23 May 2013

UFC 160: preview and predictions

By Thomas Hunter

Velasquez (left) is favourite to retain his title 

The UFC returns to the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas this Saturday night for the hotly anticipated UFC 160 event in which the undisputed heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez will attempt to defend his title against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. As well as this, hard-hitting heavyweights Junior Dos Santos and Mark Hunt will scrap for recognition as the number one contender in the heavyweight division in a fight in which fireworks are virtually guaranteed. 

The card’s other fight with title implications features perennial contender Gray Maynard who will attempt to halt the progress of TJ Grant, an emerging contender in the lightweight division who has been on a tear as of late, notching up  four straight wins in the division in impressive fashion. The winner of the Maynard v Grant fight will, according to UFC boss Dana White, be Ben Henderson’s next challenger in the ultra-stacked lightweight division.

UFC 160 also gives Donald Cerrone a chance to bounce back from his recent disappointing loss to Anthony Pettis in a fight against Kj Noons in which he will be looking to work towards firmly re-establishing himself as a legitimate contender in the division. Other notable appearances on the card include Glover Teixeira, touted by many as the next light-heavyweight champion, undefeated AKA lightweight prospect Habib Nurmagomedov and the always thrilling and ever-improving Dennis Bermudez at featherweight.

UFC Heayweight Championship Bout : Cain Velasquez V Antonio Silva

The main event then is the heavyweight title bout between Cain Velasquez and Antonio Silva, which is a rematch of a non-title bout between the two at UFC 146 in May 2012, in which Velasquez (11-1) catapulted himself back into a title fight with JDS, ultimately reclaiming the title in a decisive victory over the former champ, avenging his only loss in the process. In their first encounter, Velasquez took Silva (18-4) down immediately, opened up an extremely debilitating cut on Silva’s forehead and finished the fight with his relentless ground and pound attack within the first frame. 

Questions as to how Silva might have performed had he not been cut and the impressive run of form Silva has hit since their last encounter has warranted enough intrigue for the UFC to put the fight together at a time where there is no clear number one contender. Silva’s finish over dangerous heavyweight Travis Browne and spectacular come-from-behind knock out of Allistair Overeem puts him in place to legitimately challenge for the strap.

Make no mistake, though, Velasquez will enter as a firm favourite, and rightly so. Even though he gives up in excess of 25lbs to the Brazilian giant, his elite wrestling base and punishing ground and pound will wear away at Silva’s gas-tank and eventually more and more shots will get through until the ref allows no more. Should Velasquez decide to strike, Silva’s window of opportunity will grow, but Velasquez is more than competent on the feet and has a decisive speed and cardio advantage to go along with a fluid punching and kicking combinations which will likely be too much for Bigfoot. Expect Velasquez to start out on the feet but begin to mix it up and wear Bigfoot down, breaking his will before the championship rounds.

Prediction : Velasquez by TKO in the third round.

Junior Dos Santos v Mark Hunt

Junior Dos Santos (15-2) and Mark Hunt (9-7) may have found themselves in each others way to the title but both have been on very different paths up to this point. JDS has blasted his way through the heavyweight division in recent years, destroying the likes of Werdum, Ivel, Gonzaga, Cro Cop, Carwin and Nelson on his way to the title, as well as the being the only man to ever beat current champion Cain Velasquez, whom he knocked out at the UFC’s first Fox show. 

His lethal hands and excellent take down defence has put him at the top of the heap until he lost the belt to Velasquez at UFC 155 in December. Make no mistake, Junior Dos Santos is as determined as they come and is looking to destroy Mark Hunt and punch his way back into a rubber match with Cain Velasquez. To do that, though, he will have to best former K1 – Kickboxing champion Mark Hunt.

