UFC 160: Fight card preview
The heavyweights return to Pay-Per-View on Saturday night for UFC 160: Velasquez vs. Bigfoot 2 from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
A pair of heavyweight clashes top the card as Mexican-American kingpin Cain Velasquez defends his heavyweight throne in a rematch against Brazilian behemoth Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva, while former juggernaut Junior dos Santos looks to return to the win column vs. resurgent wrecking machine Mark Hunt.
Here's a full breakdown of the lineup:
Main Card (PPV, 10 p.m. ET):
Cain Velasquez (11-1) vs. Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva (18-4) - UFC heavyweight title
One year since their initial encounter at UFC 146, the heavyweight champ Velasquez and No. 1 contender "Bigfoot" are on another collision course as they face off for the sport's most coveted title.
Velasquez, 30, a two-time NCAA Division I All-American and two-time Pac-10 champion, reclaimed the heavyweight belt from dos Santos in their rematch at UFC 155 in December.
A sharp boxing game, unrelenting pressure and world-class wrestling were all critical tools in Velasquez's immaculate performance as he broke dos Santos down over the course of five one-sided rounds, adding yet another victim to a résumé that includes Brock Lesnar, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Ben Rothwell and Cheick Kongo.
Velasquez, the first Mexican-American heavyweight champion in boxing or mixed martial arts, completely dominated Silva in their first meeting. Silva's decision to throw a kick led to Velasquez putting the Brazilian on his back, where he unloaded with vicious ground-and-pound en route to an emphatic first-round stoppage. Despite Silva's recent success, oddsmakers are predicting a similar outcome this time around.
A product of American Kickboxing Academy, Velasquez is also a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, though boxing and wrestling remain the focus of his offense. His potent jab and precise overhand right are among the best weapons in his arsenal. Velasquez's 57% significant striking accuracy ranks fifth in UFC history. Meanwhile, his 6.37 strikes landed per minute is a promotional record.
Silva, 33, a BJJ, judo and karate black belt, stunned Alistair Overeem via third-round knockout at UFC 156 in February. In his prior appearance, Silva finished previously unbeaten Travis Browne in the first round.
The back-to-back victories followed successive setbacks at the hands of Velasquez and Daniel Cormier, thus rebuilding the Brazilian's confidence. During his Strikeforce tenure, "Bigfoot" earned notable wins over former UFC title holder Andrei Arlovski and Russian legend Fedor Emelianenko.
Anchored at Black House and American Top Team, Silva's size and strength are his most imposing traits. Always tipping the scales near the 265-pound limit, the former EliteXC and Cage Rage heavyweight champion is an enormous physical specimen, which often works to his advantage. A five-inch reach advantage could serve him well in this rematch.
Evidenced in his 2011 pounding of Emelianenko, Silva is highly dangerous when he employs his grappling game from top position. With massive fists and devastating power, Silva is also capable of knocking opponents out cold, which we witnessed in his last two Octagon outings.
Although Silva is on a streak, he's in for a stylistic nightmare against the ferocious champion. Velasquez will push a feverish pace, inevitably planting "Bigfoot" on his back and picking up where he left off in their last go-around. With unprecedented conditioning and athleticism for a heavyweight, Velasquez should turn in yet another stellar performance.
Verdict: Velasquez via TKO, Round 1
Junior dos Santos (15-2) vs. Mark Hunt (9-7)
Two heavyweights on opposite ends of the momentum spectrum will face off as dos Santos tries to bounce back from his first career loss against the red-hot knockout artist Hunt.
Dos Santos, 29, tore through the heavyweight division between 2008 and 2012, defeating the likes of Fabricio Werdum, Stefan Struve, Gabriel Gonzaga, Roy Nelson, Shane Carwin, Frank Mir and Velasquez.
However, dos Santos' momentum came to a screeching halt as he was completely outmatched and thoroughly dominated by Velasquez in their championship rematch in December, losing his title by a shutout unanimous decision.
