By Jaime C. Feal
The UFC has a stellar card on Pay-Per-View tomorrow night, headlined by the third installment in the epic trilogy of fights between Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos, once again for the UFC Heavyweight Title. With this third fight also being a rubber match, bragging rights and the battle for division supremacy are at stake. The co-main event features undefeated Daniel Cormier, one of the hottest prospects in MMA, and a man who has called out Jon “Bon” Jones for an eventual light heavyweight challenge. It all goes down tomorrow night from Houston, Texas and live on Pay-Per View at 10 PM EST.
Lightweight Division (155 lbs.):
Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez (21-3, 0-1 UFC) vs. Diego Sanchez (24-5, 13-5 UFC)
A man many crowned as the real best lightweight in the world, Gilbert Melendez took a step back in public perception after losing a close decision to former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson. Now that Anthony “Showtime” Pettis has destroyed Benson Henderson in their rematch, and is 2-0 overall against Bendo, there is no doubt that Pettis is considered the best lightweight in the world. This fight against former Ultimate Fighter veteran Diego Sanchez represents a chance to get back towards the #1 contender’s spot for Melendez.
Sanchez, a huge underdog in Vegas, will be trying to steal the show. He implements a fast-paced, cardio heavy style based off his aggressive wrestling and forward pressure. The problem for him is that his striking hasn’t really evolved in years, and Melendez is as good a wrestler as he is, with ample cardio and tenacity to boot. Melendez has a huge advantage standing up, and could just pick Sanchez apart with his jab en route to a decision victory if he so chose. He is also the more well-rounded fighter, and could use his striking to set up his takedowns and ride out a decision that way. If Melendez truly wants to impress, he will finish the gritty and durable veteran, but that seems an unlikely scenario.
Prediction: Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez wins by unanimous decision.
Heavyweight Division (265 lbs.): Daniel Cormier (12-0, 1-0 UFC) vs. Roy “Big Country” Nelson (19-8, 6-4 UFC)
In a battle of two undersized heavyweights who plan to drop down a division, former Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier puts his undefeated record on the line against fan favorite Roy “Big Country” Nelson. In recent months Nelson has slimmed down and shed some of his body fat. He will need any conditioning edge he can find when he takes on the grinding style of Cormier.
Nelson’s trademark is his big overhand right, which has scored him several one-punch knockouts, but he also possesses a lethal top-game utilizing his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills. He is adept at getting trip-takedowns in the clinch, then smothering his opponents and looking for the mounted crucifix position. Against a world-class wrester like Cormier, however, Nelson is unlikely to gain top position.
The bout now comes down to who can impose their will on the feet. As Cormier showed against Frank Mir, he is content to push his opponent against the cage and rough them up with dirty boxing. While not a crowd-pleasing style, Cormier completely neutralized Frank Mir’s jiu jitsu, which is considered by most pundits to be some of, if not the best, jiu jitsu in the heavyweight division.
Nelson’s gameplan is to avoid the clinch with Cormier and land his haymaker right hand. Cormier will be looking for this, and is fairly athletic for his size. Nelson’s best chance is to catch Cormier early, while they are both fresh and full of punching power. As the fight wears on, Cormier’s grinding style could really wear on Nelson, likely leading him to a unanimous decision victory. An interesting X-factor in the fight for viewers will be watching to see if Cormier attempts to takedown the BJJ black belt Nelson, and if so, how Nelson performs off his back – a position we rarely see him in.
Prediction: Daniel Cormier wins by unanimous decision.
UFC Heavyweight Championship (265 lbs.):
Cain Velasquez (12-1, 10-1 UFC) vs. Junior “Cigano” Dos Santos (16-2, 10-1 UFC)
The trilogy will be complete after this rubber match, and both Heavyweights still have everything to prove. Dos Santos will be looking at avenge his only defeat in the UFC when he lost the belt to Velasquez at UFC 155. The champion, Cain Velasquez, will look to further prove that his only loss in the UFC, a 1st round one-punch KO at the hands of Dos Santos in November of 2011, was nothing more than a fluke.
That argument, at least on the surface, appears to have merit. Velasquez was injured going into the first bout, making his movement limited, and he got clipped by a haymaker from one of the nastiest knockout artists in the history of the UFC Heavyweight Division. In the rematch, Velasquez dominated JDS for an entire 5 rounds, winning a very lopsided unanimous decision, and leading many to believe that JDS only has the proverbial “puncher’s chance” in a fight against Velasquez.
Of course, this theory is an overreaction, and the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. In the initial match, Velasquez was the favorite and lost, then won the rematch as a 2:1 underdog. Now Velasquez once again finds himself as a 2:1 favorite, which is probably too high considering JDS has incredible takedown defense. In fact, in the 1st round of their rematch, JDS consistently shrugged off many of Velasquez’s takedown attempts, before getting stunned and dropped by a right hand, which altered the course of the bout.
This fight will once again test the takedown defense of Dos Santos. He must defend early and often, while also avoiding any big shots from Cain, or getting pushed up against the fence. Velasquez has vicious top control and ground and pound, and if he gets on top of Dos Santos it becomes a nightmare for JDS. Therefore, Dos Santos has to keep the fight standing, defend the takedown, and touch Velasquez with his hands. Dos Santos has more than a puncher’s chance – he does not need to knock Velasquez out to win. JDS could use his technical superiority in boxing and hand speed to score points and earn a decision, provided he stops the takedown. But Velasquez does have more ways to win, and is a more complete, well-rounded mixed martial artist. Styles make fights, and this enormous rubber match for the UFC Heavyweight Title is one you don’t want to miss.
Prediction: Junior Dos Santos wins by TKO, Round 3.
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