The gritty New Zealander Hunt is riding a fairy-tale four-fight winning streak in the division and at 39 years old is apparently at the peak of his career. Hunt has a humble 9-7 record in MMA and has become somewhat of a fan-favourite by consistently being the underdog throughout his UFC career. Many, however, suspect JDS may be a step too far for Hunt, as he is taking on a massive step-up in competition in fighting the ultra-hungry former champion.

Stylistically, both men are elite strikers and this fight is almost definitely going to be contested on the feet. Both have a good kicking game, but predominantly rely on their heavy hands as a path to victory. One would likely give a power edge to Hunt, who is capable of knocking out any man on the planet with either hand, but JDS is a devastating knock out artist in his own right and is more than capable of finishing fights with his hands. 

Expect to see JDS use his superior footwork and excellent jab to cautiously pick apart Hunt in the opening frame and to go for kill in the later rounds with fast and hard combinations off the back of the jab and body work. Whilst Hunt has a good chance of catching JDS, he will be very hard to find. Expect JDS to employ a similar strategy to the one that he used in the Carwin fight, being very respectful of Hunt’s power then swarming when he finds his opening.

Prediction : JDS by TKO late in the 2nd round.

Gray Maynard v TJ Grant

Gray Maynard (11-1-1,1NC) v TJ Grant (20-5) follows a similar story to that of JDS v Hunt. This is because Maynard has been a dominant force at the top of the lightweight division for many years, just falling of short of taking the gold in both of his epic fights with former UFC Lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. TJ Grant on the other hand has emerged as an unsuspecting contender at lightweight after mediocre 3-3 run at welterweight. Since then he has notched up four straight wins, remaining undefeated at lightweight. His most recent outings, a brutal stand-up war with Evan Dunham at UFC 152 and his devastating finish of UFC veteran Matt Wiman at UFC on Fox : Johnson v Dodson have more than grabbed the UFC’S attention. This has led to the UFC booking the match-up with the intention of slotting the winner into a bout with UFC Lightweight Champion Ben Henderson. It is a lot less clear how the where this fight will take place.

Since Grant is very well-rounded and Maynard is one of, if not the best wrestlers in the division, it is unclear whether he will take the fight to the ground or use his wrestling in reverse. Grant will be looking to exploit his much improved brutal stand-up, including crisp combinations and devastating thai elbows from the clinch. Despite being very good on the ground, winning many fights by submission and being a BJJ brown belt, it is likely he will attempt to avoid ground exchanges with Maynard, who will likely be able to stifle any submission attempts and dominate from top position.

An interesting factor in this fight is that Maynard has went to great lengths before to shake the reputation he gained early in his career as being a boring fighter. If he feeds this insecurity and tries to box with Grant he may find himself on the wrong side of a decision and throwing away what may be his last chance at a title shot. The truth is that this is Maynard’s fight to lose and he should employ a similar strategy to the one he used in the Florian fight which earned him his first title shot, which is basically wrestle his way to a decision. It is hard to predict Maynard’s mind set at times, but he has always consistently doted on getting another opportunity at the title and it is unlikely he will do anything to put that at risk given Dana’a guarantees leading up to the fight.

Prediction : Maynard by Unanimous Decision.

Glover Teixiera v James Te Huna 

This fight pits off a fighter with a huge amount of hype behind him, with many touting him as the next UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion (or at least the only man in the division with a chance at beating the current champion Jon Jones), against a steady force quietly making his way up the division. Glover Teixiera (20-2) is a feared Brazilian knockout artist riding an 18 fight win streak under the instruction of John Hackleman, the trainer who helped Chuck Liddell conquer the division a few years ago. He has won in all three of his UFC outings, most recently defeating Quinton Jackson in what was his first true taste of elite competition. Te Huna (16-5) on the other hand, is riding a four-fight winning streak in the UFC and whilst being a respected fighter, has not featured in many conversations as being a threat to Jon Jones. Both men have similar physical attributes, both being relatively large for the light-heavyweight fighters, and both have well rounded games, although Glover’s is arguably sharper in all areas.

