UFC 166 predictions

USA TODAY Sports

There's no doubt about it: the UFC has assembled one hell of a fight card for this coming Saturday night. One of the most important UFC heavyweight title fights of all time will take place, top international prospects will make their UFC debuts, top contenders will compete in bouts of significance and much more.

Can Cain Velasquez repeat against Junior dos Santos? Will Gilbert Melendez blow past Diego Sanchez? Can Roy Nelson derail Daniel Cormier's plans? I answer these questions and more for Saturday night's fights.

What: UFC 166: Velasquez vs. dos Santos 3

Where: Toyota Center, Houston, Texas

When: Saturday, the four-fight Facebook card starts at 6 p.m. ET, the four-fight Fox Sports 1 card starts at 8 p.m. and the five-fight main card starts on pay-per-view at 10 p.m.

Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos

Part of me hopes the Brazilian can win here if only to secure a future where the top two heavyweights in MMA face each other again and again. Alas, I don't think that's going to happen. The difference between Cain vs. JDS 1 and 2 is that the second fight is more instructive. A five-round fight, almost without exception, tells you more about both fighters than a first-round KO. In fact, JDS' win over Velasquez doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know: he can knock out anyone in MMA. But if he can't rely on the big punch, what else can he do? I do expect him to make some adjustments to slow down Velasquez, namely, by being offensive in all phases of the game. Even if he doesn't plan to do much on the ground with the champion, it's better to execute a takedown than spending the round waiting to land a big punch as you defend takedown after punch after takedown.

In the end, it seems to me the second fight taught us how these two match up more than the first. Unless JDS can turn a tactical corner big enough to make up the major distance needed to make this competitive, expect a repeat performance.

Pick: Velasquez

Daniel Cormier vs. Roy Nelson

Everyone loves this fight and I'm one of them, but I don't see it as particularly competitive. Nelson has a bigger punch, but short of that in MMA contexts, I'm not convinced he can do anything better than Cormier. More importantly, Nelson is a guy who (yes, while sick) was outwrestled by Frank Mir. If Mir can do it, there's absolutely no reason to think Cormier can't. And as a result, unless Nelson lands a haymaker on the speedier Cormier, I don't see any path to victory.

Pick: Cormier

Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez

Sanchez is going to press forward here like he always does, but skills win fight and Melendez is better in every dimension of the game at this point. I don't know if Melendez will be able to finish Sanchez, but if he does, that sends quite a message and could put him right back into title hunt sweepstakes.

Pick: Melendez

Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Shawn Jordan

The oddsmakers favor Jordan and I think that's defensible. Gonzaga might be able to make things interesting with a lucky shot or if he can take things to the floor, but Jordan is a load. The guy is a monster puncher, extremely strong, has ever-improving takedown defense and is an incredibly underrated athlete. I don't have a clear sense of how this fight will go, but I am mostly certain Jordan is the fresher of the two and that might be enough.

Pick: Jordan

John Dodson vs. Darrell Montague

Montague is a very good acquisition to the UFC's flyweight roster. He's amassed about as good a record as one can battling on the regional scene and like all flyweights, is well rounded and proactive everywhere. The difference here is a) Dodson's punching power and b) his growth experience against more elite flyweights. Dodson is a much better version of himself even after and especially due to losing to Demetrious Johnson. I certainly expect Montague to keep it competitive, but that's about it.

Pick: Dodson

From the preliminary card:

Tim Boetsch > C.B. Dollaway
Nate Marquardt < Hector Lombard
Sarah Kaufman > Jessica Eye
George Sotiropolos > K.J. Noons
T.J. Waldburger < Adlan Amagov
Tony Ferguson > Mike Rio
Jeremy Larsen < Andre Fili
Dustin Pague < Kyoji Horoguchi

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