bout and Velasquez defended his title via TKO.
UFC 166 is being called one of the greatest UFC events ever, not only because of these bouts but also because of the several bouts preceding them. Fighters such as welterweight Hector Lombard and flyweight John Dodson had amazing performances, cementing themselves as players in those respective divisions.
Women's MMA now as a new face in Jessica Eye who upset former Strikeforce women’s MMA champion Sarah Kaufman. The victory has thrust Eye into the women's MMA spotlight that is now owned mostly by Ronda Rousey.
In the post-fight press conference, Dana White lauded the event and Houston's reception to the UFC. He pointed out that three of the top five grossing events at the Toyota Center are UFC events. One could say this success the UFC has had in Southeast Texas could lead to another high grossing UFC event in the future.
David Estrada Jr. is a Mixed Martial Arts columnist for the Port Arthur News. He can be e-mailed atDavidEstrada@DavidEstrada.com