LAS VEGAS // Brock Lesnar returned from a 4 1/2-year UFC absence with a unanimous-decision victory over Mark Hunt, and Amanda Nunes took the bantamweight title from Miesha Tate with a stunning first-round stoppage at UFC 200 on Saturday night.
Jose Aldo also won a competitive decision over Frankie Edgar to claim the interim featherweight title on the UFC’s star-studded landmark show.
Daniel Cormier dominated a decision over Anderson Silva, who took the fight on two days' notice after Jon Jones was dropped from the main event for failing a drug test.
While Brazil’s Nunes shocked Tate in the main event, the hulking Lesnar (6-3) was the greatest curiosity on the card. The pro wrestler earned his first mixed martial arts victory since July 2010, dominating Hunt with wrestling skill and sheer mass.
“I’m older, and when I decided to make this comeback, it was a hard decision,” Lesnar, 39, said. “I’m glad I did. This goes to show for everybody out there, if you don’t stick your neck out, you’ll never get ahead.”
UFC 200 capped three fight cards over three days for the world’s dominant MMA promotion, which used a golden canvas for its first event at T-Mobile Arena, the spacious new entertainment venue just off the Las Vegas Strip.
The UFC stacked the card with compelling matchups, and while every fight wasn’t a classic, the underdog Nunes’s victory was a stunner.
“Everybody knows that I respect Miesha a lot, I’m the new champion,” Nunes said. “For years I’ve been working hard for this moment. I feel amazing.”
Nunes (14-4) became the fourth different fighter to hold the UFC’s 135-pound belt in the last eight months since Ronda Rousey lost it to Holly Holm. Holm lost the belt to Tate in March, but Nunes dominated Tate (18-6) from the start, stunning her with multiple big shots.
Tate was bloodied and unsteady by the time Nunes sunk in a rear naked choke and ended it 3:16 into the first round.
“I’ve worked so hard for this moment in my life,” Nunes said. “I feel amazing.”
Lesnar made a UFC-record US$2.5 million (Dh9.1m) guaranteed purse for his first bout since late 2011, returning to the sport where he won and lost the heavyweight title during a meteoric MMA career. Although he walked away after consecutive losses and health problems, he repeatedly considered a return while racking up easier money in the WWE.
The main-event star of UFC 100 finally seized the opportunity to be on another landmark show, and his performance showed that his inimitable athleticism hadn’t diminished. Lesnar never wandered into trouble against knockout artist Hunt, repeatedly taking down his veteran opponent and keeping him pinned to the canvas.
Lesnar dominated the final three minutes, punishing a prone Hunt with his cartoon-sized fists. All three judges awarded the bout to Lesnar, 29-27.
The 41-year-old Brazilian Silva (33-8) stepped up to fight the UFC’s light heavyweight champ after Jones was ruled out Wednesday night. Although Silva is 45 months removed from his last victory – and seven weeks removed from gallbladder surgery – his status as perhaps the greatest fighter in MMA history got him a shot at Cormier, who was denied a lucrative, career-defining rematch with the troubled Jones.
Cormier (18-1) had little trouble with one of his heroes, largely keeping Silva pinned to the canvas on his back. Silva goaded Cormier into a few striking exchanges, and he even hurt Cormier slightly in the final minute, but the champ won 30-26 on all three cards.
“I appreciate the UFC for getting me this fight,” said Cormier, who still made half of the guaranteed $1 million he would have earned against Jones.
Aldo put on a masterclass while beating Edgar for the interim 145-pound title. He’s also likely to get the lucrative next shot at Conor McGregor whenever the 145-pound champion finally returns to their division following his second bout with Nate Diaz next month.
McGregor won his belt with a 13-second knockout of Aldo in December. The Irish star stood amid the floor crowd at cageside while Edgar began his pursuit of the elusive Aldo, whose striking and speed showed no effects from his loss.
Aldo cut Edgar in the first round and bloodied him for the rest of the bout. Edgar, who hasn’t lost to anybody except Aldo since 2012, applauded when his opponent got the decision.
Aldo put on his belt and immediately made threatening gestures at McGregor, who shouted back at his most bitter rival.
“I have one goal left, and that’s to beat this guy,” Aldo said.
The pay-per-view card opened with former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez brutally stopping Travis Browne in the first round of a bout that could have headlined many other UFC cards.
The oft-injured Velasquez (14-2) had fought just once since October 2013, losing his belt to Fabricio Werdum a year ago. He showed vintage form against Browne (18-4-1), who got wobbled by a spinning wheel kick and then battered to the ground repeatedly.
Velasquez finished his heavyweight-record 10th knockout victory with three seconds left in the round.
Title contenders TJ Dillashaw, Kelvin Gastelum and Julianna Pena won clear, entertaining decisions on the undercard. Pena rallied to ruin the comeback of Cat Zingano, who stopped Tate and Nunes in consecutive fights before her infamous 14-second loss to Ronda Rousey early last year.
The 12-fight card was packed with what looked like remarkably even matchups, yet the first three fights ended with first-round stoppage victories for UFC veterans Joe Lauzon, Jim Miller and Gegard Mousasi. Lauzon (26-12) needed a mere 86 seconds to finish Diego Sanchez, who had only been stopped once in his 14-year MMA career.
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