With the Strikeforce Grand Prix not even a week behind us, the UFC is preparing to hold its own Heavyweight extravaganza. For the first time, we have a main card composed entirely of a single weight class, with all five bouts contested at a 265lb limit.
Despite losing several fighters to injury, we still have an exciting card in prospect.
UFC Heavyweight Championship
Junior dos Santos (champion) v Frank Mir
Frank Mir steps in to replace the suspended Alistair Overeem to challenge for the belt, and whilst we've been deprived of an incredible fight, I can make my pick with a little more certainty.
Junior dos Santos is undoubtedly the most feared boxer in the heavyweight division. He has unmatched hand speed and movement, and with takedown defence good enough to keep any fight standing, it's hard to see where anyone can beat him. Even if he is taken down, he is a Brazilian Jui-Jistu black belt – he's just never had to use it.
Frank Mir has had somewhat of a resurgence in recent years. He's 7 and 2 in his last 9 fights, and currently on his first three-fight win streak since 2008 after beating Mirko Cro Cop, Roy Nelson and Rodrigo Nogueira. That said, he has struggled in victory. Big Nog could (and should) have finished him, and his fight with Cro Cop was a cagey affair until the one knee knockout. Being that gun-shy against a fighter on the decline, with no chin to speak of, doesn't bode well.
Previous fights indicate this contest won't go well for Frank. He has a tendency to crumble when hit and although he came back from adversity against Nogueira, it was due to Nogueira's idiocy/arrogance (call it what you will) as much as Mir's mental strength.
I'd say dos Santos winning is almost a certainty but the bookies agree too strongly to make it worth backing – 1-5 at best. And if he is to win, a knockout victory would be the most likely conclusion as 10 of Junior's wins and all of Mir's losses came in this manner. Again, the odds are far too short with 1-3 being the best available.
However, if the champion is to win via KO, he's most likely to do so in the opening round. Junior has 10 knockout victories, all coming in the opening five minutes. Not only that but of Mir's five losses, four were first round finishes. With the rest of the odds in this fight so short, dos Santos to win in round 1 is fantastic value (5-4, Ladbrokes & Paddy Power).
Cain Velasquez v Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva
Having lost his championship at UFC on FOX 1, Cain Velasquez makes his return to action this Saturday. He faces a veteran of the Strikeforce Grand Prix making his UFC debut, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva.
Bigfoot was eliminated from the tournament by former Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier – a team mate of his upcoming opponent. In that fight, Cormier used his superior speed and agility in striking to dismantle the giant, standing up. The Olympian showed absolute disdain for Bigfoot's abilities, knowing his opponent had no chance of taking him down or hitting him, such was the speed disparity.
Unfortunately for Silva, he's coming up against a man who is as close to a carbon copy of Cormier as you can get. Velasquez and Cormier train together in Fresno at American Kickboxing Academy, both being stand-out wrestlers who have improved their striking at an alarming rate.
Velasquez may be a little taller and a little slower but the same factors that won the fight for Cormier still apply. Bigfoot won't be able to take Cain down and the former champion should be able to put his glove on Bigfoot's chin at some point.
Back Velasquez via knockout (4-6, Paddy Power).
Stefan Struve v Lavar Johnson
Lavar Johnson debuted in the heavyweight division less than five months ago and in that time he's made quite the impact. Two fights, two knockouts, two knockout of the night bonuses. His first was particularly impressive as he handed a first knockout loss to the previously iron chinned Joey Beltran.
Unfortunately for Stefan Struve, this is not an opponent who suits his characteristics. He has the awful habit of getting knocked out in a spectacular fashion due to his own idiocy. Struve has some knockouts of his own but none of them were against anyone famed for their chin. Johnson has never been knocked out save on his debut – even then it was a corner stoppage.
Lavar very clearly has some holes in his game but that makes our job a little easier. He has but one way to win; a knockout in the first round. Struve has decent enough cardio and will likely pick Johnson apart if the fight goes long enough. Struve also has a superior ground game, but again, he likes to strike and this has been his downfall previously.
Johnson has one round of gas and nothing more. He's essentially done once the fight enters the second round, so he tends to go all out to finish in the first. That said, I do see him catching Struve (a slow starter) with a punch at some point in that first round and I see it being enough to end the fight. Lavar Johnson to win in the first round is excellent value and the best bet on this card (11-5, Sky Bet).
Roy Nelson v Dave Herman
Dave Herman has, from my perspective, absolutely zero notable wins on his record. Everyone he's beaten falls into one of three categories:
- A nobody that we've never heard of,
- Someone who we've heard of, but with zero notable wins themselves (Einemo, Nakao), or
- Someone who was a decent/good fighter in their day, but those days are far behind them (Frye, Waterman).
That's not to say he doesn't have some skills. He has unorthodox striking and in losing to Stefan Struve he took the first round before being knocked out. But I defer to my previous statements; Struve has the ability to fight like a buffoon and get badly knocked out as a result. Herman connected clean on his chin several times and couldn't get the job done.
Not that I think Nelson is a particularly good fighter, I just think he has the perfect skill set for this fight (i.e. an iron chin and knockout power). His striking isn't particularly technical and he struggles for reach due to his stature. But if he connects, he can win the fight, and I can't see Dave Herman keeping him away for 15 minutes. Roy Nelson to win by knockout (13-10, Ladbrokes) is the right bet.
- dos Santos to win in round 1 (5-4, Ladbrokes & Paddy Power)
- Velasquez via knockout (4-6, Paddy Power)
- Lavar Johnson to win in the first round is the best bet on this card (11-5, Sky Bet)
- Roy Nelson to win by knockout (13-10, Ladbrokes)
Do check all odds before betting as they are constantly being updated throughout the day and have been fluctuating throughout the week.