The Toyota Center in Houston, Texas plays host to UFC 166 this Saturday night, in arguably the promotions biggest pay-per view event this year. Aside from the trilogy main event title fight, there are a number of intriguing matchups in the heavyweight, welterweight and lightweight divisions. Once again Jordan Cieciwa (@FitCityJordan) and I (@LynchOnSports) go head to head in our picks. Let us know which side you're on, #TeamLynch or #TeamJC on Twitter. Also feel free to leave your opinions in the comment section below.
Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos (Heavyweight championship)
James Lynch TSN.ca (@LynchOnSports)
The two best fighters in the heavyweight division conclude their trilogy on Saturday night, as current UFC champion Velasquez defends his title against the hungry challenger Dos Santos.
Back in November of 2011 on the UFC's debut on FOX, these two fighters met for the first time with the contest lasting just over a minute. That evening, it would be the Brazilian having his hand raised as he knocked out Velasquez to become the new heavyweight champion. Neither fighter was 100% with both having serious knee injuries, so this contest doesn't serve as a good catalyst for how Saturday's main event will unfold.
The rematch would take place last December and it was the 31-year old challenger dominating Dos Santos over the course of five rounds to win back the title. The 29-year old Dos Santos claimed over training was a decisive factor in the loss and has since fixed that issue thanks to the help of medical professionals (which was well documented in the “UFC Primetime” series).
In the stand-up department, both fighters cancel each other out as they each possess devastating knockout power. On the ground, the advantage goes to the Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt Dos Santos, who has a wealth of experience compared to his American foe.
Where Velasquez has the edge in this fight, as he displayed in their last encounter, is both with his wrestling and conditioning. Even if “Cigano” has improved on his conditioning, Velasquez still has a better wrestling base and a better group of training partners as fellow top contender Daniel Cormier trains with the former NCAA Division I wrestler on a regular basis.
Expect this fight to be closer than their second encounter, but with the same result. Velasquez will effectively wear out the Brazilian on route to a unanimous decision victory.
Velasquez via unanimous decision
Jordan Cieciwa TSN Radio 1290 (@FitCityJordan)
Junior dos Santos didn't have his best showing last outing against Cain Velasquez. Cain is a top notch athlete, who has developed his boxing to a championship level.
JDS, up until this point, has relied on that skill to set him apart, he's coming off a win against Mark Hunt. That win that doesn't warrant a shot at the title, but, it is what the fans want to see.
It's the rubber match and it should keep things interesting.
Cain has the momentum behind him for this, and the crowd will probably be shouting his name the loudest. I don't think this going to be the flash ending we saw in previous encounters. This time I expect to see a bit more of the wrestling and ground games.
JDS won the first match up with a KO, and Cain won a hard fought battle and decision last time.
This will be another one that goes the distance. Cain's athleticism and wrestling will make this interesting, and get him the win.
Velasquez via unanimous decision
Daniel Cormier vs. Roy Nelson
Two of the UFC's shorter heavyweights clash in what could be their last bouts in the division as 5-foot 10 Cormier battles 6-foot tall Nelson.
The AKA wrestling coach Cormier is one of the hottest fighters in the division, boasting a perfect 12-0 record since his career started back in 2009. His list of victims includes Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, Josh Barnett and most recently former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir. A dominating win over the Ultimate Fighter Season 16 winner would certainly situate the 34-year old nicely in the title picture (for either division, should he make the drop to 205lbs).
Nelson meanwhile, is coming off a disappointing performance against Stipe Miocic at UFC 161; where he was completely dominated in all aspects over the course of three rounds. What the 37-year old brings to the table in this fight is his durability, highly underrated jiu-jitsu game and a wealth of experience.
The former IFL heavyweight champion has fought 27-times compared to Cormier's 12 appearances inside the cage. With that said, neither should be a factor against the undefeated San Jose native, who should use his superior wrestling over three rounds to earn the judge's decision.
As a side note, should Dos Santos pull off the upset against Cormier's teammate Velasquez Saturday, expect him to earn the next shot at the heavyweight title.