Defensively, dos Santos offered little to combat the persistent assault from Velasquez. But few heavyweights, if any at all, are capable of pushing that type of pace. Dos Santos is usually pressing the action, landing 5.51 strikes per minute, which ranks sixth in UFC history. Additionally, dos Santos' nine career knockdowns ranks seventh.
The Team Nogueira product, a BJJ black belt and Luiz Dorea-trained boxer, remains one of the most dangerous pound-for-pound fighters on the roster. Armed with a superb sprawl and accurate boxing, dos Santos should waste little time reasserting himself as an elite contender.
Hunt, 39, is riding an unlikely four-fight winning streak, including back-to-back knockouts of Struve and Kongo. Despite some success competing for the now-defunct Pride Fighting Championships, including a pair of decisions over Wanderlei Silva and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, the New Zealand native was told by the UFC to collect the rest of his paychecks from the comfort of his own home.
A competitor at heart, Hunt insisted he get a shot in the UFC despite a five-fight losing streak. His bad luck continued in his debut as he succumbed to a first-round submission at the hands of Sean McCorkle before going on a tear in the division and now finding himself only one win away from a title shot.
The 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix champion is a ruthless power puncher with tremendous knockout power. Despite a limited ground game, Hunt managed to avert danger against Struve in his most recent bout, escaping some precarious positions before breaking the Dutchman's jaw with a huge left hook.
With all due respect to Hunt, all of his recent knockout victims have been susceptible to eating big shots. Dos Santos has rarely been on the losing end of exchanges, but in his loss to Velasquez, he proved that he's capable of absorbing a tremendous amount of punishment, which is not necessarily a beneficial stat for career longevity.
Although Hunt's career revitalization has added some intrigue to the stacked heavyweight division, he still possesses far too many holes to be taken seriously as a top title contender.
Hunt's sturdy chin is unquestionable, having only been knocked out once against Melvin Manhoef in 2008, but dos Santos will hunt him down with his sharp boxing.
A man with Hunt's power can always change the landscape of a fight with a single accurately placed blow, but the Brazilian should have his bases covered after suffering a brutal beatdown in his first UFC blemish. The longer the fight goes, the more it favors dos Santos.
Although many pundits are expecting dos Santos to fall back on his BJJ background, he'll likely do just fine picking Hunt apart with quick counters and accurate combinations. With Hunt back-pedaling, dos Santos should capitalize, dropping the "Super Samoan" slugger with a fistic flurry.
Verdict: Dos Santos via KO, Round 1
Glover Teixeira (20-2) vs. James Te Huna (16-5)
Fast-rising light heavyweight contenders will go toe to toe as the Brazilian berserker Teixeira tangles with the Australian assailant Te Huna.
Teixeira, 33, is riding a highly impressive 18-fight winning streak, including a trio of UFC victories over Kyle Kingsbury, Fabio Maldonado and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
A training partner of UFC legend Chuck Liddell throughout his prime, the John Hackleman-trained BJJ black belt is as well-rounded as they come, threatening foes with his striking, wrestling and submission pedigree.
Te Huna, 31, is on an impressive four-fight run of his own, dispatching Ryan Jimmo, Joey Beltran, Aaron Rosa and Ricardo Romero since his lone UFC setback against top title contender Alexander Gustafsson.
The heavy-hitting New Zealander has knocked out 10 career opponents, so the Brazilian favorite must be wary of his power.
However, Teixeira should have the technical advantage. A good blend of takedowns to complement his striking and positional game should carry the Brazilian to a triumphant decision.
Verdict: Teixeira via Decision
Gray Maynard (11-1-1) vs. T.J. Grant (20-5)
In what UFC president Dana White has called a title eliminator, the former title challenger Maynard returns for his first bout in nearly a year against the sweltering Canadian contender Grant.
Maynard, 34, a former three-time NCAA Division I All-American, is coming off a forgettable split decision win over Clay Guida last June. The victory followed a draw and subsequent fourth-round knockout loss against Frankie Edgar in 2011.
