LAS VEGAS – Despite facing an opponent who could take more punishment than any mere mortal, Junior dos Santos earned a highlight-reel knockout and likely cinched a shot at the heavyweight title he recently ceded to Cain Velasquez.

Dos Santos threw the first wheel kick of his career and stopped the iron-jawed Mark Hunt late in the third round of their title eliminator.

The heavyweight bout was the co-main event of today’s UFC 160 event at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. It aired on pay-per-view following prelims on FX and Facebook.

By most standards, dos Santos would have stopped the bout in the first round when he clubbed Hunt with the same overhand right he used to knock out Velasquez at UFC on FOX 1 in November 2011. But “The Super Samoan” simply recovered to his feet, and the two settled into a slugfest.

As the fight progressed, however, dos Santos’ speed and length thwarted Hunt’s best efforts to put his heavy hands to use. A few times, Hunt managed to get inside with a left hook, but he frequently took jabs and body shots before he could set up combinations.

Dos Santos had no trouble taking Hunt down in the second and establishing dominant position.

The former champ also was the fresher man as the fight went into the third round. Hunt’s mouth hung open as he pressed forward, while dos Santos kept him at bay.

A left-right combination staggered Hunt late in the third, and then dos Santos let fly a wheel kick that clipped the top of Hunt’s head, sending him falling to the mat like a tree.

Dos Santos leapt over the cage and celebrated his win with UFC executives Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta as well as Mike Tyson, who sat cageside.

The impressive victory earns the Brazilian a shot at Velasquez, who beat him via decision at UFC 155 to retake the title he lost at UFC on FOX in late 2011.

Dos Santos (16-2 MMA, 10-1 UFC), who’s ranked No. 2 in the USA Today Sports/MMAjunkie.com MMA heavyweight rankings, has lost but once in the octagon, while Hunt (9-8 MMA, 4-2 UFC), who was ranked No. 9, sees his Cinderella story come to an end after a four-fight win streak.

Up-to-the-minute UFC 160 results include:

For complete coverage of UFC 160, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.

John Morgan and Matt Erickson contributed to this report on-site in Las Vegas.

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