LOS ANGELES -- Unbeaten Cain Velasquez could be fitted with the Ultimate Fighting Championship's heavyweight belt Saturday night in Anaheim and yet in a rematch would still get less money.
That's how big Brock Lesnar has become.
"He's a dominant champion, has looked invincible at times and showed huge heart in his last fight," UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta said of Lesnar, a former NCAA wrestling champion and World Wrestling Entertainment pay-per-view star.
So after making nearly 10 times more than his last two challengers, Lesnar has achieved a popularity few pro fighters attain. Even if he loses, he'll still win the battle of bank deposits.
Less than a 2-to-1 underdog in Las Vegas sports books, Velasquez, 28, has already accepted his fate: "He's the most recognizable guy in the UFC," he says of Lesnar.
In boxing, tradition has been that a challenger who upsets a champion wins the leverage to be the top earner in any rematch. It happened years ago when Olympian Leon Spinks upset Muhammad Ali, and more recently between middleweights Kelly Pavlik and Jermain Taylor and junior-middleweights Winky Wright and Shane Mosley.
A champion's extreme popularity can alter that tradition, though. When Oscar De La Hoya lost to Shane Mosley in 2000, De La Hoya still out-earned the Pomona fighter in their rematch three years later -- $9.5 million to $1.5 million.
Such disparity, however, is typically reserved for the poster children of combat sports or the result of a take-it-or-leave-it rematch clause.
Lesnar, 33, downplayed the suggestion he has passed welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and middleweight champion Anderson Silva as the face of the UFC.
"I'm a former amateur wrestler, a former professional wrestler, a wannabe NFL football player," Lesnar said. "And here I am a UFC heavyweight champion. So, do I look at it any differently? No. Do I go to bed holding onto my UFC title every night? No."
UFC accountants undoubtedly sleep better knowing Lesnar (5-1) has recovered from an intestinal infection that threatened to end his career. This will be his second fight in four months. In July, Lesnar rallied from a first-round beating by Shane Carwin to win his comeback fight by second-round submission.
Lesnar's three fights in Las Vegas since 2008 are among the seven richest gates in the sport's history in Nevada, generating nearly $14 million, with more than 2 million pay-per-view buys at about $50 a pop.
"People love the heavyweight champ, he's the baddest man on the planet," UFC President Dana White said. "Boxing's heavyweight champ is not that. The Klitschkos are the cure for insomnia. Brock is the exact opposite of a Klitschko. He wants to go down as the best heavyweight of all time, and if he can continue his dominance in this fight, he's on his way to doing it."
White and Fertitta say boxing's formula to overpay surprise winners is flawed because it creates difficult negotiations that may block a bout. Ego-driven athletes dictate terms that number-crunching businessmen know aren't always reasonable.
The UFC typically locks its fighters into six-fight contracts.
In August, beaten lightweight champion and mixed martial arts legend B.J. Penn was paid $150,000 in his rematch against surprise new champion Frankie Edgar, who was paid only a guaranteed $48,000. Edgar won again and received a $48,000 victory bonus.
"B.J. was obviously a legitimate superstar in this sport, and you've got to pay him respect," Fertitta said. "There's not an exact formula. We figure out how these guys fight. If they do a good job, we reward them. Frankie's on his way to becoming a superstar."
The UFC contract model contains provisions based on bumps in salary for fighters who become champions, with "huge goodwill and bonuses if these guys fight hard," Fertitta said. "At the end of the day, we bonus guys for good performances and we're the only promoters in the world who take care of fighters over and beyond what the contract calls for.
"It's discretionary, like in our casino business when you see a guy doing a good job. It's an incentive to do better, and a lot better system for the fan than in boxing, where a guy can say, 'I'm getting a million tonight, I'm going to cruise."'
Boxing promoter Richard Schaefer scoffed that "if the pay-per-view numbers I see on them are accurate," the UFC "model is all about empowering the UFC, at the cost of the athletes. They are grossly underpaying their fighters compared to boxers."
Lesnar's guaranteed purses in his last two fights haven't topped $1 million, while boxing star Floyd Mayweather Jr. has earned more than $60 million (with pay-per-view profits counted) in his last two bouts.
Lou DiBella, another boxing promoter, said the UFC pay system works only because "they're a de facto monopoly. They control their industry. In boxing, it's every man for himself fighting for a piece of pie that keeps shrinking."
White admits his organization's dominance creates hard feelings -- for rivals, and sometimes among his fighters.
"Too bad, it's a . . . business," he said. "Everyone thinks they should get more."
Where: Honda Center.
TV: Pay-per-view, $44.95, at 7 p.m. PDT; undercard, SPIKE TV, 6 p.m.; first bout, 5:20.
Who: Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar (5-1) vs. Cain Velasquez (8-0); Jake Shields (25-4-1) vs. Martin Kampmann (17-3), welterweights; Tito Ortiz (16-7-1) vs. Matt Hamill (10-2), light-heavyweights.