By Jaime C. Feal
The UFC traditionally delivers a big card on Memorial Day weekend, and tomorrow night is no exception. A massive card features the UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez defending his belt against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, and another heavyweight fight to determine the #1 contender, Junior Dos Santos vs. Mark Hunt. Mega-prospect Glover Teixeira squares off against James Te Huna in a fight that promises to deliver fireworks, and Gray “The Bully” Maynard looks to get back in the lightweight title picture against the fast-rising jiu jitsu player TJ Grant. Rounding out the main card is a clash between perennial top ten lightweight Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and former Strikeforce standout KJ Noons.
Lightweight Division (155 lbs.):
Gray “The Bully” Maynard (11-1-1, 9-1-1 UFC) vs. TJ Grant (20-5, 7-3 UFC)
Gray Maynard finally returns to the Octagon after not having fought since a June 2012 split decision victory over Clay Guida. “The Bully” looks to get right back into title contention when he faces the red-hot TJ Grant, who is on a four-fight winning streak. Whoever emerges victorious vaults themselves towards the top of the lightweight division, possibly one fight away from a title shot.
This fight boils down to your classic wrestler vs. jiu jitsu matchup. Maynard is a powerful wrestler for this weight class, and has a devastating right hand. It was this right hand that knocked Frankie Edgar down countless times, despite the fact Edgar had the massive heart to fight his way back to a draw and a win in their two most recent fights. Maynard’s wrestling is vastly superior to Grant’s, so he should be able to keep the fight standing, which is where he wants it. Maynard has very limited jiu jitsu skills, only holding a blue belt.
TJ Grant, on the other hand, is a very high level brown belt in jiu jitsu, and would absolutely love to get this fight to the mat. The question is how can he do so against such a superior wrestler? Grant’s best chance is to catch Maynard with a punch and drop him, then hunt for a submission. While anything is possible in MMA, this matchup appears to be tailor made for “The Bully,” and you can expect him to control the pace of the fight and win a decision victory.
Prediction: Gray “The Bully” Maynard wins by unanimous decision.
Light Heavyweight Division (205 lbs.):
Glover Teixeira (20-2, 3-0 UFC) vs. James Te Huna (16-5, 5-1 UFC)
Glover Teixeira is slowly but surely making his way towards title contention. The Brazilian is undefeated in the Octagon, and hasn’t lost since a 2005 loss to Ed Herman in the rogue promotion Sport Fight. Teixeira is on an incredible 18 fight winning streak, and the well-rounded, tenacious fighter looks to continue his run against the Hawaiian banger James Te Huna.
Te Huna is very durable, athletic, and has powerful standup. Te Huna fights upright and uses his height well, mixing in leg kicks with solid punches. His ground game is very suspect, however, and if Teixeira is smart he will look to take the Hawaiian down. In the standup the fight is somewhat even, on the ground it is a massive advantage for the Brazilian, who possesses a dangerous submission game as a black belt in BJJ. Te Huna has good takedown defense, but he must respect Glover’s hands, which will leave him vulnerable. Teixeira is too well-rounded for Te Huna, and will pass this test easily. Teixeira needs a big step up in competition after this fight so he can move closer to the title shot he deserves.
Prediction: Glover Teixeira wins by submission, Round 2.
Heavyweight Division (265 lbs.):
Junior “Cigano” Dos Santos (15-2, 9-1 UFC) vs. Mark “Super Samoan” Hunt (9-7, 4-1 UFC)
The man who once ruled the UFC Heavyweight Division, Junior Dos Santos, looks to fight his way back to a title shot and third fight with Cain Velasquez with a win over Mark Hunt. Dos Santos is like a heavyweight version of Chuck Liddell: A sensational knockout artist with incredible takedown defense. Dos Santos shrugged off 22 of 33 Cain Velasquez takedown attempts in their most recent encounter, showing that even the most elite of heavyweight wrestlers have to relentlessly attempt takedowns to succeed in bringing the Brazilian down. “Cigano” possesses wicked one-punch Knockout power in his hands, and can word behind a stiff, solid jab. Dos Santos fights extremely well at range, and is likely to try and pick Mark Hunt apart in this fight.
Hunt is much slower than Dos Santos, and at a significant reach disadvantage.
Hunt has some of the heaviest hands in the division, and can instantly change the course of the fight with one of his haymakers. Hunt will need to get inside on Dos Santos and land a big uppercut, hook, or overhand right to change the dynamics of this contest. Otherwise, expect this fight to go very much like the JDS vs. Roy Nelson fight went: Dos Santos dominates the standup while his opponent looks to land a huge haymaker, but JDS can’t put away his heavy-handed opponent due to his iron chin, and instead cruises to a decision victory.
Prediction: Junior “Cigano” Dos Santos wins by unanimous decision.
Heavyweight Division (265 lbs.):
Cain Velasquez (11-1, 9-1 UFC) vs. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva (18-4, 2-1 UFC)
A rematch of their non-title fight from a year ago, Silva has shown tremendous improvement since that time, enough so that the UFC brass felt he deserved a title shot. In their first encounter, Velasquez absolutely tore through Silva with a vengeance, rebounding from losing the title, and the first loss of his career, when he was knocked out by Junior Dos Santos in their first meeting. Immediately thrusting himself back into title contention with the emphatic win over “Bigfoot,” Velasquez went on to rec-capture the Heavyweight title in a rematch with Dos Santos that saw Velasquez dominate JDS for 5 complete rounds.
Now, one of the biggest heavyweights in the division Antonio Silva gets another crack at Velasquez, and looks to reverse the roles much like Velasquez did to JDS the second time around. The problem is how in the world does Silva stop Velasquez’s takedowns? Cain is a former All-American wrestler who masterfully mixes in striking before changing levels for the takedown. Once on top, even in full guard, Velasquez has hellacious ground and pound; his first encounter with Bigfoot Silva was a horror show with Silva’s blood stained all over the canvas, his face a mess from the brutal elbows and punches of the champion.
Velasquez is simply a horrible matchup for Silva. “Bigfoot” thrives when he can land his big powerful punches up against the cage, as he did against Alistair Overeem, or when he dwarfs his opponent and is on top in full mount, as we saw against Fedor. Neither are very likely to happen tomorrow night. While it is feasible that Bigfoot connects with a hailmary haymaker or a butterfly sweep from guard into full mount, the much more likely scenario is Velasquez battering him for the stoppage once again.
Prediction: Cain Velasquez wins by TKO, Round 2.