Cain Velasquez (9-1, 7-1 UFC) vs. Antonio Silva (16-3, 0-0 UFC)
The Matchup: There is not really much to be learned from Velasquez’s abbreviated appearance against Junior dos Santos at UFC on Fox 1 in November, unless one considers the mixed martial arts platitude “anyone can get caught” to be astute analysis. It was certainly a disappointing return to action for Velasquez, who had been sidelined by a shoulder injury since he captured the heavyweight title in October 2010. Despite his relative inactivity over the past year-and-a-half, the fact remains that the former Arizona State University wrestler is still one of the best heavyweights in the sport today.
Silva, who became Velasquez’s opponent when Frank Mir was elevated to main-event status, makes his UFC debut on the heels of a surprising knockout loss to Daniel Cormier in the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix. Cormier used his quickness to get inside on the massive Brazilian and land combinations with accuracy and power. Velasquez’s excellent agility and athleticism figure to give “Bigfoot” fits, as well. The American Kickboxing Academy product mixes his punches and kicks nicely and is extremely effective fighting in close quarters. He seamlessly transitions from striking to takedowns, and his ground-and-pound is as relentless as that of any heavyweight.
Much of Silva’s success depends on his sheer size. At 6-foot-4 and weighing upwards of 280 pounds on fight night, he can be a load for anyone to handle. Silva is not especially athletic, however, and he often closes the gap by pressing forward, clinching and grinding his foes down from there. His bulk makes for withering top pressure, which he displayed in earning the signature victory of his career against Fedor Emelianenko. That is how the former EliteXC heavyweight king would prefer to work against Velasquez: land a couple shots on the feet and then get the fight to the ground. He will find it to be a tall order against a man whose work rate is legendary. When Velasquez has been taken down in the past, he has quickly returned to his feet.
Meanwhile, Silva will have to be wary of defending his opponent’s shots. Velasquez, one of the best in the UFC in significant strikes landed per minute as well as takedown accuracy, is no one-trick pony. While Silva possesses underrated jiu-jitsu, Velasquez is not the easiest mark. The former champion is adept at passing guard in the middle of his takedowns, and his movement on the mat will make it tough for Silva to regain the position.
The Pick: This is harsh welcome to the Octagon for Silva, who will find it difficult to get anything consistent going. Velasquez will collapse the pocket and rock Silva in close before finishing the fight with ground-and-pound in the opening frame.
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