Throughout his Octagon campaign, "The Ultimate Fighter 5" veteran has defeated the likes of Edgar, Jim Miller, Nate Diaz and Kenny Florian.
Although Maynard comes from a traditional wrestling background, he's adapted well to the boxing game, adding a dangerous element to his strong fundamental base. Maynard effectively avoids damage and maintains advantageous positions. His 72.7% significant strike defense and 86.4% takedown defense rates both rank fifth in UFC history.
The longtime Xtreme Couture pupil now trains alongside the likes of Josh Thomson at San Jose's American Kickboxing Academy, home to UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez. Maynard has also spent some time training alongside featherweight champ Jose Aldo at Nova Uniao in Brazil.
After undergoing surgery to repair damage in his knee, Maynard is already being prepped as a potential title challenger for Benson Henderson.
Grant, 29, a BJJ brown belt fighting out of Nova Scotia, Canada, has looked outstanding since committing to the 155-pound class.
Mixed results at welterweight prompted his weight cut, where he's since amassed a four-fight winning streak over Shane Roller, Carlo Prater, Evan Dunham and Matt Wiman.
Throughout much of his career, Grant has relied on his wrestling and submissions to control opponents on the canvas. However, his most recent victories over Dunham and Wiman have showcased a vastly improved muay thai game. Grant's utilization of perfectly timed counters and vicious elbows to overwhelm Wiman in January was nothing short of brilliant.
Maynard's extended period of inactivity coupled with Grant's recent improvements could lead to an upset Saturday night.
Grant will need to time Maynard's excellent takedowns, while making him pay with quick combinations in close quarters. If Grant can scramble effectively and bait Maynard into a traditional kickboxing contest, he could surprise many people by eking out a hard-fought decision.
Verdict: Grant via Decision
Donald Cerrone (19-5) vs. K.J. Noons (11-6)
In what should be an entertaining lightweight scrap, the Colorado native Cerrone battles the debuting Hawaiian Noons.
Cerrone, 30, is on the rebound trail following a first-round TKO loss against Anthony Pettis in January.
Since 2010, Cerrone has only dropped fights against Pettis, Nate Diaz and Benson Henderson, while earning quality wins over Melvin Guillard, Jeremy Stephens, Dennis Siver, Charles Oliveira and Jamie Varner.
The Greg Jackson-trained fan favorite is a former bull rider and extreme sports enthusiast. In fact, Cerrone's wakeboarding and rock climbing adventures were likely an integral factor in the UFC's decision to implement a policy prohibiting fighters from engaging in dangerous activities prior to a fight.
That didn't stop Cerrone, however, who reportedly fell 40 feet after three of his four safety anchors blew out on a rock climbing trip. Cerrone's near-death experience prompted him to enlist the aid of a sports psychologist ahead of his return to the Octagon.
Noons, 30, enters the UFC on a two-fight skid, dropping successive decisions against Ryan Couture and Josh Thomson under the Strikeforce banner. In fact, Noons is only 1-4 in his past five fights.
But Noons' impressive kickboxing, Sanshou and Kenpo karate background could be a stylistic nightmare for some opponents. When he made the jump to welterweight to challenge then-Strikeforce champion Nick Diaz in October 2010, Noons actually landed his fair share of combinations in a competitive five-round decision setback.
In November 2007, Noons captured the EliteXC lightweight title with a first-round TKO stoppage of Diaz due to a laceration. Since then, he's earned wins over the likes of Yves Edwards, Jorge Gurgel and Billy Evangelista.
The San Diego-based striker has improved his takedown defense, scrambling well out of dangerous spots against superior grapplers.
But Cerrone has many more tools at his disposal. In addition to being a savvy striker and former kickboxer in his own right, Cerrone is an underrated submission stylist who possesses genuine killer instinct.
Cerrone, who lands 5.6 significant strikes per minute, which ranks fourth in promotional history, should employ volume striking to outpoint the Hawaiian newcomer. He should also score with takedowns and test Noons' submission defense throughout the course of an entertaining tilt that goes the distance.
Verdict: Cerrone via Decision