Vicious ground-and-pound and overwhelming cardio buoy Cain Velasquez. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas will play host to a heavyweight extravaganza for the second time in as many years.
Just 364 days after their first meeting, Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder Cain Velasquez at UFC 160 on Saturday will defend his crown against Antonio Silva -- the same man he defeated to earn a rematch against Junior dos Santos and a chance to reclaim the gold he once held. Velasquez later capitalized, as he dethroned the Brazilian in a one-sided unanimous decision.
Speaking of dos Santos, he faces 2001 World Grand Prix winner Mark Hunt, the fighter with the longest active winning streak in the UFC heavyweight division.
How We Got Here: According to the mythological playbook we thought the UFC was following, Velasquez should be attempting the first defense of his title against former Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem. Silva shattered those par-per-view dreams by figuratively shattering Overeem’s face at UFC 156 in February. With no real title-worthy opponent in the heavyweight cupboards, the rematch no one thought would happen will indeed happen. Silva is a talented, seasoned heavyweight, but he was bludgeoned and bloodied so badly by Velasquez at UFC 146 that it seems almost morbid to put him back in the cage again against the champion ... Former titleholder dos Santos and rejuvenated kiwi Hunt will square off in the co-main event, with the winner likely next up for heavyweight gold ... Glover Teixeira faces another test, this time against James Te Huna, who is riding a four-fight winning streak ... Gray Maynard and T.J. Grant have been told by UFC President Dana White that the winner of their scrap receives a shot against lightweight boss Benson Henderson ... Donald Cerrone and K.J. Noons get the main card started in a fun tilt at 155 pounds.
Hot Potato: The UFC heavyweights are playing hot potato with the belt, and it has been that way for as long as the title has been around. While other UFC champions like Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre and Jon Jones have vice-like grips on their crowns, the same cannot be said at heavyweight. Only Tim Sylvia, Brock Lesnar and Randy Couture have made two consecutive title defenses at 265 pounds. Compare that to “The Spider” (10), St. Pierre (eight) and Jones (five). Heavyweight is supposed to be the money division in combat sports. Big dudes throwing big punches equals big money, but a longstanding, marketable heavyweight champion has always eluded the UFC. Can Velasquez be the one?
Inside Track: One simply cannot call Velasquez the first unbeatable UFC heavyweight champion when the one to man to defeat him, dos Santos, is waiting in the wings and still in his prime. However, it sure is tempting. Dos Santos ended Velasquez’s first title reign with one punch at UFC on Fox 1, but the Arizona State University All-American wrestler put together a 25-minute destructive clinic against the Brazilian in the rematch. The two heavyweights may fight each other five times before their careers are over, but Velasquez has the inside track in this rivalry.
Spoiler Alert: Dangerous underdogs are a funny lot to quantify. If they keep upsetting good opposition, the oddsmakers take notice and start making them favorites; it is your basic cause and effect. However, “Bigfoot” Silva gets no such love. In his last five fights, he has been the betting underdog four times, upsetting Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem and Travis Browne during that stretch. He is a 4-to-1 underdog against Velasquez -- the exact same odds he faced when he upset Emelianenko. Just some food for thought ... Style-wise, Hunt makes for a dangerous underdog against dos Santos. Both men are heavy hitters with solid chins who can swing for 15 minutes. Think about the consequences and repercussions for a moment. Two and a half years ago, Hunt was on a six-fight losing streak punctuated by a 63-second submission loss to Sean McCorkle. Now, he has won four in a row and stands one victory away from vying for UFC gold. Hunt entered the UFC on a technicality in his Pride Fighting Championships contract, and he has almost turned it into the greatest comeback in MMA history.
Say What: Outside of Gilbert Melendez, no lightweight has been a consistent top 10 fighter longer than Maynard. Despite his success, “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 semifinalist did not shy away from showing his disgust for a split decision win over Clay Guida at UFC on FX 4. Apparently, having one judge rule against him was enough to set him off. If a second judge had followed suit, Maynard was prepared to walk away from the sport, or so he told MMA Junkie: “Most of the time, people get pissed at what I’m doing [in a fight], but that time, I got pissed at what he was doing. It’s an emotional sport. That happened, and I thank God I got the win on that because I don’t even think I’d be in the sport right now.”
Useless Fact: Teixeira holds the third-longest winning streak (18) of any current UFC fighter, behind only Renan Barao (20) and Khabib Nurmagomedov (19). Teixeira’s run spans the UFC, Shooto, World Extreme Cagefighting and other promotions. Here is hoping the UFC gives him a top 10 opponent if he beats Te Huna.
Awards Watch: Cerrone and Noons should provide plenty of fun in a “Fight of the Night” kind of way. I have a weird feeling this bout was booked to facilitate Noons’ release, but it will be so entertaining that they will both stick around, no matter who wins … “Knockout of the Night” is tricky. The power punching present in the Hunt-dos Santos matchup would be enough to topple any heavyweight, but we are talking about two of the best chins in the division. Think immovable object meets unstoppable force. Plan B: George Roop-Brian Bowles ends with one of the two staring up at the lights wondering what happened … “Submission of the Night” is the most difficult award to pick -- unless Ronaldo Souza is fighting Chris Camozzi. That rings true here. Grant is more than capable of submitting Maynard, and Velasquez nearly pulled off a great armbar against dos Santos in their last meeting. However, Te Huna has five losses, four of them by submission. Teixeira should lock down something enjoyable in a scramble and cash a substantial bonus check for his troubles.