Velasquez (11-1 MMA, 9-1 UFC) is the favorite leading into UFC 160 for a reason: He’s an incredibly talented fighter. He’s a well-rounded wrestler and fierce striker, a takedown and ground-and-pound artist, and not too shabby in the stamina department, as evidenced by his revenge win at UFC 155 over Junior dos Santos that put the belt back around his waist. But his fate at the Saturday pay-per-view event will be greatly aided or hindered by whether Silva (18-4 MMA, 2-1 UFC), whose power is undercut by his underwhelming speed, does what he’s done in recent fights: wait.
UFC 160 takes place Saturday at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Main-card fights air live on PPV following prelims on FX and Facebook.
Recently, Silva has lived up to his imposing appearance when his opponents have been on the ropes. When Travis Browne tore his hamstring at UFC on FX 5, Silva closed in for the finish. When Alistair Overeem left his guard down at UC 156, he capitalized with big punches. If we’ve learned anything from his recent run, it’s that “Bigfoot” has the power to put anybody in trouble on a moment’s notice.
But his timing needs to be on point, especially against the smaller, faster Velasquez. Whether he’s pressuring the champion or countering attacks, he can’t wait a moment to pull the trigger.
Silva didn’t get any sort of chance at UFC 146. Velasquez deposited him to the mat on his first kick, and from there, the fight essentially was over. Velasquez quickly landed an elbow that altered the course of the fight, sending blood cascading into Silva’s eyes and taking him out of his game. When he didn’t move fast to move his considerable bulk from the canvas, it was only a matter of time before Velasquez landed a telling blow.
Would the fight have been different if Silva had gotten to his feet? Maybe, and maybe not. But it surely would have been more competitive.
Their first matchup was Velasquez’s first since the loss of his title to dos Santos at UFC on FOX 1 in November 2011. It was put together to rebuild his confidence on the road back to a title, and he wasted little time in putting the fight where he was most comfortable. Now, the champ may afford Silva more time on his feet, especially since he managed to dominate the division’s most heavily hyped striker in dos Santos when they met late this past year. That means Silva has a chance to land the kind of fight-altering punches that have paved the way for his improbable rise in the heavyweight division. But he won’t do it if he’s on his heels.
Velasquez twice has been felled by big punchers (though only one officially beat him). Cheick Kongo came a punch or two away from knocking him out at UFC 99, and Velasquez wrestled his way to safety. Dos Santos caught him with an overhand right and took his title. So he’s hittable.
If Silva can’t land the big shot, he could use his bulk to smother the champ against the cage before getting top position on the mat, where his heaviness would be a severe problem for the smaller Velasquez. But it’s a tall proposition, and bettors aren’t giving the challenger much of a chance to pull off another upset. Velasquez is as big as an 8-to-1 favorite.
Title-eliminator co-main sets up rematch – or ‘Rocky’ remake
Former champ dos Santos (15-2 MMA, 9-1 UFC) now knows how Velasquez felt in his first fight with Silva; he’s in the same spot. But it remains to be seen how he’ll handle his position.
The Brazilian’s bout with Mark Hunt (9-7 MMA, 4-1 UFC) is more than a fight to rebuild his confidence – it’s a near-official title eliminator, though some doubt has been cast on whether the surging Hunt will get the nod if victorious. Nevertheless, a loss would certainly torpedo a big-money rematch with Velasquez, so the stakes are almost as high as can be.
And given that he has so much to lose, it would be understandable if dos Santos did as Velasquez against Silva in taking the fight southward. The difference, of course, is that dos Santos is not especially known for his grappling. But with the threats that Hunt presents, it might be a better option than anything else.
Hunt, who replaced an injured Alistair Overeem, doesn’t have the well-chiseled abs of the strapping young heavyweight. He’s getting old. He doesn’t exactly have the record of a title contender, either. But he has an unbelievable chin and lunch boxes for hands. One shot to the jaw from him, and you might forget your name, let alone the fact that you came to fight that night.
