Saturday night's UFC 121 main event heavyweight title showdown could be one for the ages as current champion Brock Lesnar (5-1, 4-1 UFC) battles American Kickboxing Academy phenom Cain Velasquez (8-0, 6-0 UFC). Not only is this a clash of unbelievably athletic wrestlers who have found huge success in mixed martial arts, but it will also serve as a potential turning point for the UFC heavyweight division. Both fighters have defeated some solid challengers in a relatively short period of time in their careers and attained #1 and #2 status among their peers. The outcome of this fight will either solidify Lesnar's stance as the best in the world, or turn the tide and potentially lift Cain into that role for a very long time.
Unlike many of the more recent heavyweight battles that we've had to sit through, this title showdown has all the makings of being a true fan pleaser. Lesnar's athleticism, wrestling credentials, enormous physique, and trail of bodies left in his wake will be a daunting challenge for Velasquez to overcome. But on the other side of the coin, Velasquez offers a much better striking game, great wrestling in his own right, and quickness on his feet. Those attributes in combination with a solid training camp have caused most of the MMA community to lean in Cain's direction, but it's hard to discount an improving Lesnar who is coming off a win in one of the most challenging battles of his career.
From all indications however, Velasquez has a number of advantages, most notably his fluid striking skills. He showcased those skills in his last fight against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 110, and it was obvious from the devastation he left on Nogueira's face that he should be considered one of the best strikers in the division. Quite an impressive feat for a NJCAA wrestling champion and two-time NCAA DIvision I wrestler.
He'll also be a bit quicker than Brock on the feet since he'll be a bit undersized, but that shouldn't be an indication that Velasquez will run circles around Brock. For an enormous heavyweight, Lesnar is as fast as they come. Unfortunately, his stand-up game is a work in progress, and Cain's footwork could open up holes in Lesnar's defense.
But the real intrigue in this battle is mostly focused on the clash in the wrestling department. Lesnar's massive size and athleticism certainly give him the brute force advantage in gaining takedowns and imposing his will on Velasquez from top control. While some fans truly believe that's how this fight will go down on Saturday evening, the more immersed fans have the knowledge that Cain is not only a great wrestler in his own right -- but he has one particular wrestler at his disposal that could provide the key to victory.
Daniel Cormier, two-time Olympic wrestler and bronze medalist at the 2007 world championships, stands in Velasquez's corner, and he could provide the knowledge and ability that Velasquez needs to win. Cormier is an outstanding heavyweight prospect in his own right, and he's defeated some solid wrestlers who have outweighed him considerably. The key for him has been in his technique, and instilling that in Velasquez could turn the tide in this fight.
How will this fight go down in the end? Like many of the professional fighters, I'm leaning toward Cain Velasquez in this fight. He has the obvious advantage on the feet, and I don't think Lesnar will be able to defend well against Velasquez's fluid technique and footwork. But I doubt that will finish this fight. Wrestling will become a factor, and I imagine Velasquez will be as tough as they come in his defense. Over three rounds, Velasquez eventually tags Lesnar and wins via TKO. If Lesnar happens to gain top control in this fight however, Lesnar should solidify his stance as the best in the world.