Cain Velasquez hasn't fought in over a year thanks to shoulder surgery. While unbeaten and the world heavyweight champion, Velasquez's chin has been a bit of a question mark given that Cheick Kongo (admittedly a good striker) was able to wobble him in a few times in their 2009 bout. Cain overcame that by taking Kongo down and controlling him with wrestling and ground-and-pound en route to a comfortable decision victory, but still, one wonders what would happen if Cain got rocked and then found himself on the mat with, say, a BJJ brown belt?
Junior Dos Santos has a BJJ brown belt but we've never seen him use it, as all seven of his UFC victories have come via decisions, knockouts and one 'submission' from Mirko Cro Cop, who gave it up when Junior's punches broke his orbital bone. While there's no real reason to doubt that Dos Santos is good on the ground, we still haven't seen how effective his MMA submission game actually is. It's also worth noting that while Dos Santos packs a mighty wallop, he hasn't been able to finish Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin in his previous two fights, though he gave both men a hefty beating. Nelson and Carwin are tough, sure, but JDS didn't look at dominant facing higher-caliber UFC heavyweights. In fact, Dos Santos looked a bit winded as both of those fights went into the third round.
So you have long layoff and possible weak chin vs. question mark of a ground game and cardio issues. I'm focusing on the negatives since that's more interesting than just saying these are clearly the two best heavyweight fighters in the world, which they are, and why Saturday's fight is going to be such a huge tossup. I THINK, if all things were equal, I'd favour Velasquez because he can outwrestle Junior into a third round and beyond, perhaps tiring the Brazilian out. However, that year of ring rust is a big worry for me. I hate picking guys who have been out of action a long time, especially when that layoff is ended by facing the undisputed top contender for your championship.
Saturday's heavyweight title fight between Velasquez and Dos Santos is the biggest fight in UFC history. It will mark the UFC's network television debut and the entire show is (theoretically) just the one fight. So yeah, just a little bit of pressure on the guys to make things exciting, eh? This could put even more pressure on Velasquez, since his path to victory might come via some Randy Couture-esque dirty boxing and holding his opponent against the cage wall. It isn't the most exciting strategy in the world and wouldn't be what either UFC or FOX would like to see in this huge primetime debut. If Cain feels in any way pressured to keep things "exciting" and forced out of his gameplan, that would be very, very unfortunate.
Man, again I'm focusing on a negative when this is a legitimately fantastic matchup, one of the greatest in MMA history. You could hardly have a bigger potential fight for the UFC's first venture into network primetime. There's a good argument to be made that the epic Forrest Griffin/Stephan Bonnar fight on the first Ultimate Fighter finale 'made' the UFC as a legitimate televised sport, and if Velasquez/Dos Santos is even in the ballpark of that match, this will be a bonanza of a night for mixed martial arts.
Prediction: screw it, Velasquez's long absence scared me off. I'm picking Dos Santos via KO in the second round.
Undercard Allegedly the UFC is sticking to the plan of just showing the main event on FOX and leaving the entire undercard to the internet. I find this hard to believe. Say that there's an undercard fight that features 5-10 minutes of furious action and a crazy finish; you're telling me the UFC and FOX wouldn't show that bout if Cain/Junior ends with a quick first-round finish? Especially the Henderson vs. Guida fight, which is a #1 contender's match for Frankie Edgar's lightweight title. It boggles the mind that this important fight is relegated to an under-undercard, rather than on PPV. Hell, it's a better fight than Mark Munoz vs. Chris Leben, and that one headlined the free UFC 138 on Spike last weekend. Munoz/Leben was a very good fight but still, mind-boggling.
* Cub Swanson over Ricardo Lamas, KO, R3 * Clay Harvison over DaMarques Johnson, submission, R2 * Robert Peralta over Mackens Semerzier, decision * Norifumi Yamamoto over Darren Uyenoyama, KO, R1 * Pablo Garza over Dustin Poirier, decision * Mike Pierce over Paul Bradley, decision * Matt Lucas over Aaron Rosa, KO, R2 * Cole Escovedo over Alex Caceres, submission, R1 * Ben Henderson over Clay Guida, submission, R2….Guida's wrestling and lay-and-pray style will be neutralized by Henderson, who will eventually catch him in a triangle or something.