After racking up an abysmal 5-7 record, Hunt has won his past four fights, knocking out three of them in style. Dos Santos, meanwhile, was outpointed by Velasquez, which snapped a 10-fight win streak that included eight stoppages.
Sure, dos Santos has heavy hands, and it could be that he feels confident enough to stand and trade punches with Hunt. But if he’s serious about letting nothing in the way of another shot at Velasquez, he’s much better served stuffing the New Zealand native against the cage and taking the fight down. As much as Hunt’s takedown defense and grappling skills have improved, they’re still average at best when compared to most fighters at the top of their divisions. Not too much is known about dos Santos’ ground game, but at the very least, the fight is a toss-up on the mat.
Takedowns might not be the only thing fans get to see more of from dos Santos. They could also catch more of his kicks, which would help him stay away from Hunt’s bombs.
For Hunt, the job is simple: get inside and land. He’s not going to go for a submission, though he might try a takedown. The thing is just to do damage and stay out of trouble long enough to strike.
Other main-card bouts
Glover Teixeira (20-2 MMA, 3-0 UFC) vs. James Te Huna (16-5 MMA, 5-1 UFC): Anybody seen a light-heavyweight contender? With most of them trampled underfoot by champ Jon Jones, and Alexander Gustafsson queued up for the next try, this bout could earmark the guy one step behind Lyoto Machida in the ladder of hopefuls. The heavily hyped Teixeira didn’t wow in his previous fight against ex-champ Quinton Jackson, but he did earn his second straight octagon win after a five-year win streak in regional competition. That puts him on the radar for a future title shot, but Te Huna, who’s won his past four and replaced an injured Ryan Bader, is poised to steal that thunder. Both of them bring heavy hands to the matchup, but Teixeira might choose the path of less resistance and take the fight to the ground. Still, it’s a fight that could end suddenly and explosively, or drag out to the scorecards. A middle ground seems unlikely.
Gray Maynard (11-1-1 MMA, 9-1-1 UFC) vs. T.J. Grant (20-5 MMA, 7-3 UFC): Despite star power higher on the event’s main card, this lightweight matchup is one of the most significant fights of the evening given its implications in the division. The winner of the bout is set to fight champ Benson Henderson, which could net Maynard his third shot at the title after two failed bids against Frankie Edgar. Grant, meanwhile, could come out as the underdog story of the year. Once an inconsistent welterweight, he’s won four straight at 155 pounds, including a pair of impressive wins over Evan Dunham and Matt Wiman. In Maynard, he gets the biggest challenge of his career. Stylistically, “The Bully” brings a boxing-heavy striking attack to a first-class wrestling game while Grant relies on muay Thai and jiu-jitsu. Maynard, of course, has more experience with top-tier opposition. But he’s also fought more sporadically in the past two years as he’s moved from Xtreme Couture to American Kickboxing Academy. Grant, meanwhile, carries the type of momentum that can’t be discounted in one of the deepest divisions in the sport. Although he’s the decided underdog, an upset isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Donald Cerrone (19-5 MMA, 6-2 UFC) vs. KJ Noons (11-6 MMA, 0-0 UFC): Both lightweights are in need of an adrenaline shot for their careers, which recently have seen major setbacks. For Cerrone, it was a loss to red-hot contender Anthony Pettis. Noons, a onetime welterweight title challenger and former EliteXC champ, got a bad call in a fight against Ryan Couture in Strikeforce’s final event. Cerrone has more to lose than Noons, who is 1-4 in his past five outings. Still, it’s more of a lose-lose for “Cowboy,” who was widely considered to be on the fast track to a title shot before Nate Diaz out-struck him at UFC 141. Noons, who brings sharp hands from his former life as a pro boxer, needs to get inside on the lanky Cerrone, who recently said he expects his opponent to take him to the mat. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem for Cerrone, who’s no slouch in the submission game. But for Noons, it might not be the best option for convincing the UFC brass to keep him around. In any event, this should be an action-packed affair.
The full UFC 160 card includes:
MAIN CARD (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
PRELIMINARY CARD (FX, 8 p.m. ET)
PRELIMINARY CARD (Facebook, 6:35 p.m. ET)
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