Cormier via unanimous decision
Daniel Cormier is going to get a big test when he steps into the Octagon with Roy Nelson. This will be lucky 13 for Cormier if he pulls out a win. That's right Daniel Cormier is 12-0 right now, and looking strong.
Nelson is tough, hits hard, and is surprisingly agile for a big guy. We still haven't seen Nelson use that jujitsu to really dominate a fight. My hope for this one is a ground war that Cormier will dominate, and Big Country finds a way to sneak in a slick submission.
There has been a lot of talk about it, now as I fan, I want to see Roy get a win with his jujitsu. Of course, I'll take a big booming knockout as well.
Nelson via 3rd round submission
Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez<
In a bout that has “Fight of the Night” honours written all over it, former Strikeforce lightweight champion Melendez goes to war with TUF Season 1 winner Sanchez.
The 31-year old Cesar Gracie Student hasn't fought since April, where he lost a razor close decision to former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson. Prior to the loss, Melendez had just two blemishes on his resume since his career started back in 2002.
Sanchez meanwhile returned to the lightweight division earlier this year defeating Takanori Gomi and looks to find the same success at lightweight that he enjoyed during his four-fight win streak back in 2009.
Physically both of these fighters are nearly identical, but Melendez brings a huge step up in competition for Sanchez who has competed mostly at welterweight in his career.
If you needed to look up a “complete fighter” in the dictionary you'd find Melendez's name right there as he brings superior wrestling, boxing and jiu-jitsu to the table. Anywhere this fight goes, Melendez has the edge and while Sanchez should get make this a war, it's doubtful he'll emerge victorious.
Expect the PRIDE veteran to push the pace for three rounds and outpoint his foe for the unanimous decision victory.
Melendez via unanimous decision
Gilbert Melendez is the lightweight champ in my eyes. He was robbed of the title in his fight against Ben Henderson. If Diego Sanchez is part of the route he has to take to get another shot, then so be it.
The Dream won't be able to control the fight with his wrestling or take downs, and I think he's the slower striker. The edge goes to Melendez in almost every category. That means that Diego Sanchez will probably lose this one on points. It's set to be an exciting fight as Sanchez loves to be the spoiler. I just don't think he has what it takes to make sure this one goes his way in the judges' eyes.
Melendez via uanimous decision
Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Shawn Jordan
Former UFC title challenger Gonzaga aims to separate himself from the rest of the heavyweight pack when he meets former LSU fullback Jordan.
A winner of four of his last five bouts, “Napao” is coming off a 17-second knockout over Dave Herman at UFC 162. Subsequently the 28-year old Jackson/Winkejohn product has also won four of his last five fights, including his 59-second knockout over Pat Berry at UFC 161.
Each combatant has exceptional stand-up, with 17-knockouts between the two of them, so it's likely we'll see some exchanges on the feet. While this fight is a fairly even matchup, Gonzaga takes the slight edge with his experience and underrated jiu-jitsu game.
Expect the Brazilian to overwhelm his younger adversary and hand Jordan the first submission loss of his career.
Gonzaga via second round submission
Just when Gabriel Gonzaga starts to get on a win streak, or gets some press about being a challenger, he loses a big fight. He has showed a total game with jujitsu and striking over his career, and has beat some top tier talent, but he is stepping in the ring against an opponent that hits hard.
That seems to be Gonzaga's nemesis. He's been KO'd in the first round a few times. In my opinion Gonzaga is the better all-around fighter, but that's not going to save him in this fight. Shawn Jordan will land a big shot early in the first while both fighters are getting used to each other and end the night early.
Jordan via first round TKO
John Dodson vs. Darrell Montague
Ultimate Fighter Season 14 winner Dodson returns to the cage for the first time since his loss to champion Demetrious Johnson, as he welcomes “The Mongoose” who makes his promotional debut.
Prior to losing in the title fight back at UFC on FOX 6, the Jackson/Winklejohn product enjoyed a five-fight win streak, with victories over Tim Elliot, T.J Dillishaw and John Moraga. Looking to push himself back into title contention, a win over a very game Montague would certainly do that.
