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UFC 160 predictions

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It's the heavyweight title defense that no one really asked for, but it's nevertheless still important and the headlining fight on a card that is rather excellent. Complaints about the main event are warranted, but that's about it.

This card is filled with important fights for the heavyweight, lightweight, light heavyweight and other divisions as top contenders in position for a title shot (or not too far from it) are facing other fighters in nearly identical positions. The stakes for much of this card are remarkably high.

Can Cain Velasquez prove he's far and away the top fighter in the heavyweight division? Will Bigfoot Silva continue trail of redemption? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for UFC 160.

What: UFC 160: Velasquez vs. Bigfoot 2

Where: The MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada

When: Saturday, the three-fight Facebook card starts at 6:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight FX card starts at 8 p.m. and the five-fight main card starts on pay-per-view at 10 p.m.

Cain Velasquez vs. Antonio Silva

It's true part of the reason Silva lost the first time was due to a tactical error. He opened the first frame looking to leg kick, which was a mistake against a wrestler the caliber of Velasquez. It is true, then, that Silva can correct for some of what went wrong the first time.

However, that's about it. In terms of getting up off the bottom, he's never been particularly adept at it and will still likely face difficulty there. Most importantly, relative to Velasquez, he's slow. The champion's speed will allow him to win striking exchanges, scrambles and push the pace in transitions or attacks in a way where Silva just won't be able to keep up.

Silva's had a heck of a career. He's defeated both Fedor Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem, the two favorites of the original Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. But Velasquez is a different animal. This is where the fun stops.

Pick: Velasquez

Junior dos Santos vs. Mark Hunt

Hunt's resurgence is a pretty rare thing and should be celebrated for all of its legitimacy. The guy is a credit to combat athletes everywhere not just for his success, but desire to compete when no one wanted his services. I, and the MMA community, tip my hat to him.

That said, I don't believe this fight necessarily favors him. Hunt is a big puncher even as he approaches 40 years of age, but his repertoire is becoming a little narrower. He more and more relies on overhand punches (either slipping inside or outside of counters) to do the majority of his damage. If he lands it on JDS, look out, but I don't think it's going to be so easy. Dos Santos' key advantage here is hand speed. In a quick draw, Hunt loses the battle of who can land first. And whatever one makes of dos Santos' power relative to Hunt's, if Mlevin Manhoef can put Hunt down, so can the former UFC heavyweight champion.

I'd also add JDS has a wider array of kill shots than Hunt. Dos Santos can look to the uppercut or overhand or counter hook in tight space.

Pick: Dos Santos

Glover Teixeira vs. James Te Huna

I struggled with a pick here. The truth is Teixeira is a better MMA fighter with more skills in virtually every department of the game. He isn't necessarily the physical beast that Te Huna is, but he isn't terribly outgunned either. Teixeira is the crisper, more versatile striker, he's fought better opposition and is significantly more technical on the mat.

What worries me is the brief moments in bouts where Teixeira loses discipline. He seems to be a gunslinger by heart who has had to reform himself. That nearly cost him, for example, against Fabio Maldonado when he decided to square up on him and trade shots.

Skills win fights and Teixeira is the more skilled of the two, but if he decides to not stick to the game plan, Te Huna could make things very interesting, very quickly.

Pick: Teixeira

Gray Maynard vs. T.J. Grant

Grant's rise at lightweight is so, so impressive. What I like about the drop is that it maximizes his athleticism while he's still in his athletic prime. He didn't wait until it was too long to make the right call, something most fighters miss when they try to drop a division down.

The problem I see, despite Grant's considerable submission skills and proactive striking, is that Maynard is still too strong and has too much control with his wrestling. Grant dropped a weight class to give himself a chance physically to compete. He gets that at lightweight against just about everyone, but Maynard might still be too big, too strong, too dominant of a wrestler.

Pick: Maynard

Donald Cerrone vs. K.J. Noons

Cerrone really shouldn't lose this fight. If he mixes up his combinations (not relying solely on boxing or just kicking) and stays active on the outside, he should be able to keep Noons at bay and win a decision. I just wonder if he's doing to do that. Despite losing four of five, I can easily see Noons jabbing his way inside and scoring in narrower distances because Cerrone basically lets him. I'm still going to side with Cerrone. He's much more proven against better competition, but as they say, styles make fights. This one we should all pay close attention to.

Pick: Cerrone

From the preliminary card:

Mike Pyle < Rick Story
Dennis Bermudez > Max Holloway
Colton Smith > Robert Whittaker
Khabib Nurmagomedov > Abel Trujillo
Stephen Thompson < Nah-Shon Burrell
Brian Bowles > George Roop
Jeremy Stephens > Estevan Payan

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