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The Forward Roll: UFC 160 edition

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The beauty in sports is in the unexpected. The surprise comeback. The underdog. The one-punch knockout. All of that is why we watch. Prior to UFC 160, that story was the story of Mark Hunt, a one-time powerhouse who fell on hard times and then lifted himself back up. But by the time the show was over, the focus had shifted.

Of all of the UFC 160 storylines, this was the eye-opener, the one that made you sit up and take notice.

Nobody saw T.J. Grant coming.

Grant is a case study in persistence. As a welterweight, he was good, talented enough to make it to the UFC, but not quite big enough or strong enough to hang with the higher-tier of fighters. He would win one, lose one. He was essentially running in place.

But that all changed when he moved to lightweight, a shift he said he considered for a long time before finally pulling the trigger. Since then it's been lights out for Grant, who's 5-0 with three stoppages. His UFC 160 win was a stunner, not because he won but due to how he did it. In just over two minutes, he stopped an opponent in Gray Maynard who was on two separate occasions within a strike or two from capturing the championship.

In 21 career fights as a welterweight, Grant had only two knockouts, but as a lightweight, he has two in a row. Combined with his submission ability (he has 13 career subs), he's a legit threat to beat Benson Henderson. The key will be in his wrestling. Historically he's been below average on takedown defense -- just 37 percent. That number won't get it done against Henderson. But if he can improve upon that just for one night, watch out.

On to the predictions ...

Cain Velasquez
We already know Velasquez will draw Junior dos Santos next, so I guess the question becomes who will win. Velasquez's UFC 155 victory over JDS was much more dominant than JDS' win against him, only because it was a more sustained and thorough beating. But honestly, the champ's knockdown came so early I think it's safe to assume it impacted all that followed. dos Santos was there to the bitter end, and never really wilted. If he stays away from a knockdown in fight three, it will be a much more competitive battle. But given Velasquez's endless gas tank and the extra dimension his wrestling adds, he's got to be the early favorite.

Antonio Silva
It must be awfully disappointing for Silva to go through a full camp and walk away with an even worse result than he got with a short one. The fact of the matter is he is too slow and lumbering for the energetic champion, and he was either going to get hit or give up the takedown. There was no way he was going to stop both. Back to the drawing board.
Prediction: He fights Frank Mir

Mark Hunt
Hunt recently turned 39 years old, so you wonder how much he has left, or how much longer he's going to want to do this. He struggled with dos Santos' speed and length, which is a problem he'll have against some younger or experienced heavyweight strikers.
Prediction: A matchup with Roy Nelson seems like it would be great fun, but Nelson is on the last fight of his deal and already is signed to meet Stipe Miocic. If they can get Nelson signed in a jiffy, I'd still make the Hunt-Nelson fight after he dances with Miocic. If not, Hunt faces the winner of the UFC on FOX 8 match between Brendan Schaub and Matt Mitrione.

Glover Teixeira
It's been a quick rise in stature for Teixeira, who came into the UFC with a beastly reputation and has possibly managed to exceed it. In four octagon fights, he has three finish wins and a mauling of Rampage Jackson. Given his experience and arsenal, there really isn't a lot between Teixeira and a title shot. I'm going to assume that Alexander Gustafsson gets the next crack at Jon Jones, and we'll work forward from there.
Prediction: Teixeira faces the winner of the UFC 161 main event between Dan Henderson and Rashad Evans

Donald Cerrone
The UFC loves when the fighters make their matchmaking job easier by challenging an opponent. Before UFC 160, Josh Thomson told a group of reporters that if Cerrone won, he thought a match between them made sense. After he won, Cerrone said he was all for the idea, and UFC president Dana White liked it, too. The only other guy we need on board is Joe Silva. It's an action fight. What's not to like?
Prediction: Cerrone vs. Thomson

Khabib Nurmagomedov
Hat's off to Nurmagmedov, who smashed the UFC single-fight record with 21 takedowns against Abel Trujillo. Is anyone else awed by the fact that he's 20-0? In a sport as varied and complex as MMA, that's an amazing stretch no matter who you're facing. The fact that he's also 4-0 in the UFC and just 24 years old is fairly remarkable, and indicates that it's time for a step up.
Prediction: He fights Jorge Masvidal

Mike Pyle
Pyle won again Saturday, his fourth straight, but this one was no gimme. He got knocked down early and was in danger of being stopped before weathering the storm and coming back to win. Even then, the result was controversial as media scores were all across the board and FightMetric stats didn't show huge separation between them either, with Story landing 94 strikes to Pyle's 86. Interestingly, when Dana White was asked what's next for Pyle, he noted that Pyle tends to lose when he takes a step up in competition. That's not what you want your boss to think about when your name comes up.
Prediction: He faces Dong Hyun Kim

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