Bigfoot earned Saturday's title match, but to the public, is it enough?

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

For the first time this year on pay-per-view,. a challenger for a UFC title will go in having won his previous Zuffa fight in the organization. But Antonio Silva's devastating knockout of Alistair Overeem hasn't erased the memory of what happened the last time he faced Cain Velasquez.

On Saturday night, when Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva goes into the cage as the challenger for UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, there will be something completely different from every other title match contender on pay-per-view this year.

He will have won his last match with the Zuffa promotion.

As silly as this sounds, the last title contender on pay-per-view to get his hand raised in his previous match with the company was Velasquez himself, coming off his win over Silva to earn his shot at Junior Dos Santos, at the end of 2012.

Frankie Edgar got his featherweight title shot at Jose Aldo Jr., on Feb. 2, coming off two straight losses in lightweight title matches to Benson Henderson, even if the majority of people seemed to think he won the second. Liz Carmouche got her title shot at Ronda Rousey coming off wins on Invicta shows, but her previous match under Zuffa's auspices, with Sarah Kaufman on a Strikeforce show, was a decision loss. Nick Diaz got his title shot at welterweight Georges St-Pierre coming off a loss to Carlos Condit and a drug suspension. And Chael Sonnen got his shot at light heavyweight Jon Jones coming off a second-round stoppage loss to middleweight champion Anderson Silva.

That minor detail hasn't seemed to matter much to UFC fans, or management. Dana White has long said that they are in the business of making the matches that people want to see. Edgar was the most marketable opponent available at that time for Aldo.

Carmouche was not the most marketable for Rousey, nor was she the first choice for that fight, but it worked out well anyway.

With the benefit of hindsight, not only was Diaz the most marketable opponent for St-Pierre that was possible on that day, but short of a champion vs. champion superfight, it's doubtful any UFC bout this year will create as much interest as that fight had.

Although nobody will ever know for sure, most likely Sonnen did more business against Jones than anyone who would have been available last month, although the fight probably would have done better with more antagonistic promotion and if the public really thought Sonnen had a chance to win.

But an sometimes indifferent Jones and a subdued Sonnen were still Muhammad Ali and The Rock when it comes to promotional ability next to Velasquez and Silva.

"I think that great fighters need to train and show their talent and skill inside the cage, not outside," said Silva through interpreter Ana Claudia. "I think that fighters like Junior Dos Santos, Cain, these are skilled fighters. They show what they have inside the cage. They train. They fight. In my opinion, the less you talk, the better."

And it also doesn't seem to matter that in his last fight on Feb. 2 in Las Vegas, that Silva brutally knocked out Alistair Overeem, a heavy favorite, who hadn't lost an MMA fight since late 2007. Unlike other recent title challengers, Silva decisively beat the top contender to get the match. There are no complaints from any direction regarding the validity or credibility of this match. Yet, it doesn't seem like people talking about this fight at anywhere near the same level as the previous three pay-per-view main events.

With the combination of the heavyweight title and Velasquez's appeal to the Hispanic fan base should lead to the show doing above the UFC average number. Still, there seems to be more talk and interest surrounding the No. 2 bout on the show, involving heavyweight sluggers Junior Dos Santos (15-2 with 11 knockouts) and Mark Hunt (9-7 with eight knockouts). That fight has the ominous specter of a major knockout between guys with both proven power, and proven chins. Hunt's record isn't the best because his ground skills were minimal for much of his career, and he's nearly 40, and looks overweight. But he can take a punch like nobody's business, and can knock anyone out spectacularly.

There are two issues involved with Velasquez and Silva. The first is Velasquez is naturally shy, and isn't going to say a lot to generate headlines. Silva is not going to be the one to take up the slack unless he's insulted first. It's simply not in either man's DNA.

With his giant hands, feet and head, Silva is almost the living incarnation of a cartoon character, the friendly, somewhat slow-moving giant who is dangerous when angered. He showed that fury in the closing moments of the Overeem fight, no doubt motivated by his perception Overeem slighted him in the past and didn't give him enough credit as an opponent.

Not that he won't be every bit as aggressive to finish if he can get Velasquez hurt, and he has but there are no signs in either competitor of a boiling over explosive rage that works wonders in garnering late interest.

Velasquez is hardly going to come across arrogant or dismissive of his skills and speed, like Overeem was. Silva understands more and more English, but is polite and careful with what he says.

The second issue, perhaps more important, is this is the second meeting between the two. The problem isn't Velasquez beat him. It's their fight, 52 weeks to the day in the same location, the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, was something nobody who saw it will ever forget.

Silva tried a kick and Velasquez used it to take him down. From there, it was the living embodiment of a slasher film, with Velasquez's punches and elbows opening up cuts near both eyes. Blood was flying and flowing everywhere. Velasquez was on top, beating down on Silva, whose blood was not just streaming all over his own face to where he couldn't see, but shooting in every direction, to where Velasquez himself, was seemingly bathing in it before it felt like it was mercifully stopped.

Memories of the MMA Chainsaw Massacre have made Velasquez a 7-to-1 favorite, and make few believe Silva has a chance of winning, no matter how many times they see clips of Overeem crumbling under Silva's furious rage.
And while Velasquez should by all rights be the favorite, it's still the heavyweight division, where one punch can change everything. And it's the UFC, where, historically, what happens in the first fight between two people is as often as not, no kind of a indicator of what happens in a rematch. In UFC history, the guy who lost the first fight, even if it's decisive, almost as often as not wins the rematch.

You have to look no farther than and two Velasquez vs. Dos Santos matches for your proof. Match one, where Dos Santos won the title, was a 64-second knockout on the first solid punch that landed.

The second fight was a one-sided 25 minute war, with Velasquez winning pretty much every minute of the fight en route to the most lopsided decision win in UFC heavyweight title history.

Silva absolutely can knock Velasquez out if he connects with the right punch, which is his game plan.

"I would have to be born again to become faster than Cain Velasquez," said Silva. "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. So I'm going to need to keep my hands healthy and heavy to go in there and I'm sure that the first punch tha i really land, he's going to go down. I have a lot of respect for him as a person. But I'm very confident in myself and I feel very good going into this fight."

The first Dos Santos fight showed it was possible, although Velasquez's knee was in a condition where he probably shouldn't have fought that night. The second Dos Santos fight showed that strategy isn't going to be easy, and we don't even know if it's possible on a healthy Velasquez.

Dos Santos, a knockout artist himself, had 25 minutes to pull the trigger, but found himself on the defensive against a relentless opponent who kept up a pace that would wear out any heavyweight. And Dos Santos is far quicker than Silva.

Silva is also going against a coaching staff that has already game-planned him three times with success. Velasquez's teammate, Mike Kyle, a light heavyweight taking the fight at the last minute, knocked Silva down early and nearly finished him in the first round, although Silva did come back and win that fight. Another teammate, Daniel Cormier, beat him to the punch constantly, knocked him down early and knocked him out in the first round.

Still, he is still the man who finished both Fedor Emelianenko and Overeem.

And if it wasn't for people's distinct memories of what happened the last time he faced Velasquez, perhaps people would be bringing up those big wins in arguing that the title can change hands on Saturday. Instead, they are talking about the fireworks in the co-main event, and who emerges from that as the next top contender.

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