LAS VEGAS — Cain Velasquez not only won his heavyweight title back Saturday, but he did it his way, in a style few expected.
Launched by a hard right hand that knocked down and seriously dazed Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos in the first round, Velasquez regained the belt by unanimous decision.
Judges awarded San Jose's Velasquez (11-1) a 50-45, 50-43, 50-44 triumph at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
A year ago, Dos Santos (15-2) took the belt away from Velasquez with an overhand right that knocked out Velasquez 64 seconds into their fight in Anaheim.
The expectation this time was that Velasquez would return to his wrestling strength and avoid a stand-up fight with the heavy-handed Dos Santos.
Yet, more than three minutes into the first round, Velasquez uncorked a big right that dropped Dos Santos and left him scrambling to survive additional punishment that Velasquez inflicted pouncing on the fallen, taller man.
"I just knew I'd come back stronger," Velasquez said. "You've got to come back a better fighter. It feels so good to do this."
Dos Santos had admonished Velasquez for taking the fight again so soon after the decisive loss, predicting he would knock out Velasquez again.
But after being rendered slower by the early battering, he had only praise for Velasquez.
"His game was very effective," Dos Santos said, sporting puffy eyes and swelling on his right forehead. "Tonight, he was better than me. It's very unusual for me to take a punch."
In addition to swarming the hurt Dos Santos with punches, Velasquez softened the champion by keeping him on guard with his expert grappling techniques.
To start the second round, Velasquez picked up Dos Santos by the right leg and threw him to the canvas, adding a left hand to the face and right-handed blows to the head for good measure.
While keeping watch on his wobbly legs, Dos Santos would accept hard punches like a big right later in the second round that backed him to the cage, along with a third-round combination that caused the knot on Dos Santos' head to worsen.
Dos Santos' greatest feat was making it through without a technical knockout.
"This was the hardest fight I've ever been through," Velasquez said. "I've never been so tired. He's a tough dude, you know."
Velasquez again backed up Dos Santos with a hard right to the face late in the fourth round, and he capped the redemption with a right kick to Dos Santos' mouth in the fifth.
The battered Dos Santos said he wants another title shot, but the depth of Velasquez's work indicates a similar outcome would be at play.
Earlier Saturday, lightweight Jim Miller (22-4) took a big step to a title shot by delivering a left kick and punch that badly bloodied Joe Lauzon's right eye area in the first round, then holding on to claim a unanimous-decision victory, 29-28, on the scorecards.
Also, Costa Philippou (12-2) affirmed his standing as a top middleweight title contender, beating Tim Boetsch by TKO.
Philippou opened a gash on Boetsch's nose in the third round.