Whilst the match-up is a slightly puzzling one for Teixiera, who should really be fighting elite competition at this point in his career, especially after getting past Jackson, it should still prove to be a challenge for him. Te Huna is very strong and durable and will be hard to put away. Whilst Teixiera arguably has the more dangerous striking and certainly has the most menacing top game of the two, Te Huna has a path to victory if he can pile on the pressure, clinch well, avoid being on his back and keep a good pace for the full fifteen minutes. This is because Teixiera showed very poor cardio in the Jackson fight, only to be saved by the fact Jackson’s cardio was non-existent in their fight and gifted Glover the win. Overall, although Te Huna has more of a chance than some might think, this fight is Glover’s to lose. In my opinion, however, the hype is greatly unjustified and we are going to see Teixiera fall sooner or later, just not at UFC 160.

Prediction : Glover by Submission in the second round.

Donald Cerrone v KJ Noons

This lightweight fight is one which is extremely important for both competitors and should be a very technical striking battle. For Cerrone (19-5,1NC, 6-2 UFC) , this is a must win fight if he is to remain in the top ten of the division and get himself back into fights with title implications. Whilst looking stellar in six of his eight UFC outings thus far, it has been once he has faced the elite of the division that Cerrone has stumbled, first by Nate Diaz and more recently by Anthony Pettis at UFC on Fox : Johnson v Dodson in January of this year. 

Noons does not realistically pose as much of a threat as Diaz or Pettis on paper, but still remains a challenge, and one which Cerrone must overcome decisively. For Noons (11-6), who has lost four of his last five in Strikeforce, this fight represents a huge opportunity to breathe fresh air into his career and make a splash in his UFC debut by taking out a highly ranked fighter in the division.

In terms of skillset, Cerrone brings a highly diverse and technical kick-boxing game to the table, showcasing fluid punching and kicking combinations, great footwork and at times devastating accuracy. He is also an excellent grappler in both top or bottom position and will have a definitive advantage should the fight hit the ground. Noons, on the other hand, has pro-boxing experience and will most likely try dictate the fight on the feet and hurt Cerrone with his hands.

Although Cerrone has the ground advantage, it is unlikely he will attempt to utilise it, due to his faith in his striking, which serves him well more often than not. Whilst it would perhaps be advisable to attempt to take Noons down, Cerrone is more than equipped to defeat him on the feet and will probably do so. Look for him to fight from a kicking range and playfully destroy Noon’s lead leg in the first frame and control the range en-route to an impressive, dominating decision, perhaps lacking the finish he is perhaps capable of. The fact that the fight goes the distance will reflect both upon Noons’ toughness and Cerrone’s lack of a killer instinct, being too content at times to playfully spar with opponents when in control.

Prediction : Cerrone by Decision.

Fighters to look out for in the prelims

Dennis Bermudez (10-3) always finds himself in super-exciting fights and his appetite for them appears to be growing. His chin lets him away with mistakes on the feet which he makes up for with his heart, work rate and great chin. Look for him to take some damage from the young striker Holloway and grind out an exciting win with his grappling and work rate. Whether he finishes the fight or not depends on Holloway's ground defence, which at 23 will no doubt be quickly improving. 

Prediction : Bermudez by Decision

The sky is the limit for the young Russian Nurmagomedov who is already 19-0 at just 24. His run includes 3 UFC performances, defeating very respectable opponents in Kamal Shalorus, Thiago Tavares and Gleison Tibau. His aggressive wrestling/Sambo style, which is always being refined at AKA, one of the world’s top camps, will be very hard to deal with. Look for him to either quickly dispatch of Abel Trujillo at UFC 160 or to throw him around in ruthlessly for the duration.

Stephen Thomson (9-2) Look for high-kicks, low-kicks, heel-kicks, roundhouse-kicks, showtime-kicks and beyond. As long as he doesn’t get taken down, in which case look for the same when he fights for Bellator.

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