His 25-year old opponent meanwhile captured the Tachi Palace flyweight championship back in 2011 in defeating Ulysses Gomez, but would evidently lose the title in his next bout to UFC 125lb fighter Ian McCall.
Montague is currently riding four-fight win streak and has earned 10 of his 13 victories via knockout.
While no doubt the Millennia MMA will make this an exciting bout to open the main card, his skillset just doesn't matchup to his 29-year old counterpart.
Expect Dodson to overwhelm his foe over three rounds and earn a stoppage sometime in the third.
Dodson via third round technical knockout
Dodson takes this one and spoils the debut of Montague. Expect a big comeback from the Ultimate Fighter 14 winner as he looks to get back in the title picture
Dodson via second round knockout
Tim Boetsch vs. C.B. Dollaway
Boetsch caught a huge break when his original opponent Luke Rockhold had to bow out due to injury.
I disagree with Jordan in this being a potential “Fight Of The Night” candidate as I see this being a one sided beatdown on the side of “The Barbarian” Despite his lackluster performances in back to back losses to Mark Munoz and Costa Philippou, we should see the old Boetsch back in action Saturday, the same one who came from behind to knockout Yushin Okami.
Expect the 32-year old to take Dollaway down at will and earn the TKO victory sometime in the second.
Boetsch via second round TKO
Believe it or not, one of the fights of the night for me is going to be C.B Dollaway and Tim Boetsch.
When I feel careers are on the line, I think the fighters put on a better show. Both these fighters need to put together win streaks or start to get comfortable with the thought of working for other organizations.
Boetsch can take a beating and always makes fights interesting. He's coming off two loses, but has looked fairly good in the process. He's obviously a threat when he competes and can never be counted out.
Dollaway is on a two fight win streak, but has left both those in the hands of the judges.
For me, I go with the fighter that finishes fights, and also seems to be extremely difficult to finish.
I'm expecting Boetsch to take this one convincingly. He knows he has to, and he has the talent and power to do it.
Boetsch via third round TKO
Nate Marquardt vs. Hector Lombard
In a battle for UFC employment, Lombard makes his welterweight debut against Marquart in a battle of two fighters coming off losses.
This fight is going one of two ways, either Lombard is going to score an early knockout or Marquardt is going to use his wrestling to grind out a decision.
It's interesting to note that Lombard has never been finished in his 38-fight career and while Marquardt has 24 finishes, I don't see it happening on Saturday.
Expect the former Bellator middleweight champion to come out guns blazing and catch Marquardt early, similar to how Jake Ellenbuger knocked out “Nate The Great” in their last encounter.
Lombard via first round TKO
The Hector Lombard and Nate Marquardt fight begs the question, who's showing up?
Honestly two of the most unpredictable fighters when it comes to effort and preparedness for competition. They have both looked like animals, and they have both looked ready for bed.
On a good day both of these fighters are strong, hit hard, and have ground games. Both have over 35 fights, 30 of those being wins. So they know what to do when they get in the cage.
This is another fight where I imagine someone may lose a job. Marquardt is coming off two losses and he hasn't looked as sharp as he once did.
Lombard is 1-2 in the UFC and needs to even that out bad if he wants a few more Zuffa paychecks.
I think Lombard is the faster, more explosive fighter. I expect him to take the fight to Marquardt early, build up a point lead and then run out of gas.
I don't think Marquardt will be able to do anything to win the fight. This will go to decision, and it will be two tired fighters staring at each other promising fans a better outing next time.
Lombard via third round decision
Rest of the Card:
Lynch: Eye, Noons, Amagov, Ferguson, Fili, Horiguchi
JC: Kaufman, Noons, Waldenburger, Ferguson, Larsen, Pague
Also be sure to tune into the “Weigh-In” on TSN Radio 1290 Winnipeg every Saturday as myself, Jordan and “Big Marv” Timog go toe to toe discussing the hottest topics in MMA.