To retain his title at UFC 166 on Saturday at the Toyota Center in Houston, Cain Velasquez needs to take Junior "Cigano" dos Santos to the mat. Velasquez valiantly traded with Dos Santos in their last meeting after being knocked out in their first encounter.
In the first fight, Dos Santos landed a hard right hand high on Velasquez's head, which spelled the beginning of the end. An explosive left hook from Velasquez hurt Dos Santos in the first round of the second fight, but he couldn't finish him.
Many were amazed that Dos Santos survived the round, let alone the fight. While he had the wherewithal to continue, he had lost the stamina to be dangerous. Velasquez dominated the rounds and won his title back.
In the third bout, Cigano will be looking to strike first and avoid being dragged to the mat. Velasquez is one of the best ground-and-pound fighters in the sport.
To prepare properly for the bout, Dos Santos knew he had to add more layers to his attack. He talked about that in this interview with Bleacher Report's Ultimate Show.
Because he's a better natural athlete than Velasquez, he has a higher ceiling. He showed a bit of that with the spin kick he used to drop Mark Hunt in his last fight.
Cigano also sports a 74 percent takedown defense rate in his UFC career. His game is getting more well-rounded, and that means trouble for Velasquez. While no other heavyweight in the world is likely capable of beating him, Velasquez will take his second loss to Cigano.
Here are predictions for the other four fights scheduled for the main card at UFC 166.
John Dodson vs. Darrell Montague
Speed is the operative word in the flyweight division. Few fighters in the world are as swift and explosive as Dodson. He was the only fighter who was able to keep pace with Demetrious Johnson.
Though Dodson lost that fight, he made an excellent account of himself. Matched against UFC newcomer Darrell "The Mongoose" Montague, Dodson's speed advantage should be huge.
Montague has won four fights in a row and has only two losses total. However, in his last loss, he fell to Ian "Uncle Creepy" McCall. The latter used his speed and varied attacks to get the better of Montague. He controlled most of the wrestling exchanges and ultimately submitted Montague with a rear-naked choke.
It isn't Dodson's style to chase a submission, but he's even faster than McCall. He will use his speed to land early and often against Montague, despite a three-inch height disadvantage.
Look for an impressive KO win by Dodson.
Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Shawn Jordan
Gonzaga could look to make this fight easy by taking Jordan to the mat, but in an effort to make a statement, he could try to stop his rugged and dangerous opponent.
"Napao's" submission game is far beyond Jordan's. He has captured nine of his 15 wins by submission, and he's two inches taller. Though Gonzaga has advanced Brazilian jiu-jitsu to fall back on, his most memorable wins have come by knockout.
He destroyed Mirko Filipovic with a head kick in 2007 and knocked out Dave Herman in 17 seconds in July. With Jordan bringing the fight to him, look for another spectacular KO win from the well-rounded Gonzaga.
Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez
This bout has a good chance to be the Fight of the Night. Melendez is a solid, technically efficient fighter who is tough to hit and take down. He defended 100 percent of the takedowns attempted and avoided 52 percent of the strikes from Benson Henderson in his lone UFC bout.
This slickness should serve him well against the aggressive and tough Sanchez. A veteran of eight years in the UFC, Sanchez has won five Fight of the Night bonuses. His only chance to win this fight is to turn it into a brawl.
Melendez doesn't like to fight at a scrambling pace, but mayhem is where Sanchez thrives. Look for this bout to have a little of everything with both men having their moments.
In the end, Melendez's defense and technical striking will result in a victory in one of the best fights on the card.
Daniel Cormier vs. Roy Nelson
Who will get the winner of Velasquez vs. Dos Santos? The Nelson vs. Cormier co-feature will determine who's next in line. Nelson may not look the part, but he is a well-rounded—no pun intended—fighter with great wrestling and big-time power.
Cormier is technically solid with fast hands and elite grappling, but the power edge favors Nelson. For Cormier to win, he'll need to either stay inside of Nelson's reach and take his chances in the grappling game, or move in and out to utilize his quickness advantage.
The latter strategy will use a ton of energy, and judging by his stamina level against Frank Mir in his last fight, Cormier isn't exactly long in the wind department.
Ultimately, "Big Country" will catch Cormier or gain dominant top position with his technique and girth. The next title shot will belong to Nelson after he submits Cormier late in the fight.
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