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UFC Heavyweight Title Fight Breakdown: Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez

From the first time he stepped into the UFC octagon, Cain Velasquez seemed destined for great things. A two-time collegiate All-American wrestler who had made a seamless transition into the striking game, Velasquez was immediately seen as the future of the heavyweight division, an agile, multi-talented phenom with fighting spirit and a killer instinct who embodied the evolution of MMA's heavyweight class.

Little did we know then that an age of superheavyweights was upon us, led by the arrival of Brock Lesnar.

So Saturday night's UFC 121 championship fight marks the inevitable clash between the man who would be king, and the king himself.

Not surprisingly, Lesnar is considered the favorite according to linesmakers across the world. But there is a growing chorus of voices who believe Velasquez will pull Lesnar off the throne.

An objective look at their skills shows why Velasquez has the belief of so many. First, he has simply adapted to the standup game much better than Lesnar has. While Velasquez has become a fluid and dynamic striker while utilizing a kickboxing style, Lesnar is a bit more basic and a little less varied in his technique.

This is borne out in the statistics. According to Compustrike, in Lesnar's five UFC fights, he lands about 44 percent of his standup strikes, a number that is somewhat inflated by the fact that he connects on 66 percent of his kicks. His punches, however, have clipped opponents at only a 30 percent rate. (Kicks are historically landed at a higher percentage than punches.)

During his six UFC fights, Velasquez, meanwhile, lands about 62 percent of his standing strikes, including 53 percent of punches and 83 percent of kicks. Velasquez throws more volume, boasts a more varied arsenal and lands with more frequency, so it's clear he has a standup advantage in this bout.

While Velasquez has spent the majority of his fights (22:47 out of 35:06) on the ground, it's likely that he'll want to spend big chunks of this one trying to take advantage of his standup skills.

Lesnar, too, has spent most of his fights on the ground, where he's finished Randy Couture and Frank Mir by TKO and most recently, Shane Carwin by submission. It is a position in which Lesnar turns up the heat on his opponents, averaging 32 landed ground strikes per fight, including an average of 25 classified as "power" strikes.

Lesnar's going to want to put Velasquez in a similar position as his recent opponents, and that's where the game within the game will begin. During his UFC career, he's 8-for-12 on takedowns, and it seems like Lesnar's offensive ground game has improved enough that when an opponent gets taken down, he stays down.

So will Lesnar be able to take Velasquez down? Or will Velasquez come after the champ and try to put him on his back? It seems that the first option is a more likely scenario. Velasquez will probably want to keep some open space between him and Lesnar instead of wasting energy trying to outmuscle a much larger man. Remember, Lesnar will outweigh Velasquez by about 25-30 pounds.

While Velasquez may indeed be good enough to stop Lesnar's takedowns, that doesn't mean he's going to be able to keep the space he needs to let his superior striking technique shine. I expect Lesnar to try to close the distance and employ clinch work against the fence in hopes of wearing Velasquez down a bit and opening him up for a later takedown. Velasquez is known for his incredible stamina, but insinuations that Lesnar can't hang with the challenger on the conditioning front are off the mark. He's always been a workhorse, and as the bigger man, it would make perfect sense for him to put some effort into grinding Velasquez down early.

Still, it seems clear that Lesnar is going to have to take Velasquez down at some point. I think it's likely he will do so. Remember, Velasquez's striking style is heavy on kicks, and kicks are usually the visual cue for a takedown for fighters like Lesnar with wrestling backgrounds. Lesnar's double-leg takedown is downright explosive.

So Velasquez will have to abandon his kicks altogether or use them much more sparingly -- something that will certainly affect his overall game -- or he'll put himself in danger of being taken down, something he definitely does not want. As good as Velasquez is, I have a hard time seeing him escaping from positions that have done in guys like Couture and Mir, experienced veterans who know every trick in the book.

For a long time, Lesnar has faced some resentment from people who felt he didn't have to earn his way to a title shot. Slowly but surely, he's won some of those folks over. And if he beats Velasquez, he will become the first UFC heavyweight champion to successfully defend the belt three times.

Velasquez's aggressive style has worked against opponents with limited wrestling skills but he's probably going to have to modify his approach, and who knows how different he'll look throwing boxing combinations rather than kickboxing. The challenger will give Lesnar some trouble early until Lesnar figures out how to close the spacing gap, but it might only take one successful takedown to close it out. The champion is just too strong and too durable, and he'll figure out a way to take Velasquez down and win via third-round TKO.

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