Cain Velasquez tackling one of UFC's most difficult tasks: defending the heavyweight title (Yahoo! Sports)


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LAS VEGAS – There have been 13 successful defenses of the UFC heavyweight title since the belt was created at UFC 12 in Dothan, Ala., on Feb. 7, 1997.

In contrast, Anderson Silva, the UFC's brilliant middleweight champion, has 10 defenses himself since winning the belt in 2006.

Randy Couture and Tim Sylvia each had three successful defenses, coming over two separate reigns as heavyweight champion. Brock Lesnar and Andre Arlovski each defended the belt successfully twice, Arlovski's coming over two reigns. Maurice Smith, Kevin Randleman and Junior dos Santos each had one successful defense.

That is it. Mark Coleman, the first champion, Bas Rutten, Josh Barnett, Ricco Rodriguez, Frank Mir, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez have each won the belt, but failed to retain it.

Velasquez gets a second opportunity to make his first defense on Saturday when he puts his newly won belt on the line against Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva at the MGM Grand Garden in the main event of UFC 160.

Velasquez initially won the belt when he routed Lesnar at UFC 121 on Oct. 23, 2010. He was knocked out by dos Santos in his first title defense, then regained it from dos Santos at UFC 155 on Dec. 29.

He's had a taste of life as champion and contender and, clearly, being champion comes out way ahead.

"I'm pretty eager to hang onto this thing," he said.

[Related: Antonio Silva eager to prove he's a cut above in UFC 160 rematch ]

UFC history, though, proves Velasquez will have his hands full on Saturday despite the way he brutalized Silva a year ago at UFC 146 in a non-title match.

Including interim titles, there have been 33 heavyweight championship fights in UFC history. Seven were vacant, but in the other 26, the challenger won 13. So half the time over a 16-year period, the champion lost his belt the first time he put it on the line.

Velasquez, though, isn't the kind to be worried about such things. He doesn't even regard himself as the champion as he prepares to meet Silva.

"What I have learned is that the smart thing to do is to consider we're fighting for a new belt and that neither of us is the champion," Velasquez said. "The truth of it is, what has happened in the past really matters when it comes to this fight. What happens on Saturday night is going to determine what happens in Saturday's fight, not what happened in my last fight or any fight before that."

The way that Velasquez handled Silva, though, would suggest that perhaps the defending champions might move to the positive side of the ledger. Velasquez dealt Silva one of the most brutal beatings any fighter ever absorbed when they met at UFC 146 on May 26, 2012.

Velasquez caught a kick and took Silva down less than 10 seconds into the fight. He opened a gaping wound between Silva's eyes with a major elbow about 15 seconds into the bout. And for the rest of the way until referee Josh Rosenthal mercifully halted the carnage at 3 minutes, 36 seconds of the first round, Velasquez pummeled him.

It's curious that 365 days later, they meet again, but UFC president Dana White said those who say Silva doesn't deserve the shot are missing the point.

"Everybody was talking about Alistair Overeem and what he was going to do," White said. "If we were going into this fight and it was Alistair Overeem against Cain, people would be going [expletive] nuts waiting for it. It would have been a [expletive] huge fight.

"But Bigfoot Silva went out there and he knocked Alistair Overeem the [expletive] out. This guy is massive and he can knock out anyone if he hits them. Nobody wanted to give him a chance against Overeem and I kept saying, 'Let's wait to see what happens in the fight.' Now, nobody wants to give him a chance against Cain, but I have to say the same thing: 'Let's wait to see what happens in the fight.' When you have two massive guys in there banging at each other, you never know what can happen."

If Silva tries a low kick, he's probably in for the same fate he suffered last year. He knows that, and so does Velasquez.

But Silva, who conceded he was nervous when making his UFC debut against Velasquez, vows he's far better prepared this time around. He's not going to give up an easy takedown by going for a leg kick, he said, and he prepared for the bout by training with American ex-Olympic wrestler Steve Mocco.

The longer that Silva can keep the fight on his feet, the better his chances.

"I've worked so hard to get better with my striking and I believe in it totally right now," Silva said.

Silva came to MMA as a jiu-jitsu fighter. Velasquez came to it as a wrestler and, like Silva, had to learn to strike. Velasquez is now one of the UFC's hardest-hitting fighters.

He was tested by Sports Science prior to his title-winning effort over Lesnar. He threw a left hook into a heavy bag that had an accelerometer inside that measured the force of the punch. According to John Brenkus, the show's host, Velasquez's left hook generated 2,230 pounds of force, more than any boxer that had been tested.

Velasquez laughed and said, "I thought the numbers were wrong, because I was never known as a heavy puncher," though he concedes he's spent hours in the gym refining his technique.

If the numbers are correct, it would suggest that Silva will stand and trade with Velasquez at his own peril.

Velasquez is a low-key sort who isn't hung up or impressed by records or statistics.

He finds it mildly amusing how often the challenger defeats the champion in UFC heavyweight title matches, but he knows that history will have no say on the outcome on Saturday.

"I'm expecting him to be a lot better," Velasquez said. "Look, the guy is coming off wins over Travis Browne and Overeem, and that alone is impressive. But when you look at what he brings, I know it's no easy fight. There really is no such thing as an easy fight, even if you think that fight [with Silva] was [easy].

"In all honesty, it was not. I took advantage of a situation and I went out and did what I had to do. But he's going to be a different fighter and I have to be prepared to beat that guy, not the guy I fought last year."

Related MMA coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
Junior dos Santos: Fighting is worth the health risks
Mark Hunt revels in the role of underdog
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