ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Last meeting was first-round KO
Although Cain Velasquez is a heavy favorite in his heavyweight title defense at UFC 160, the champion says there’s no chance he would ever take Antonio Silva lightly.
The last guy to do that was Alistair Overeem, and the man-mountain known as “Bigfoot” knocked him out and seized this title shot tonight at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas, Nev.
“I don’t see this as anything less than a hard, grueling fight, and that’s what I’m expecting,” Velasquez said.
UFC 160: Prelims at 4:35 p.m. on Facebook, 6 p.m. on FX; main card begins on pay-per-view at 8 p.m.
Yet Velasquez (11-1) realizes almost everybody expects him to wreck Silva (18-4) just as thoroughly as he did one year ago in a first-round knockout at UFC 146, leaving the 6-foot-4 Silva in a bloody heap with hideous cuts on his face. Velasquez’s first bout since losing the heavyweight title probably deserved an R rating for violence and gore, and he followed it up by reclaiming his belt in December with a dominant rematch win over Junior Dos Santos.
“To me right now, it’s the most important thing to defend (the belt), just to hold on to it,” Velasquez said. “This is the position that I want to be in, so I have to go out and perform.”
Earlier on the UFC 160 card, former heavyweight champion Dos Santos returns to the octagon against surprising Mark Hunt and his late-career run of stunning knockouts, while light heavyweight contender Glover Teixeira angles for a future title shot against New Zealand’s James Te Huna.
Gray Maynard will face T.J. Grant in a lightweight bout, with the winner likely getting the next shot at champion Benson Henderson this fall, and K.J. Noons makes his UFC debut on the main card against popular lightweight Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, who trains with Jackson-Winkeljohn Mixed Martial Arts in Albuquerque.
Silva knows he’s in an unlikely position, getting a rematch against a champion who thrashed him on the last edition of the UFC’s annual heavyweight-centered Memorial Day weekend show in its hometown. But the well-traveled Brazilian veteran rebounded from consecutive losses to Daniel Cormier and Velasquez with stoppage victories over Travis Browne and Overeem, improbably earning another shot at Velasquez.
“Obviously in the first fight, I made a big mistake,” Silva said through a translator. “But there were a lot of things that I did right going into that fight, and that, unfortunately, (fans) didn’t get to see. So much of that has been maintained, and overall the main strategy is just not to let his elbows get near my forehead.”
Silva realizes the UFC probably would have preferred to see Velasquez against Overeem, the touted Dutch kickboxer who still can’t stop stumbling on a path to title contention littered with doping woes, upset losses and injuries. But Silva is confident he can improve on last year’s showing against Velasquez, saying he won’t get the same case of nerves he had before making his UFC debut.
And if nothing else, the bout is an intriguing contrast in sheer physics: The outsized Silva towers over the 6-foot-1 Velasquez, but can’t match the champion’s uniquely well-rounded athleticism.
“I would have to be born again to become faster than Cain Velasquez,” Silva said. “I’ve got 30 pounds on him. He’s going to be faster than me, so I need to work with what I have, and what I have is very, very heavy hands. … The heavyweight division is a division where anything can happen. One punch lands, and the fight is over.”
♦ Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren, on his July 31 title defense against undefeated Russian Andrey Koreshkov in Rio Rancho to air on Spike TV: “I’m really looking forward to getting back into that cage and putting on a show. I feel like I’ve continued to mature and get better in every one of my fights, and July 31st should be no different. I don’t think Andrey has any ability to stop my wrestling and ground attack, so this will be another successful title defense.”
♦ The UFC is teaming with EA Sports to create a video game, and EA Sports announced Tuesday it would release the first generation of the video game in the next 12 months.
♦ Interim UFC bantamweight champion Renan Baro pulled out of his fight against Eddie Wineland in the main event of UFC 161 on June 15 in Winnipeg, Canada, because of a foot injury, the UFC confirmed Tuesday. Former Strikeforce and Pride champion Dan Henderson’s bout against former UFC light-heavyweight champion Rashad Evans has been elevated to the main event at UFC 161. A short-notice heavyweight bout between Roy Nelson and Stipe Miocic was announced by UFC officials to bolster the UFC 161 main card.
Velasquez favored, but wary of Silva in Vegas rematchLast meeting was first-round KO