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Gambling Spotlight: UFC 121 Main Event

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

UFC 121. Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez. I can picture the anticipation of fight night. The mariachi horns break the crowd's murmuring. A man croons in Spanish with the passion of a man blinded by love. The challenger enters the arena, singing along to the song of his father's homeland. The Mexican flag hugs the shape of his fist. He enters the cage and waits.

The lights go down. Any support for the champion is drowned out by a unison of jeers. The opening riff of "Enter Sandman" sets off a volley of spotlights. Chin up and chest high, a proud South Dakota farmboy marches toward the cage. He is proud, but humble.

After the ring announcer's introductions and the referee's instruction, each man is sent to his respective corner. The referee jerks his hands together, the clock begins to tick, and...

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Odds provided by Best Fight Odds.

Brock Lesnar

#1 Heavyweight
UFC HW Champion


Cain Velasquez

#3 Heavyweight

33 Age 28
6'3" Height 6'2"
81" Reach 77"
5 - 1 - 0 Record 8 - 0 - 0
2 / 2 TKO / SUB 7 / 0
DeathClutch Camp American Kickboxing Acadmey
W - Carwin (SUB)
W - Mir (TKO)
W - Couture (TKO)
Last Three W - Nogueira (KO)
W - Rothwell (TKO)
W - Kongo (UD)

A lot of analysis you'll see on this fight will be complete guesswork by the author. With only 14 fights between them, we do not have ample data available to make a complete hypothesis. We don't know how Brock or Cain will respond if either one gets put on their back for an extended period. We don't know how either will respond in rounds four and five should the fight reach that point. This sort of incomplete information makes for an exciting buildup, if not an easy job with the handicapping.

So what do we know? Well, let's start with mathematical fact: Cain Velasquez is a more active fighter than Brock Lesnar. This isn't a revelation for anyone who has spent time watching these two fight, but it might be surprising that Velasquez is roughly twice as active as Lesnar. In his six MMA fights, Lesnar averages 57 strikes landed and 4.1 successful takedowns per 15 minutes of fighting. Velasquez checks in at 105 strikes and 7.3 takedowns per 15 minutes. The difference lies in what Lesnar and Velasquez do on the ground. Brock looks to use his strength and size to control the position, and then uses that position to throw measured shots when he finds an opening. Once Cain is on top, he flurries with punches. His nonstop swarm prevents opponents from finding any comfort on bottom and constantly forces them to react to his pressure.

The other glaring mathematical fact is the size difference. On the Prime Time show, Javier Mendez stated Cain's target weight is 245 pounds. Lesnar told Jim Rome he was walking around at a svelte 270 pounds earlier this week which is down from the 285-290 pounds he was estimated at for his early fights with Mir and Herring. Conservatively, we're looking at a 20 pound weight difference between champion and challenger. We saw Velasquez throw around a 265-pound Ben Rothwell at UFC 104, but Rothwell doesn't possess the same athleticism or wrestling pedigree of Brock Lesnar.

There's been questions about Lesnar's ability to take a punch after seeing the image of the champion covering up and backpedaling in an attempt to create distance between himself and Shane Carwin. Carwin actually tagged Lesnar twice before that, and Lesnar's instictually grabbed for Carwin and tried to take him down. And let's not forget the amount of power that Shane Carwin possesses, either.

Velasquez found himself in trouble twice during his fight with Cheick Kongo. He ate a big combination early in the first round and then lost his equilibrium when he took a shot on the temple in round two. Like Lesnar, Velasquez's first instinct was to close the distance and take Kongo down.


Offensively, Cain has a lot more tools at his disposal from a standing position. Brock hasn't been afraid to throw kicks and knees, but his striking follows a rudimentary pattern of using only one or two strikes at a time. Cain throws fluid combinations making use of all four limbs. It's that sort of dynamism that has me feeling that Cain will utilize a gameplan similar to what Frank Edgar used against B.J. Penn.

There's a big difference between the Penn/Edgar fights and this one: Frank Edgar never had to worry about Penn taking him down. Penn, for whatever reason, was reluctant to bring the fight to the floor. And when he did, Edgar showed an ability to scramble back to his feet. We don't know how Cain will handle Lesnar being on top of him, but we do know that he'll have to remain cognizant of Lesnar's wrestling any time they're in a standing position.

As much as it's been discussed in the buildup, I'm not terribly concerned about the cardio issue. I do think based on the type of pace Cain can maintain that he'll probably be the fresher fighter in rounds four and five. But it's unlikely we'll even reach the championship rounds. There have been 21 heavyweight title fights in UFC history. Five fights went past the third round. Do you see a pattern here?

  • Randy Couture vs. Pedro Rizzo
  • Randy Couture vs. Ricco Rodriguez
  • Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia
  • Tim Sylvia vs. Andrei Arlovski
  • Tim Sylvia vs. Jeff Monson

Three-round heavyweight bouts only reach the cards in 23% of fights which fits the trend found in the small sample of title fights.

I've gone back-and-forth on this fight for months, and I still don't feel confident on either side. I grabbed Lesnar at -145 when the lines opened, expecting the line to move heavily in Brock's favor. Then I'd be able to arb off a bunch of action and freeroll whichever side I felt best about at fight time. Unfortunately, while the line has been volatile over the past few months, it's remained consistent enough to thwart the notion of an arb. To give you an indication of where I'm leaning, I'm comfortable holding on to my Lesnar play, if needed. I'm very interested to see how Lesnar handles Cain's speed and overall game, but being able to finish is huge and I think Brock has the advantage there.

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