Six months after getting starched by Junior dos Santos, Cain Velasquez is the No. 1 contender. Something about that seems a little bit off to me. Not that Velasquez isn't a great fighter; he is. But when the best argument for him as dos Santos' challenger is "who else is there?," well, that's a problem.
Maybe I just find it strange that in one breath, UFC president Dana White can say Velasquez is worthy of a rematch while in another, say that he thinks Daniel Cormier should consider a move to light heavyweight.
Velasquez is 6-foot-1, 240 pounds; Cormier is 5-foot-11, 238 pounds. Velasquez won his first nine pro fights; Cormier has won his first 10. Velasquez beat Antonio Silva in 3:36; Cormier took 3:56. Granted, Cormier had hand surgery and is obligated to one more fight in Strikeforce before he comes over to the UFC, but it seems sort of incongruous that one guy is being pushed as the top contender and the other is being gently coaxed into another division, doesn't it? I'm of the opinion that we can use all the good heavyweights we can find, especially the legit contenders.
Rant aside, there seems to be a belief that dos Santos vs. Velasquez will look much different next time with Velasquez healthy. Apparently, most have forgotten that dos Santos was also injured at the time, in need of knee surgery. If Velasquez looks better, won't he, too?
Velasquez certainly has the tools to win the fight, so it will come down to how he employs them. Though Velasquez has good kickboxing, dos Santos will win on the feet nine times out of 10 due to his speed and power. Velasquez needs to get the fight on the ground and test an aspect of dos Santos' game that we have yet to see. Right now, dos Santos is the heavyweight version of a prime Chuck Liddell, and no one has shown any signs of slowing him down. When he eventually loses, I bet it will be a striker that beats him at his own game, and not a wrestling/striking hybrid.
On to the fight projections…
On Saturday night, we found out that Brock Lesnar -- in town for the fight -- had requested a visit with White. We still don't know if he's interested in returning, but you can virtually guarantee that if he does want to come back, Mir-Lesnar III is a lock. For now though, we have to assume he's still on the retired list and look elsewhere. Antonio Silva would make for an interesting matchup, as they are both decent strikers with solid ground games who are coming off losses.
Prediction: He faces "Bigfoot."
Beating Fedor Emelianenko last February was supposed to be the breakthrough win of his career, but Silva has struggled badly in his last two fights, making it easy to wonder if he's capable of competing against the sport's top tier on a consistent basis. Losses to Velasquez and Cormier aren't embarrassing by any means, but he's in desperate need of a win, or at 32 years old, risk being seen as a gatekeeper. Mir is a good bellwether.
Where does Nelson fit into this heavyweight mess? He's certainly got the entertainment factor on his side. He comes to fight, he's interesting, he's got an "everyman" vibe to him. On the other hand, he's 4-3 in his last seven with his results being spectacularly different. His four wins are all by knockout; meanwhile, in all three of his losses, he's been routed, having failed to win a single round. That makes it maddeningly frustrating to project his place in the pecking order.
Prediction: He faces the winner of July's Cheick Kongo vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira fight
Defeating Shane del Rosario was a major step upward for Miocic. Even though del Rosario was coming off a long layoff, he was still young, undefeated and hungry, so that win speaks volumes, particularly coming on short notice. Now 3-0 in the UFC, Miocic deserves a bigger name.
Prediction: He draws Gabriel Gonzaga
Don't look now but Struve has quietly won five of his last six bouts, all coming by stoppage (three TKOs, two submissions). Struve has in the past been accused of having bad fight IQ, but his decision not to engage Johnson on the feet was a wise choice, resulting in a quick win. After 11 fights in the UFC, it's time to up the ante.
Prediction: He faces the winner of June's Fabricio Werdum vs. Mike Russow bout
Who saw that coming? You might remember that Varner's last Zuffa run didn't end well, as he went winless in his last four fights before being cut. Since then, he announced his retirement at the ripe old age of 26, reconsidered, and won twice on the regional circuit before getting the short notice call to fight undefeated Edson Barboza. The win came as a surprise and perhaps the feel-good moment of a stellar event.
Prediction: He faces Mac Danzig
After years of green card problems holding him back from making his UFC debut, Teixeira let out his pent-up energy, breezing past Kyle Kingsbury in a quick submission. Already 32 years old, let's hope Teixeira tries to make up for lost time by getting booked again quickly.
Prediction: He faces Igor Pokrajac
If Varner was UFC 146's feel-good story, Hardy was its sigh of relief. The Brit who was at one time on the cusp of a UFC welterweight championship, was on the brink of being cut from the organization with another defeat. It must have seemed like an eternity between wins for him since the last one had come in November 2009, but the weight is off of his shoulders.
Prediction: He faces Matt Brown