The sole defeat on the record of Cain Velasquez (9-1) came in the biggest fight of his career. Then the heavyweight champion after he'd battered Brock Lesnar into a human Tilt-A-Whirl, Velasquez paired off with dos Santos on the UFC's heavily hyped debut on Fox. It was not just the featured attraction, but the only fight on the card and, after months of build up, the belt changed hands by way of brutal knockout in a mere 64-seconds.
Velasquez was long touted as a freak in the gym and yet to unveil his true dominance, but a less than stellar performance against Cheick Kongo and contentious stoppage over Ben Rothwell relegated the overwhelming accolades to unproven mystique. The praise was eventually legitimized by a skull-cracking knockout of adored legend and former Pride/UFC champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Velasquez's merciless throttling of Lesnar to become the alpha-heavyweight. Pre-MMA, Velasquez was a state champion wrestler in high school, a Junior College (Iowa Central Community College) national champion and a 2x Division 1 All-American at Arizona State University.
Other UFC 146: Dos Santos vs. Mir Dissections
Back in 2006-2007 when Velasquez was just starting his career, Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva (16-3) was a similarly acclaimed heavyweight. Standing 6'4" but barely meeting the 265-pound weight limit, Silva's black belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo and Karate portended a bright future, and hooking up with the renowned American Top Team and improving his boxing increased his potential even more.
Extending his record to 11-1, Silva became EliteXC's inaugural heavyweight champion in 2008 with a 2nd-round TKO of the late Justin Eilers, but a positive test for an anabolic steroid soured the accomplishment. Silva insisted that the hot test was on account of a testosterone booster he used to treat his acromegaly and, when the California State Athletic Commission denied him of an appeal, Silva ignored their 1-year suspension and competed overseas. He trounced 2 opponents in the 1st-round under the Sengoku banner and then returned to the states for his Strikeforce run, which concluded at 3-2. Silva debuted with a decision loss to Fabricio Werdum, rattled off 3-straight (which included the indelible TKO of Fedor Emelianenko) and went out on a rough TKO loss to Daniel Cormier.
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The general outlook on this match up is a comparison of Silva's loss to Cormier, who trains at AKA with Velasquez and shares his attributes of quickness, wrestling and striking. I agree that's a fair baseline, with the disclaimer that Cormier might pack a little more power than Velasquez, though the former champ has still won 8 of 9 by TKO.
Silva's massive frame makes him more like a 7-footer in agility, and the footwork, agility and hand speed of Velasquez is nearly unparalleled for the heavyweight division. Velasquez' groundbreaking performances against Big Nog and Lesnar were particularly exhilarating because they displayed his shockingly technical and precise kickboxing, which is his ultimate weapon against Silva.
The Cain Velasquez of old who typically relied on a frenetically paced ground assault would face a much stiffer test against Silva's high-level BJJ. Forcing a stand-up encounter is not without risk, however, as Silva's boxing has come along nicely and his right hand can travel an absurd amount of distance when he throws it straight. Additionally, Silva's significant height (6'4" vs. 6'1") and reach (82" vs. 77") advantages should not be overlooked, especially since Velasquez had a little more trouble putting away the tallest fighters he's ever faced in Rothwell and Kongo.
Though he's not a credentialed wrestler, Silva is capable with takedowns, mostly in the clinch from his Judo background but also because of his size and strength. Velasquez will have to play a very careful range game in that he'll be at risk from Silva's long punches on the outer fringe of striking range as well as his clinch tie-ups in close quarters. That's another reason why his footwork, speed and head movement will be so critical -- he should be able to dart in and out of range with rapid flurries but must protect himself fanatically, both on the way in and on the way out.
Grappling-wise, Velasquez's wrestling dominance and furious ground-and-pound is unquestionable, but he hasn't proven himself against a viable sub-grappler like Silva, whose sweeps, transitions, understanding of position and hellacious striking power must be respected. For as impressive as Cain has looked, he hasn't endured a ton of adversity and Silva just about doubles him up in overall fight experience.
Therefore, I like Velasquez for the win but don't agree with the slanted odds that favor him as high as -450. Let's not forget: Fedor was also heralded for his fast hands, agility and punching power, so it's not like Silva's been helpless against competition of that nature.
My Prediction: Cain Velasquez by decision.