By Jaime C. Feal
What a massive matchup the UFC saved for their year end show, as the heavyweight title is up for grabs on Saturday night in Las Vegas. A rematch between Junior Dos Santos and Cain Velasquez headlines the solid card, and this time the roles are reversed from their initial fight at the first ever UFC on Fox: Dos Santos is the reigning champ, and Velasquez the challenger. With injury after injury plaguing long-hyped matchups and ruining the main events of several cards, it is refreshing to see such a big matchup come to fruition.
Middleweight Division (185 lbs.):
Yushin “Thunder” Okami (27-7 11-4 UFC) vs. Alan “The Talent” Belcher (18-6, 9-4 UFC)
The longtime UFC vet Okami tests his skills against another emerging middleweight contender in Alan Belcher. Okami, at one point the #1 contender for Anderson Silva’s middleweight belt, is a very solid all-around fighter. He represents a significant test for Alan Belcher, who has been surging lately.
Belcher is coming off a very impressive win over Rousimar “Toquinho” Palhares, a fight in which he willingly went to the ground with the BJJ master, defending against all his vaunted heel hook attempts, and then finished the fight with nasty ground and pound. Belcher is riding a four-fight winning streak, and at 28 years old is in his fighting prime.
Recent results for Okami have not been so impressive. He has lost 2 of his last 3 fights, with the sole win coming over relative unknown Buddy Roberts. At 31, Okami’s best days may be behind him, and his chin is starting to look questionable. Belcher is a great kickboxer, and has a versatile attack that will give Okami problems. Okami’s best hope is to use his size and strength to grapple with Belcher, tire him out, smother him with top control. In any other position the fight favors Belcher, who has many ways to win, and is extremely hungry for a title shot of his own.
Prediction: Alan “The Talent” Belcher wins by TKO, Round 3.
Middleweight Division (185 lbs.):
Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch (16-4, 7-3 UFC) vs. Constantinos Philippou (11-2, 4-1 UFC)
Boetsch is on a four fight win streak, but his last two wins were questionable. He took an extremely controversial split decision over Hector Lombard, and was thoroughly dominated by Yushin Okami for two rounds before pulling out a miraculous come-from-behind KO in the third. Boetsch is a true warrior with a tremendous chin, and he will need it against slugger Costa Philippou.
This fight has fireworks written all over it, as both men like to stand and bang. Philippou is also on a four fight win streak, over lesser competition, but with more clear-cut victories. Something has to give in this fight, as both men are warriors who look to knockout their opponent. In the Lombard fight, however, Boetsch was surprisingly timid in his attack, opting to circle the outside and throw many leg kicks. Perhaps he feared the vaunted striking of Lombard, or just had an off night, but this cautious strategy is something Philippou has never been known to use.
Vegas has this fight as a pick-em, and it really could go either way. Another X-Factor is that Boetsch had been training to fight Chris Weidman for months, only to have a switch towards the end when Weidman got hurt and Philippou stepped in. This means Boetsch had been training to fight against a wrestler when he is about to face a striker. It also means Costa Philippou is fighting on short notice. Despite the considerable power of both opponents, their chins are even more impressive: Philippou has never been finished in his career, and Boetsch just twice, with the last loss by strikes coming in 2008. Expect a slugfest, but not a finish.
Prediction: Constantinos Philippou wins by unanimous decision.
Lightweight Division (155 lbs.):
Jim Miller (21-4, 10-3 UFC) vs. Joe Lauzon 22-7, 9-4 UFC)
The battle between lightweight submission specialists looking to get back into title contention is the co-main event of the evening. Lauzon has never quite been able to put together a solid enough winning streak to warrant a title shot or #1 contender’s match, despite his flashes of brilliance. Lauzon has won three of last four fights, and a win over Miller would do wonders for his career.
Jim Miller, on the other hand, has the more decorated history. He is the more skilled ground fighter, and at one point fought Nate Diaz for a shot at Benson Henderson’s lightweight strap. Neither fighter has ever liked to utilize stand-up fighting, because they always hold such a decisive advantage on the ground. Both will be looking to use their wrestling and takedowns to set up their submissions.
The interesting thing about both these jiu-jitsu fighters is they themselves have been caught in the past by submissions, but have shown brilliant offensive capabilities. This means if the fight hits the mat the lightweights will be looking to lock up something quick, and neither has shown a propensity in the past to be able to escape from a deep submission, something both of these fighters are very capable of applying.
Prediction: Jim Miller wins by submission, Round 2.
UFC Heavyweight Championship (265 lbs.):
Junior “Cigano” Dos Santos (15-1, 9-0 UFC) vs. Cain Velasquez (10-1, 8-1 UFC)
The classic striker versus wrestler matchup unfolds before our eyes once again, and the stakes are higher than ever. Both men have lost only once in their entire professional career, with Dos Santos undefeated in the UFC, and Velasquez’s only loss coming to Dos Santos. Except for Dos Santos’ lone loss way back in 2007, and Velasquez’s stunning KO loss to Dos Santos in late 2011, these heavyweights have absolutely steamrolled the competition.
JDS has the best boxing in the heavyweight division by far, maybe in all of MMA. Dos Santos uses blinding speed and power to pick his opponents apart. His skill and technique is superb, his boxing stance is perfect, and it seems as if Dos Santos even just clips you with one of his punches, you go down fast. Among the victims of the lethal hands of JDS: Fabricio Werdum, Stefan Struve, Gilberyt Yvel, Gabriel Gonzaga, Velasquez, and Frank Mir. That is quite an impressive list, and he has made short work of all those opponents.
Velasquez has to come up with a new gameplan this time around. In the previous fight, he shot in for one takedown, got stuffed, and promptly got knocked senseless in about a minute flat, on national TV no less. Embarrassed and humbled by the loss, a renewed Velasquez obliterated Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva with ground and pound in May. He needs to follow a similar blueprint to defeat JDS and avoid being knocked out again.
The question is, can Velasquez take Dos Santos down? JDS has some of the best takedown defense in the division, and he always is in good position to stuff a shot. Furthermore he barely ever throws kicks and maintains a solid base and good balance. Velasquez needs to gain his respect standing and THEN shoot for a takedown, otherwise this fight could be an exact repeat of the first time around.
Prediction: Junior Dos Santos wins by KO, Round 1.