Darryl Dyck / AP
Sunday, June 12, 2011 | 1:55 a.m.
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Cain Velasquez climbed into the octagon at Rogers Arena moments after the UFC 131 main event to officially appoint Junior dos Santos as the first man to challenge for his heavyweight belt.
This was always how it was supposed to be. Dos Santos won the right to become the top heavyweight contender with six victories to start his UFC career, but he had to prove it one more time Saturday night against Shane Carwin.
No problem. A determined dos Santos blitzed through Carwin — he scored a unanimous decision by scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26 — to set up a meeting with Velasquez for the second time.
“This fight was very important to me,” dos Santos said. “There was so much in line for me, so I was a little bit nervous, but it was like I expected. I was faster and my boxing skills were a little bit better than his.”
Dos Santos had much more to lose than to gain against Carwin. The 26-year-old Brazilian was slated to fight for the belt near the beginning of the year, but a Velasquez shoulder injury forced dos Santos to take another challenge in the interim.
Dos Santos pounded Carwin and nearly finished him in the first round to establish that he’s undoubtedly one of the two best heavyweights on the UFC roster. Velasquez was not surprised.
“I think he has the best boxing in the UFC and he proved that tonight,” Velasquez said. “He hits really hard and also has great movement. He’s fast and also has great takedown defense.”
Velasquez vs. dos Santos will likely take place before the end of the year. Velasquez had previously hinted that October’s UFC 136 in Houston was the location, but UFC President Dana White made that sound unlikely Saturday.
White said Velasquez wouldn’t be able to fight for five months, meaning the bout couldn’t be scheduled until November. But anticipation for the showdown was already well under way after Saturday’s card.
Dos Santos predicted his heralded boxing would emerge as the difference yet again in a bout with Velasquez. White disagreed.
“He’s going to have to get a lot more well rounded,” White said. “Cain is a terminator and he’s going to keep coming back at him. He’s going to have to work on a lot more than boxing.”
Dos Santos’ striking has gotten him this far. He won four of his first five UFC fights by knockout, until picking up unanimous decision victories against Roy Nelson and now Carwin.
A strong left hand dropped Carwin late in the first round at UFC 131 and dos Santos thought he was on the verge of an early night. After further attacking Carwin on the ground, he even pleaded with referee Herb Dean to stop the fight.
“I was getting tired and (Dean) didn’t stop the fight, so I asked him, ‘Hey, stop it man,’” dos Santos said. “And he said, ‘Keep it going, keep it going, keep it going.’”
That’s the kind of tidbit that worries White. The way he talked after the fight, White might disagree with offshore oddsmakers who posted dos Santos as a slight favorite over Velasquez shortly after UFC 131.
“All of these guys he’s been fighting, he’s been beating up early and then he gets to lay back a little bit,” White said. “He’s not going to get to lay back. It’s going to be five rounds with Velasquez. Velasquez will be in his face every minute of it, throwing punches and slamming him on the ground. That fight is going to be a war.”
Although dos Santos continued to turn Carwin’s face into an all-red canvas in the final two rounds, he never threatened again to knock him out. He did, however, show off another valuable tool.
Dos Santos shook off nearly every takedown attempt Carwin, a former college national championship wrestler, threw at him. Much like dos Santos is hailed as one of the UFC’s top boxers, Velasquez is one its premier wrestlers.
“The best of Cain is his cardio,” dos Santos said. “He’s very good in wrestling, too. I have to train a lot.”
“All the time, I’m looking for the knockout. It’s not going to be any different.”
It’s a long time in the making, but dos Santos’ meeting with Velasquez is in sight now.
“It was a fight that was supposed to be scheduled a while ago,” Velasquez said, “so I can’t wait to face him.”